ANAHEIM, Calif. -- The rookie shortstop made two errors in a span of four batters. The second baseman threw away an easy double-play ball. The pitcher balked in a run. The bullpen flirted with blowing a four-run lead, which forced the closer, who had worked in four of the previous five games, to come in and pitch.
After participating in some of that and watching the rest, Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw called Tuesday night's 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Angels "probably the best pure baseball game we've played."
Despite the glitches, Kershaw did, in fact, have a point. He was referring to an offense that has been less reliant on the home run of late because it is functioning at a more efficient level. Lately, the Dodgers, who have won five games in a row, have been excelling in what Kershaw called "the little things."
"Moving guys over, sac flies, situational hitting, things like that," Kershaw said. "It just seemed it was so easy to score runs tonight -- and not necessarily with the big hit."
The Dodgers continued to put pressure on opposing pitchers by getting on base frequently and opposing catchers and fielders by running the bases aggressively. They scored four runs on two hits in one inning. With Kershaw pitching, that's usually more than enough. They stole two more bases and have been caught just once in their past 20 attempts. They hit a home run, but that was matched immediately by the Angels, and the rest of the game was about the Dodgers doing to the Angels what Mike Scioscia's team did to others for so many years: killing them with a thousand tiny jabs.
The Dodgers are, in many regards, playing their best baseball at the time of the season when teams aim to get hot as they gear up for October. Perhaps they're peaking a bit too soon, having won 13 of their past 15 games with mid-September still a week away, but the Dodgers don't plan to slow down any time soon.
"I like where we're going," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said within a few seconds of saying it was too early to talk about the playoffs.
This hot streak, it should be pointed out, coincides with Kershaw's pep talk through the media in Houston. He said the Dodgers needed to play with more "panic," which he later amended to "urgency." He still maintains the remarks and the team's turnaround are unrelated, which seems a reasonable position to take.
"I don't know if it has anything to do with that," he said. "I'm pretty sure it doesn't."
The Dodgers have gained seven games on the San Francisco Giants during this stretch, and it now seems only a matter of time before they celebrate their third straight NL West title. They lead San Francisco by 8 1/2 games, and their magic number to clinch is now 16 with 24 games left. They'd like to celebrate more than just a division title, however, and the plan is to ease back Zack Greinke and Kershaw, as well as No. 3 starter Brett Anderson, who is close to his career high for innings.
On Monday night, Mattingly pulled Greinke after 89 pitches in six innings. He had every intention of pulling Kershaw early too, but a couple Corey Seager errors caused Kershaw to throw 24 pitches in his final inning, the seventh, before he struck out Kole Calhoun on a checked swing -- a controversial one at that, judging by Scioscia's eruption on the field.
Still, Kershaw managed to get through seven strong innings on 106 pitches, 26 fewer than his previous outing, in which he struck out 14 batters and went nine.
Before the game, Mattingly -- without acknowledging the Dodgers are in full preparation for the postseason -- admitted the team will monitor its best pitchers' innings. Kershaw has now thrown 201 and eclipsed the 200-inning mark for the fifth time in the past six seasons. The only time he didn't get to 200 was last year, when he had an April back injury that held him to 198. Still, he won the Cy Young and MVP awards.
Kershaw (13-6 with a 2.15 ERA) didn't have much to say about the plan to nurse him through September, but he did have something to say about the notion that the Dodgers should kick it into coast mode now. He said they'd like to clinch as soon as possible but shouldn't stop there.
"You've got to keep your foot on the gas. You can't let up," Kershaw said. "Even if we do clinch, you've got home-field advantage to fight for, so just keep going until October-whatever. Then, when the season ends, start all over again."