It was taken on faith Tuesday that Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig were all healthy. They were in the starting lineup, at least. Kemp, making his first start since July after spraining his ankle and tweaking his hamstring, played center field but did not approach full speed. Neither did Ramirez, who missed four games due to symptoms of sciatica. Puig’s hip was such an unknown factor just two days ago, manager Don Mattingly said the rookie phenom might miss one day to two weeks — then used him as a pinch-hitter the same night. Andre Ethier, whose left ankle is in a protective boot, was allowed to take a day off.
@Lovemegenie no. It's not your ankle, back, hip or hamstring.
— J.P. Hoornstra (@jphoornstra) September 17, 2013
The message was at once muddy — was this game such a must-win for the Dodgers that three ailing players started, or are they truly healthy? — and clear: At full strength, the Dodgers are still plenty dangerous.
The 9-3 win over the Diamondbacks reduced the Dodgers’ magic number to clinch the National League West to 2, ensuring that the division crown — and the majors’ first playoff berth — could be theirs tomorrow. Since the Atlanta Braves lost twice to the Washington Nationals, the National League’s best record is coming back into view again. The Braves are 89-62, the Dodgers 2 ½ games behind at 86-64.
Kemp went 4 for 4 with two doubles and three RBIs before he was lifted for a pinch runner in the seventh inning. Ramirez singled, drew three walks and scored thrice. Puig went 0 for 5 with a strikeout, continuing a 3-for-18 slump that has seen his batting average drop to .331. (That’s a career low. It didn’t dip below .400 until his 35th career game.)
But this game served as a reminder that the Dodgers don’t need Puig when the other cylinders are firing in the lineup. Adrian Gonzalez hit his 21st home run of the season against Arizona rookie Patrick Corbin (6-9), who suffered the shortest start of his brief major-league career. Uribe, back in the seventh spot in the batting order, went 2 for 4 with a home run — his fifth in his last eight games.
Zack Greinke (15-3) didn’t labor really at all until the sixth inning, and the only other flaw in his performance was an 0 for 2 day at the plate. His .327 batting average now trails Puig, which is probably normal.
There were no doubts in the authenticity of the Dodgers’ performance. It’s been seen before, particularly during the scorching months of July and August. The only question was whether it can be sustained, particularly on the back of Ramirez, the hip of Puig and the ankle of Kemp. Of this, there are doubts.
@jphoornstra is this where he sprains an ankle?
— Jeff Heald (@hapa_jefe) September 18, 2013
— Jorge Jarrin (@JorgeJarrin1) September 18, 2013
Maybe the chapter of patchwork lineups isn’t entirely over. Exactly what that means might not be revealed until the playoffs arrive.
The box score is here.