ST. LOUIS -- The Dodgers' offense, a source of concern as it mustered three or fewer runs in nine of the previous 14 games, could be awakening at an opportune time.
After they scored eight runs in a victory in Cincinnati on Wednesday to allay some of the concerns, the Dodgers were at it again Thursday as they outscored the Cardinals, 9-7, at Busch Stadium.
The victory pulled the Dodgers within one game of the Cardinals for the second National League Wild Card spot with three games remaining in the series. Los Angeles remained 1 1/2 games behind first-place Colorado in the NL West.
Manny Machado was in the middle of the action as he went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, including a home run to center in the seventh -- his 10th with the Dodgers and 34th overall.
"We did everything we needed to do," Machado said. "We had runners in scoring position and got the runs in. We want to continue doing what we've got to do. Hopefully, we can repeat it."
Most of the damage was done against Cardinals rookie left-hander Austin Gomber (5-1), who was tagged for seven earned runs and nine hits in three-plus innings.
Chris Taylor, Matt Kemp and Austin Barnes had two hits apiece, and former Cardinal David Freese had a two-run triple in a three-run first inning. The Dodgers collected 16 hits against five pitchers.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said Freese had insight on Gomber that aided his teammates. Freese had been 1-for-3 with a home run against Gomber, who he faced in June and August.
"David Freese had some input in the hitters' meeting," Roberts said. "He had some at-bats against him. I thought we had a really good approach against him. Now you're seeing the ball coming out of his hand a little bit more and understand the life to his fastball, what he's trying to do.
"For me, it started with the Freese at-bat. That really got us going. As a unit, collectively, I thought we did a great job tonight. You saw us fighting and winning pitches. Manny did a great job today of staying in the strike zone. The results showed. We have a lineup that can grind starters, get a big hit and use the whole field. When we're doing that, we're as good as anybody. This is what we expect from our guys."
Freese called what he shared with his teammates "typical stuff."
"Just stay inside the ball and get off a good swing," said Freese, who received a standing ovation from Cardinals fans before his first at-bat. "Best fans in baseball. It's humbling."
Machado, acquired from the Baltimore Orioles on July 18, said there's nothing better than playing in meaningful games in September.
"Definitely," Machado said. "Every pitch, every out, every opportunity that's out there, once you step on that field, it can be a big moment moving forward. This is why we love September baseball. It's so much fun. We're playing for something. We've got a tough road ahead of us. We're just going to keep battling and enjoy every moment of it. We'll see where it takes us."
Taylor and Machado were on base with singles when Freese connected on a 3-2 pitch.
"That was huge," Machado said. "Right out of the gate, we got two runs in there for one of the best pitchers in the game. He's our horse. It gave us the upper hand."
The horse, Clayton Kershaw (8-5), wasn't in peak form, but he won his fifth consecutive decision and still hasn't lost since July 21 against the Brewers. Kershaw allowed four runs (three earned) on eight hits in six innings, with two walks and eight strikeouts.
"I felt good tonight," said Kershaw, who had an RBI single in the Dodgers' four-run fourth. "My curveball wasn't great, but the other two [fastball, slider] I felt like I had pretty good command of."
Roberts said Kershaw's game was "a grind."
"I thought he was good, not great," Roberts said. "He was going well for a while there. The fifth inning was the inning they really stressed him."
Kershaw and the Dodgers led, 8-1, after four innings, but the Cardinals climbed into contention with three runs in the fifth. Kershaw, who made his first regular-season start in St Louis since July 20, 2014, escaped trouble in the sixth before yielding to the bullpen.
"The fifth inning was my fault," Kershaw said. "It was a little bit frustrating that the inning ended up that way because I felt pretty good. Other than that, with that many runs [ahead], just try to limit the damage. It was a big win for us."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Freese's two-run triple was ripped past third base and into the left-field corner on the 14th pitch of the at-bat against Gomber after he fouled off nine pitches. The triple was Freese's second this season, setting a career high. He has seven triples in 3,575 at-bats.
"Gomber's got good stuff," Freese said. "It was the beginning of the game, the beginning of the series. I wanted to get it going, lock it in. It was nice to get that down the line and get us off to a good start." More >
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Machado made a sensational play at shortstop to take a hit away from Jedd Gyorko with one out in the fourth. Gyorko's one-hop smash caromed off the glove of Kershaw and rolled to a charging Machado, who barehanded the ball and made an off-balance throw to first to retire Gyorko.
Tyson Ross became just the second pitcher to hit a home run against Kershaw when he connected with one out in the fifth to make it 8-2. The only other pitcher to homer against Kershaw is San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner, who has accomplished the feat twice in San Francisco on May 21, 2015, and April 9, 2016.
"I can't give up a home run to the pitcher, obviously," Kershaw said. More >
In a rematch of the Aug. 22 game at Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles will send Walker Buehler to the mound against St. Louis' Jack Flaherty on Friday. First pitch is scheduled for 5:15 p.m. PT at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals won the first meeting between the rookie right-handers, 3-1, after Paul DeJong hit a two-run homer in the ninth against Kenley Jansen. Neither Buehler nor Flaherty, a Los Angeles native, received a decision, but both delivered strong starts.