The baseball flew off Corey Seager’s bat, clearing the center-field fence at Nationals Park. The three-run homer functioned as a message. After three weeks of ineptitude, with a 7-0 victory over the Washington Nationals the Dodgers offered a reminder of who is favored to represent the National League in the World Series next month.
The missive went to both Washington, a potential second-round playoff opponent, and to their own clubhouse. A 1-16 skid dented the confidence of a club storming toward 100 victories. A three-game winning streak does not undo all the harm. But it doesn’t hurt.
“That felt more like us,” Seager said.
The victory trimmed the Dodgers’ magic number to win the NL West to six. The team expects to celebrate a fifth consecutive division title next week. Until then, they will spar with Washington, which clinched the NL East this week.
The weekend does not meet every qualification for a postseason preview. The Dodgers (95-52) will not face Nationals pitchers Max Scherzer or Gio Gonzalez in this series, though they will see Stephen Strasburg on Sunday. On Friday, they pummeled well-traveled veteran Edwin Jackson for seven runs before he collected eight outs.
The Dodgers smashed three home runs off Jackson. Seager broke the game open with his blast in the second inning. By then, Justin Turner and Yasiel Puig had already gone deep. Both Seager and Turner recorded their 20th homers of the season.
Alex Wood (15-3, 2.69 earned-run average) kept the sizable lead safe. He struck out eight across six innings in one of his best performances in the second half. Wood had wavered in his recent outings, but he limited the Nationals to three hits Friday.
It felt like a familiar combination: a high-octane offense supported by a dominant starting pitcher. The Dodgers had ridden that formula to the best record in baseball. Manager Dave Roberts hoped it would continue.
“We got beat up for a couple weeks,” Roberts said. “It was nice for us to come into this environment, against a club like that, and to play well.”
It was hard for the Dodgers not to enjoy the atmosphere. They had not returned to National Parks since last October, when they drenched the visitors’ clubhouse with beer and bubbly after capturing Game 5 of the NL division series, an exhausting affair that ended with Clayton Kershaw collecting the save on one day of rest.
Roberts smiled about that night as the team plane landed in Washington on Thursday. Turner felt memories rush back as he walked into the ballpark. “The last time we were here was celebrating after one of the best games I’ve ever been a part of, in my entire career,” Turner said.
On Thursday, Turner received a text message from Washington’s All-Star second baseman Daniel Murphy, his former Mets teammate: “I can feel another fly ball hitter in my city.”
Like Turner, Murphy amplified his offensive productive by emphasizing launching baseballs skyward. Turner chastises himself when he hits the baseball on the ground. Facing Jackson, a former Dodger who has played for 11 big league teams, Turner did not have to worry.
In the third at-bat of the game, Turner ran the count full. Jackson pumped a 93-mph fastball down the middle. Turner deposited the baseball beyond the Dodgers’ bullpen in left field. More balls would soon leave the yard.
The Dodgers battered Jackson for five runs in the second. Puig crushed an elevated slider for his 26th homer of the season, a solo shot that foretold more to follow.
“My entire team has been preparing to be the best,” Puig said. “After that 11-game skid, we were in there working on things that we could do better. Today Jackson got confused on a few of his best pitches, and we were able to take advantage of that.”
After a double by Chase Utley, Andre Ethier lifted a fly ball into right field. Outfielder Jayson Werth settled into a spot on the grass and held his glove aloft. He was still posing when the ball landed on the warning track, perhaps 20 yards behind him. Ethier received credit for an RBI ground-rule double.
“It was a high fly ball, deep enough, so I figured I might as well tag up,” Utley said. “And then I saw it bounce behind him, so I started running.”
No hijinks were necessary for the next Dodgers flurry. A walk by Chris Taylor placed two runners aboard for Seager. Jackson attempted to fire a first-pitch fastball past the shortstop, who put it in the seats, an estimated 429 feet away, for a three-run shot and a 6-0 lead.
The Dodgers squeezed another run out of Jackson in the third. Wood appreciated the lead. His fastball sat at 90-91 mph, a tick below his velocity before the All-Star game, but still enough to pile up outs.
Roberts complimented Wood on pounding strikes at the knees. Wood fooled Murphy with a changeup for a first-inning strikeout, pumped a 91-mph fastball past him in the third and froze him with a curveball in the sixth.
“You strike out Daniel Murphy three times, you know you’re doing something right,” Roberts said.
The performance by Wood may have been the most encouraging sign of the evening. He had permitted nine runs in his previous 11 innings. His resurgence Friday coincided with the team’s revival.
“We’re trying to get locked back in,” Wood said. “It felt like a really quality team win tonight.”