GAME IN A NUTSHELL: It was billed as one of the best pitching matchups of the season, and it lived up to the billing for awhile. Clayton Kershaw and Doug Fister swapped zeroes into the fifth inning, leaving everyone with the sense one crucial mistake might prove the difference in the game.
Turns out a couple of crucial moments in the field killed the Nationals, who essentially let the Dodgers score two runs in the bottom of the fifth via some lackadaisical defense from Bryce Harper and Ian Desmond. Fister then poured more fuel on the fire when he served up Juan Uribe's 2-run homer in the sixth, leaving the Nats in a 4-0 hole against the best pitcher in baseball.
Bryce Harper tried to swing momentum back to the visitors' side when he crushed a Kershaw fastball to right-center for a solo homer in the seventh, but that's all the Nationals would get against the L.A. lefty, who departed after eight dominant innings and improved to 17-3 with a 1.70 ERA for the season.
So the Nationals lost for only the sixth time in 21 games, but they still inched closer to the NL East title after the Braves were shut out again by the Phillies. Their magic number to clinch the division now stands at 18 with 25 games to play.
HITTING HIGHLIGHT: The Nationals didn't do much at the plate, but Harper certainly left the Dodger Stadum crowd buzzing after crushing a first-pitch fastball from Kershaw in the top of the seventh. It was the first home run Kershaw surrendered to a left-handed hitter all season, and it continued Harper's recent power surge. Over his last 13 games, the young outfielder now has five homers, a .340 batting average and 1.035 OPS.
PITCHING LOWLIGHT: For the better part of five innings, Fister matched Kershaw pitch-for-pitch. But after his defense let him down in the fifth, the right-hander quickly (and surprisingly) lost it. Fister was roughed up in the bottom of the sixth, serving up a towering home run to Uribe and departing before even recording one out in the inning. He has now given up five homers in his last three starts, this after a 10-start stretch in which he allowed only three.
FIELDING LOWLIGHT: This was the most surprising development of the evening. Though the Nationals were charged with only one official error, their sloppiness in the field in the fifth inning was both unmistakable and their undoing. It began with Harper's off-target throw from center field to third base, compounded with Anthony Rendon's odd decision not to try to tag Kershaw and instead throw to second base (late, as it turned out). And then things really turned ugly when Desmond (with all kinds of time to throw out Dee Gordon at the plate) lofted an off-balance heave over Wilson Ramos' head, letting another run score. The Nats have been fantastic in the field for awhile now, but this wasn't pretty.
KEY STAT: Since the All-Star break, Harper is hitting .288 with nine homers, a .360 on-base percentage and an .844 OPS.
UP NEXT: The rubber game of the series, and the final game of this long road trip, features Jordan Zimmermann (10-5, 2.93) on the mound for the Nationals and rookie right-hander Carlos Frias making his first career start after eight relief appearances for the Dodgers. First pitch for Wednesday's matinee is scheduled for 3:10 p.m. EDT.