WASHINGTON — Any shred of doubt the Los Angeles Dodgers absorbed from their 11-game losing streak has been emphatically erased.
After their fourth win in a row, 3-2 over the NL East-champion Washington Nationals on Saturday, the Dodgers cranked up the hip-hop in the clubhouse and spoke excitedly about being back on track toward making this a memorable year.
Cody Bellinger hit his 38th homer to match the National League single-season record for rookies, and Los Angeles clinched a second straight series win on the heels of its horrific skid.
“You never feel as if doubt creeps in a team this talented, but I guess the way we were going that might have creeped in a little bit,” manager Dave Roberts acknowledged. “To win a series (against San Francisco) in the bay — which we very rarely do — and to come here against a very good team, we’re trying to get that swagger back.”
Consider it done.
Chase Utley had two doubles and scored twice to help the Dodgers reduce their magic number for winning the NL West to five. Rich Hill and five relievers combined on a four-hitter.
Los Angeles also moved seven games ahead of Washington in the race to secure home-field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.
“Home-field advantage is a plus, but regardless of where you’re playing you’ve got to play good,” Roberts said.
The Dodgers appear intent on avoiding another lapse, and that means playing hard right into the playoffs.
“You can see the conviction behind every play and behind every swing and every pitch,” Hill said. “Everybody feel good and continues to do the work.”
Hill (10-8) allowed one hit in five innings, struck out seven and walked two. He had lost his previous four starts.
Anthony Rendon homered for the Nationals, who have lost four of five since clinching the division crown last Sunday. Manager Dusty Baker is hoping his team doesn’t get into a similar funk as the one Los Angeles endured.
“If we’re able to play as well as I think we’re capable of, finishing out this season and into the postseason, everyone will be able to enjoy it,” Washington second baseman Daniel Murphy said.
Bellinger hit a solo shot off A.J. Cole (2-5) in the second inning and added an RBI single in the third. Wally Berger (1930) and Frank Robinson (1956) are the only other NL players to hit 38 in their first full season in the big leagues. The major league record is 49, by Mark McGwire.
After missing nine games last month with a sprained ankle, Bellinger appears poised for a sprint to the finish.
“Figuratively and literally, he’s got his legs under him,” Roberts said.
Bellinger put the Dodgers ahead for good with his second-inning drive and drove in Utley in the third. After Rendon went deep in the fourth, Utley doubled in the fifth and came home on a fly ball by Justin Turner.
In the eighth, the Nationals closed to 3-2 and had the potential tying run on second with two outs. Murphy hit a sinking liner to right that was snared by a diving Yasiel Puig.
Kenley Jansen worked a perfect ninth for his 38th save.
The Dodgers went through a variety of rituals in an attempt to break their lengthy losing streak, including throwing salt by the dugout and using clubhouse attendants as batboys.
“There was no sacrificing of animals that I know of,” Roberts said.
The team settled upon a group huddle in the dugout before the game. “Kike (Hernandez) started it,” Roberts said. “Got the guys together in dugout and did a little 3-2-1, 1-2-3 fight, fight team, go fight win. It’s worked so far.”
Dodgers: RHP Brandon McCarthy (knee and finger blister) pitched six innings for Double-A Tulsa in the Texas League playoffs Friday night. “Blister fine, knee fine,” said Roberts, who expects McCarthy to be activated from the 60-day DL next week. … Hernandez left the team to tend to the death of his grandfather. He is expected to return Sunday or Monday
Nationals: OF Bryce Harper (hyperextended left knee) ran the bases at three-quarters speed as part of his ongoing effort to return for postseason play. He has been sidelined since mid-August.
Dodgers: Los Angeles will give the ball to LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (5-7, 3.59 ERA) for the series finale Sunday night.
Nationals: RHP Stephen Strasburg (13-4, 2.64 ERA) makes his 26th start of the season, looking to extend his franchise-record run of 34 consecutive scoreless innings.
More AP baseball: https://apnews.com/tag/MLBbaseball