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Column: Dodgers realize they can’t underestimate Giants and Padres in NL West

Zach McKinstry celebrates with Matt Beaty, Chris Taylor and Gavin Lux after hitting a grand slam.
Zach McKinstry, left, celebrates with Matt Beaty, second from left, Chris Taylor, center, and Gavin Lux after hitting a grand slam in the Dodgers’ 7-1 win over the Chicago Cubs on Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

They’re not the Lakers.

The Dodgers aren’t about to let some other team just walk away with the championship they won last year.

If their calm demeanor over the worst four-game stretch of the season raised concerns about their resolve, it shouldn’t have.

Instead of attacking a bat rack or melting down during their postgame videoconferences, the Dodgers responded with plate appearances like Gavin Lux’s in the second inning of a 7-1 victory over the Cubs on Sunday at Dodger Stadium.

“The intent,” manager Dave Roberts said, “one through eight, it was next level.”

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With two men on and the game scoreless, Lux found himself in an 0-2 count. He fouled off a 96-mph fastball by Cubs starter Adbert Alzolay, then took four consecutive pitches to draw a walk and load the bases. Zack McKinstry followed with a grand slam that sent the Dodgers toward their third consecutive victory.

Clayton Kershaw gave up one run and four hits, struck out a season-high 13 and walked one in the Dodgers’ 7-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs.

The three-game winning streak came after the Dodgers were swept by the San Diego Padres in a three-game series at Petco Park and returned home only to be on the undesirable side of a combined no-hitter.

“Coming back here and being no-hit, maybe it was a wake-up call, in some regards,” Clayton Kershaw said.

Right in time for a visit by the San Francisco Giants.

Entering their two-game series that opens on Monday night, the Dodgers are 3 1/2 games behind the first-place Giants.

The third-place San Diego Padres are still around, too, only a game behind the Dodgers.

The halfway point of the season is approaching and the National League West remains a three-team race — a legitimate three-team race, as opposed to the phantom threats they have encountered in recent seasons.

In previous years, there was always a quiet confidence around these parts the Dodgers would be able to outlast their opponents. The Dodgers were much better than the other teams. Much deeper, too. And the other teams, frankly, weren’t very good.

Consider what happened in 2018, the last time the Dodgers were in a supposed three-team race.

Highlights from the Dodgers’ 7-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Dodger Stadium on Sunday.

The Dodgers started slowly and trailed the Colorado Rockies by 8 1/2 games a month and a half into the season. But the Rockies looked as if they would come back to them, and did.

The Arizona Diamondbacks went into the final month of the season in first place. But they looked as if they could implode, and did.

Ultimately, the Dodgers won the division by taking down the Rockies in a tie-breaking 163rd game. They went on to reach their second consecutive World Series, where they lost in five games to the Boston Red Sox.

Which makes this season unusual.

The Dodgers can’t simply count on their rivals to cave in as they have in the past.

“We’re planning on beating these guys,” Roberts said.

They have to win the division, as opposed to waiting for the Giants and Padres to lose it.

The Padres have won seven of their 10 games against the Dodgers. The Giants lead the majors in home runs and their pitchers have continued to outperform expectations.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers haven’t looked like the same team that won the World Series, their dependence on their starting pitchers increasing as Corey Seager remains sidelined with a broken hand and Mookie Betts playing as if he emptied his cartridge in October.

All of which made how they closed the series against the Cubs particularly uplifting.

Roberts said he sensed after the no-hit loss on Thursday that his team was on the verge of a turnaround. Asked what specifically it was that he noticed, Roberts replied, “I think embarrassment, probably. No one likes to lose, but to lose three in a row to a division rival and then to come home and get no-hit, that doesn’t make anyone feel good.”

McKinstry said there were some conversations in the clubhouse about helping the pitchers and taking more team-oriented at-bats. Justin Turner addressed the team. So did Albert Pujols.

The Dodgers won Friday on eighth-inning home runs by A.J. Pollock and Max Muncy. The next day, Cody Bellinger delivered the victory on a walk-off home run.

Bellinger homered again in the finale on Sunday.

Before their three wins over the Cubs at home, the Dodgers were 15-22 against teams .500 or better and 29-9 against everyone else.

Seager remains sidelined, Betts is batting .248, but the Dodgers look as if they found something over the weekend. They know they’re in a fight and now they’re acting like it.


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