Dodgers Sweep Second Half Opening Series with 9-2 win over the Nationals Behind Matt Kemp’s 3 hits, 3 RBIs.

Matt Kemp returned from the disabled list in a big way on Sunday, going 3-for-4 with a home run, a double and 3 RBIs. Kemp was taken out for precautionary reasons after injuring his ankle in an awkward slide in the 9th inning but is not expected to miss significant time. (Image source: http://dodgers.topbuzz.com/dodger-pics/d/9258-1/Matt+Kemp+batting+stance+shows+arm+tattoo.JPG)

The Dodgers and the Nationals appear to be two teams heading in polar opposite directions.

Both teams started out with sky-high expectations.  The Nationals clinched their first playoff berth since moving to Washington, D.C. from Montreal last season and with a starting rotation that includes Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman, they were considered by some to be a threat to go to the World Series this year. The Nationals have one of the best starting rotations and reliever corps in the league.  Their lineup features young Bryce Harper, who can hit a baseball into orbit at any moment, to go with guys like Jayson Werth, Ian Desmond, Adam LaRoche and Denard Span who can effectively wreck opposing pitchers the same way that a Dodger lineup that includes the likes of Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and your choice of Carl Crawford or Yasiel Puig is supposed to.

Yet the Dodgers, who started the season in a tremendous slump and were as far as twelve games below .500 and 9 1/2 games back of the division lead at one point, are now on the rise, a half game behind Arizona after momentarily tying for the division lead for about 2 1/2 hours this afternoon, and three games over .500.  The Nationals, who started the season strongly and competed with the Atlanta Braves for the top of the division for much of the early going, have now fallen to a 48-50 record and are 7 games back of the division-leading Braves, having been passed up by the Philadelphia Phillies who currently stand 6 1/2 back in the division.

Clayton Kershaw took the mound against Jordan Zimmerman today in what was meant to be a pitchers’ duel.  As it turned out, only Kershaw was up to the task.  Zimmerman, who reportedly had an MRI on his neck on Friday, apparently was not, and the team may want to consult with doctors to determine if Zimmerman has a greater injury concern.

The Dodgers got a loud seven runs in the top of the second today.  Matt Kemp led the inning off with a long home run down the left field line to give the Dodgers a 1-0 lead.  A.J. Ellis singled and Mark Ellis doubled then Clayton Kershaw’s slow roller to second base brought home A.J. Ellis for a 2-0 lead.  Carl Crawford’s single to left plated Mark Ellis for a 3-0 lead, then a walk by Nick Punto and a strikeout by Adrian Gonzalez brought up Hanley Ramirez with two on and two out.  Ramirez promptly deposited a Jordan Zimmerman breaking ball that didn’t break into the bullpen in left-center field for a 6-0 Dodger lead.

The Dodger scoring was not done in the top of the second, though.  Zimmerman walked Andre Ethier before Matt Kemp hit the ball sharply down the left field line past third baseman Ryan Zimmerman and all the way into the left field corner for an RBI double, plating Ethier and giving the Dodgers a 7-0 lead.  A.J. Ellis hit a line drive hard to center field, but Bryce Harper caught up with the ball for the third out.

Jordan Zimmerman lasted two innings today, giving up 7 runs on 8 hits, walking two and striking out one while throwing 58 pitches.

The only batter on the day that Clayton Kershaw could not contain was Jayson Werth.  Werth hit a solo shot into the left-center field seats to lead off the bottom of the second and cut the lead to 7-1.

The Dodgers got two more runs in the top of the fourth.  Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez got singles, with Gonzalez taking third on Ramirez’s single.  Andre Ethier came up with an RBI ground out that scored Gonzalez and moved Ramirez to second.  Then Matt Kemp’s single to left was enough to score Ramirez.  The two runs extended the Dodger lead to 9-1.

Kershaw gave up one more home run in the bottom of the seventh to Werth.  The Werth home runs were the only hits Kershaw allowed on the afternoon as he went 7 innings, giving up 2 runs on the two Werth hits, striking out nine and walking none in a 97 pitch outing.

Brandon League pitched 2 innings of scoreless ball to finish the game.  Ross Ohlendorf of the Nationals had a notable relief outing, pitching six innings total and giving up two runs on six hits, walking one and striking out six in what could have been counted as a quality start for a starting pitcher.

Kershaw picks up the win to improve to 9-6.  Jordan Zimmerman lost at Nationals Park for the first time in over a year, his season record now standing at 12-5.

The Dodgers move on to Toronto for their next series, a three game set against the Blue Jays.  Hyun-Jin Ryu (7-3, 3.09 ERA) takes on Josh Johnson (1-5, 5.16) at Rogers Centre, a 7:07 p.m. local start as they look to continue their assault on first place in the National League West.

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