Sports Matt Kemp delivers again as Dodgers pass D-backs in NL West

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    David SchoenfieldESPN Senior Writer

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    • Senior writer of SweetSpot baseball blog
    • Former deputy editor of Page 2
    • Been with ESPN.com since 1995

Did Matt Kemp just save the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ season?

For the second game in a row, Kemp provided the dramatic, come-from-behind hit, following Saturday’s three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth against the Diamondbacks with a walk-off double on Sunday that just missed being another home run:

OUR HOUSE. 😤 pic.twitter.com/ePAC9Ann2r

— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 2, 2018

That gave the Dodgers a 3-2 victory over Arizona, their third straight late-game win in a tension-filled four-game series, and they moved into first place by a half-game ahead the Rockies and a game in front of the Diamondbacks. In a sense, this was the first big September series of the season and you have to argue it was the best series of the season given the ramifications in the NL West.

Look at the four games:

— On Thursday, Arizona won 3-1 on David Peralta‘s three-run homer in the fifth of Rich Hill. Kemp grounded into a key double play in the game, killing a rally with two on in the eighth.

— On Friday, the Dodgers won 3-2 as Enrique Hernandez homered off Zack Greinke in the seventh and Justin Turner homered off Greinke leading off the eighth.

— On Saturday, the Diamondbacks hit two home runs off an otherwise excellent Clayton Kershaw and led 2-0 heading into the bottom of the eighth. But Turner reached on an infield single off Archie Bradley, Manny Machado walked following a 10-pitch confrontation, and then Kemp slugged a 433-foot home run off a 1-2 curveball.

— On Sunday, Daniel Descalso led off the ninth with a home run off Caleb Ferguson to give the Diamondbacks a 2-1 lead and it looked like it would be another of those late-inning losses for the Dodgers’ bullpen. Instead, Kenley Jansen, who recorded saves on Friday and Saturday, got the final three outs, and in the bottom of the ninth Brad Boxberger walked Alex Verdugo and Max Muncy, Hernandez sacrificed and, after Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo called on Bradley, Kemp walked it off.

After Saturday’s loss, Lovullo was gracious in defeat: “These kind of games is what makes baseball great.” I’m not sure he’ll repeat that sentiment after this one.

Aye where you going @TheRealMattKemp?! We trying to celebrate!!! #CLUTCH pic.twitter.com/FP3m197cXZ

— Enrique Hernández (@kikehndez) September 3, 2018

For Kemp, the two big hits are at least some redemption for a terrible second half. After hitting .310/.352/.522 in the first half, he had slumped to .212/.295/.345 after the break entering Sunday. Dave Roberts had stuck with him until the past week or so and Kemp has started just five of the past 10 games. (He came off the bench Sunday and went 1-for-2.)

For the Diamondbacks, even though they rank second in the majors in bullpen ERA, Sunday’s loss exposed a potential weakness down the stretch. Boxberger has now blown seven games, is 2-5 with a 3.80 ERA, and has 26 walks and eight home runs allowed in 47⅓ innings. With all the concern about Jansen’s health and recent struggles (maybe alleviated somewhat with three scoreless outings in the series), the Diamondbacks have issues with their closer.

Anyway, what a series. Games like this do make baseball great.

Rockies salvage split with Padres: After losing in 13 innings on Thursday and getting shut out 7-0 on Friday, it looked like the Padres were going to play spoilers, but the Rockies bounced back with 4-2 and 7-3 wins. Kyle Freeland had another solid effort, allowing three runs over six innings to improve to 13-7 with a 2.96 ERA. He’s 5-1 with a 2.63 ERA in the second half.

A Rockies fan suggested to me the other day that Freeland deserves to be right up there in the Cy Young race. Even accounting for Coors Field, I think he’s a clear fourth behind Jacob deGrom, Max Scherzer and Aaron Nola. That’s not to diminish what Freeland has done — he has a 2.27 ERA at Coors Field, which is pretty much a miracle, so we should be careful about not dismiss his chances too quickly.

Consider this: In their history, the Rockies have had 58 pitchers qualify for the ERA title (that seems like a really low total, about two per season, which probably says something about how difficult it is just to stay healthy pitching in Colorado). Only two starters have finished with an ERA below 3.00: Marvin Freeman (2.80) in the 1994 strike-shortened season and Ubaldo Jimenez (2.88) in 2010. After Freeland’s 2.96 mark, the next-best ERA on the list is 3.47. Put into that context, Freeland’s season is pretty remarkable and he’s a big reason why the Rockies are right there in the division race.

NL MVP update: The Brewers beat the Nationals 9-4 as Christian Yelich belted a grand slam to continue his torrid second half:

Since the All-Star break, @ChristianYelich leads the NL in most major categories pic.twitter.com/7tP2vFxc28

— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 2, 2018

In what looks like a close NL MVP race, the fact that Yelich is doing more damage in the second half could be a minor factor in his favor. It’s a little bit of the “What have you done for me lately?” perspective combined with the idea that a win in September counts more than a win in April. With the six-hit cycle game earlier in the week and Sunday’s grand slam, Yelich has now had a couple of signature moments that voters may remember. Compare that to, say, Freddie Freeman, who has hit .287/.350/.439 in the second half. They may be even in WAR, but Yelich’s second half probably trumps Freeman’s first half. Not saying that’s how it should be, but history suggests it’s a factor.

Meanwhile, Javier Baez went 2-for-5 with his 30th home run and 100th RBI as the Cubs beat Aaron Nola and the Phillies 8-1. Nola fanned 11 in 5&23; innings, but Daniel Murphy and Anthony Rizzo also homered as Nola let up three home runs after entering the game with just eight allowed in 27 starts. Baez becomes just the fourth Cubs middle infielder with a 30-homer, 100-RBI season, joining Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby, Ernie Banks and Ryne Sandberg.

“I don’t know that we predicted that before the year began,” Joe Maddon said Sunday. “I think you predicted a good year, but this is above and beyond being an All-Star, being an MVP candidate.”

Timing is everything: The Marinersve been a pleasant surprise, looking like a playoff team until the A’s decided to stop losing. The Mets, of course, have been criticized all season for a mess of a year:

#Mariners are 76-61 with a minus-49 run differential. Mets are 61-75 with a minus-50 run differential.

— Larry Stone (@StoneLarry) September 2, 2018

The Mariners, who really needed a sweep or at least wins in three of four against the A’s, lost 8-2 on Sunday to split the series. The Mets beat the Giants 4-1 behind Noah Syndergaard‘s complete-game two-hitter, his first career complete game. One team is hanging by its fingernails. The other is widely viewed as a disaster. Are the talent levels all that much different though?

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