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October preview? LA wins another thriller

@kengurnick
June 17, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- It lacks the passion and bitterness of a rivalry with the Giants, but the Dodgers and Cubs finished a four-game series Sunday indicative of division leaders that have battled for National League pennants in recent years and are on track to meet again in October. The Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- It lacks the passion and bitterness of a rivalry with the Giants, but the Dodgers and Cubs finished a four-game series Sunday indicative of division leaders that have battled for National League pennants in recent years and are on track to meet again in October.

The Dodgers rallied and then held on for a 3-2 win on Father’s Day. Cody Bellinger slugged his 23rd home run to tie the game, Hyun-Jin Ryu didn’t allow an earned run over seven innings, closer Kenley Jansen convinced manager Dave Roberts to give him a chance to avenge his Saturday night loss with a midnight text and the Dodgers took the series, 3-1, and the season series, 4-3.

"The core group has won a championship before,” said Roberts when asked if he could see the teams meeting in the postseason, as they did when the Cubs eliminated the Dodgers in 2016 and the Dodgers eliminated the Cubs in 2017.

“They play the right way, can win in a lot of ways. I really like their starting pitching. Obviously with the addition of [closer Craig] Kimbrel it tightens up their bullpen. The position-player group is dynamic, kind of like ours. Very similar clubs. We have a long way to go before a potential rematch, if it happens."

Box score

The last two games were decided by one run. On Sunday it came down to a clutch nine-pitch walk to Chris Taylor, the fill-in for injured shortstop Corey Seager, who barely scored from second base on an RBI single that Russell Martin poked into left field with one out in the bottom of the eighth.

“That's a great game, but I just think it reemphasizes how equal both teams are -- I really do,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon. “Great game. They caught a line drive, we lose. They get a blooper that lands in front of our left fielder, they win. That was the difference in the game."

Martin had struck out his previous four at-bats and was down to his last strike in this one when, with shadows darkening Dodger Stadium, he finally saw enough of a Steve Cishek slider to punch it into left field.

What was Martin thinking as he stepped to the plate after three strikeouts?

“Walking up there, like, just don’t strike out a fourth time, was what I was probably thinking,” he said. “I battled through the at-bat, fouled a bunch of pitches off and finally saw one. It was a golden opportunity to score a run and this time I came through.”

The speedy Taylor seemed to hesitate momentarily, but was aggressively waved home by third-base coach Dino Ebel and slid hard face-first, left fielder Kris Bryant’s throw on the first-base side of the plate and skipping past catcher Willson Contreras. Taylor suffered a nasty scrape on his right cheek from the slide.

"He had to make a perfect throw and he didn't and that's what I was banking on,” said Ebel.

“Dino, I honestly haven’t seen anybody in baseball better taking hold of third base,” said Roberts.

Meanwhile, three outs remained and the first two Cubs against Jansen reached base. One out later they were on second and third. Jansen fielded a tapper to erase one runner at home for the second out and Javier Baez was next. Jansen had him 0-2, bounced a slider that Martin did well to smother, then hung another slider and Baez smoked a 98.6 mph slider that center fielder Alex Verdugo raced in to catch with an above-average jump, making a 4-star catch on a ball that had a 30% catch probability.

“It wasn’t pretty,” said Martin, “but Kenley got it done. Today was one of those situations where it wasn’t looking good. We’ll take it.”

Jansen said bouncing back is the name of the game for a closer.

“You just got to calm down all the noise, all the GMs out there and focus on helping my team win,” said Jansen after his 21st save.

“It's just a very fine line in games against guys that good,” said Bryant. “You've got to give them credit. They worked their way out of a jam there. Great play to end the game. I thought it was going to get down. It's a good team over there, so you can't make mistakes or have bad at-bats. You've just got to compete better.”

“Obviously, like I've said, we've got similar teams,” said Baez. “It's going to be a really close game most of the time against them. It was fun. It was fun to be out there and compete the whole series, even though we lost the series. We had great competition. What we did yesterday is what it's all about. We tried today and it just didn't go our way.”

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.