Dodgers eye first place, sweep of Nationals

On June 21, the Los Angeles Dodgers were a season-worst 12 games under .500. There were rumors that Don Mattingly was fighting for his job as manager of the team.

Things have certainly turned around since that time.

With 19 wins in their last 24 games the Dodgers have not only closed the gap on the NL West-leading Arizona Diamondbacks -- they've nearly eliminated it.

The Dodgers have picked up nine games in the standings since being a season- worst 9 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West on June 22. It's possible the Dodgers could find themselves in first place in the division by the end of Sunday, when they wrap a three-game series against the Washington Nationals.

Clayton Kershaw nearly went the distance the last time he faced the Nationals. If he has a duplicate performance this afternoon, the Dodgers could complete a three-game sweep in Washington and move a half-game ahead of Arizona, provided the Diamondbacks lost at San Francisco later today. The Dodgers would then be alone at the top of the division for the first time this season.

Kershaw had a three-start winning streak broken July 12 versus Colorado, but the lefty has given up more than three runs only once in his last nine starts. Kershaw, who tossed a scoreless third inning in Tuesday's All-Star Game, had 10 strikeouts in that game against the Rockies. He comes into today's game leading the NL in ERA (1.98), opponents' batting average (.188) and ranks second in the league in strikeouts (139).

Over his career versus the Nats, Kershaw has gone 4-2 with a 3.27 ERA in eight games (seven starts). He fanned 11 over 8 2/3 scoreless innings in a 2-0 victory at Dodger Stadium on May 14.

Jordan Zimmermann had won four consecutive decisions over a seven-start span until suffering a defeat in his final appearance prior to the All-Star break, July 11 at Philadelphia. Zimmermann gave up eight hits and a pair of runs in 6 1/3 innings in the 3-1 loss.

Zimmermann has yet to lose at home this season, going 9-0 with a 1.75 ERA in 11 starts. He last suffered a loss at Nationals Park on May 17, 2012 versus Pittsburgh. He's 14-0 over his last 22 starts at home.

The right-hander is 2-0 with a 4.12 ERA in three lifetime starts against the Dodgers.

Last night, Hanley Ramirez's RBI double in the 10th inning plated the go-ahead run to lift the Dodgers to a 3-1 win.

Adrian Gonzalez opened the frame with a double then scored as Ramirez laced a two-bagger off the wall in left-center field. After moving to third on Juan Uribe's sacrifice bunt, Ramirez scored on Andre Ethier's sacrifice fly to left.

Ramirez finished the game 3-for-5 and Mark Ellis added an RBI single for Los Angeles. Dodgers starter Zack Greinke allowed one run on seven hits over six innings.

"We're playing good and it doesn't matter. I feel like we're going to win no matter what the situation is," Greinke said. "That's how we've been playing."

Chris Withrow (1-0) worked a perfect ninth to earn the win and Kenley Jansen retired the side in order in the 10th to pick up his 11th save.

Roger Bernadina drove in the Nationals' lone run with a pinch-hit single in the sixth.

Washington starter Gio Gonzalez scattered four hits and struck out 11 over six scoreless innings.

Craig Stammen (5-5) was pegged with the loss after giving up the go-ahead run in the 10th while recording one out.

"I'm pretty sure these guys are going to wake up and swing the bat," Gonzalez said of his team's struggling offense that has scored three runs thus far in this series. "They're going to do their job as a hitting team. You can't hold this team down for long."

The Dodgers have won 10 of the last 13 meetings.