Cincinnati Reds 3, Dodgers 2.

Aroldis Chapman

Aroldis Chapman touched 102 mph on the radar gun again Sunday. (Associated Press photo)

When the Cincinnati Reds visited Los Angeles for a four-game series in July, the Dodgers were starting to get hot. At one point, Aroldis Chapman threw a 102.1-mph fastball and Mark Ellis pulled it into left field for a single. The cushion was thin — the three wins were decided by a total of five runs — but the Dodgers used the series as a launching pad and won 16 of their next 18 games.

Looking at the won/loss column, this series seemed different. Looking closer at the Reds’ three-game sweep — which ended Sunday with a pair of Ronald Belisario sliders in the ninth inning — it was essentially a repeat of that July series. The venue was reversed but the home team had a slight edge again. Chapman threw hard again. Hanley Ramirez homered off Homer Bailey again.

If only Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke didn’t look so human this weekend, it would all seem so normal.

Sunday, Kershaw matched Bailey over seven innings on a night when he didn’t have his best stuff. Both pitchers allowed two runs. Kershaw allowed four hits, but struggled with command at times. In the third inning alone, he allowed a single, a walk, hit a batter, balked a runner to second, and loaded the bases with one out. He got out of the inning by retiring Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips on six pitches.

Kershaw normally pitches out of jams like this, maybe not against the heart of the lineup of playoff-bound teams, but he looked like himself in the important moments Sunday.

Only normal Kershaw wasn’t enough.

Ramirez drove in both Dodgers runs on a solo home run — his second of the series — and an RBI double to knock in Adrian Gonzalez. Jay Bruce drove in both Reds runs against Kershaw on solo homers. No left-hander had homered off Kershaw in 2013 prior to today.

But after Chris Withrow‘s perfect eighth inning, Belisario pitched the ninth and didn’t waste time drawing the game, and the weekend, to its inevitable conclusion. With one out, Zack Cozart lined a 1-1 slider into left field for a single. Belisario’s next pitch was exactly the same, a slider over the inside corner, and Ryan Hanigan acted like a man who knew what was coming. He lined a double to left field that forced Carl Crawford to scramble and make a perfect throw to Ramirez. Ramirez’s throw was off-line but it might not have mattered — not with the speedy Cozart sliding to the outside part of home plate, definitely not if Billy Hamilton had pinch-run instead.

The Dodgers had not been swept since May 17-19 in Atlanta. Kershaw and Greinke had not lost in the same week since June.

The Reds, who have been in the thick of the National League Central race all year, might be thinking that turnabout is fair play. As the Dodgers head home for a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks, they might be thinking “what just happened?”

They are 11 games ahead of Arizona in the standings and their magic number is still 10. They could clinch the division as early as Friday.

The Dodgers played three road games against a playoff-bound team and lost each by a run. How they respond this week will be important, but not nearly as important as how they respond if they meet the Reds again in October.

A couple more notes:

• The box score is here.

Matt Kemp‘s hamstring injury does not appear to be a worst-case scenario. Don Mattingly told reporters in Cincinnati that Kemp would be ready to play in games in at least 10 days — notably, that was the prognosis given to him by medical director Stan Conte. If he’s playing for the Dodgers (not simulated games) on Sept. 18, Kemp could appear in a maximum of 11 major-league games to end the season.

• Hyun-Jin Ryu told reporters that he’ll start Wednesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Ryu was scratched from his last start with mid-back stiffness. He threw 40 pitches in a bullpen session Sunday.

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This entry was posted in JP on the Dodgers, Postgame thoughts and tagged , , , , by J.P. Hoornstra. Bookmark the permalink.

About J.P. Hoornstra

J.P. Hoornstra covers the Dodgers, Angels and Major League Baseball for the Orange County Register, Los Angeles Daily News, Long Beach Press-Telegram, Torrance Daily Breeze, San Gabriel Valley Tribune, Pasadena Star-News, San Bernardino Sun, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Whittier Daily News and Redlands Daily Facts. Before taking the beat in 2012, J.P. covered the NHL for four years. UCLA gave him a degree once upon a time; when he graduated on schedule, he missed getting Arnold Schwarzenegger's autograph on his diploma by five months.