Dodgers manager Don Mattingly summed it pretty well Monday evening.
"Everybody loves seeing great players in pressure situations down the stretch," he said.
Mattingly will have the best view of anyone for the month of September, watching his star-studded team grind out another meaningful last month as the air cools and the pressure heightens, as it will again Tuesday night, when the Dodgers aim to even their series against the National League East-leading Nationals.
This is nothing new for the Dodgers -- jockeying with the division-rival Giants, who sit just two games back of L.A. in the NL West -- but Mattingly used his geographic location and a relatable basketball analogy to further drive home his point.
"Here in L.A., I think about the Lakers. I look at Kobe," Mattingly said. "You always think about him, how great he is, and not only how great he is, but how great he is when the pressure's on and how he raises his game to a different level.
"We've got Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, on and on, right? And I think it's going to be fun to see how they step their game up. Maybe we have two or three Kobes out here. Hopefully, a lot of Kobes."
Clayton Kershaw will be the "Kobe" pitching Tuesday. He's 16-3, has a 1.73 ERA, leads NL starters with 10.80 Ks/9, and is an NL MVP Award candidate.
Kershaw last pitched Wednesday in Arizona, allowing one run (unearned) on six hits in eight innings, striking out 10, becoming the first pitcher to win 16 games this season.
That's a tough task for the recently hot Nationals -- leading the Braves by seven games in the NL East -- who will look to keep Monday's momentum going with one of their best starters, Doug Fister, who after a torrid start to August has begun to cool down.
Fister lost his second straight start after allowing four earned runs (five total) in 5 2/3 innings against the Phillies on Wednesday, and he has allowed eight earned runs over his last 11 2/3 innings since announcing that he had skin cancer removed.
"It's just a matter of getting the ball down," said Fister of his last start. "That's the key to any sort of success. And it's going to be something that I really have to bear down on."
Nationals: Barrett among September callups
The Nationals made their September callups on Monday, recalling pitchers Aaron Barrett , Xavier Cedeno and Blake Treinen, catcher Sandy Leon and first baseman/outfielder Tyler Moore from Triple-A Syracuse. Outfielder Steven Souza Jr. (left shoulder) also returned to the Major League club after a rehab assignment.
Before being sent to Syracuse in early August, Barrett, 26, was an integral part of the Nationals' bullpen, going 3-0 with a 3.21 ERA in 40 games. His 11.50 strikeouts per nine innings ranks second among all rookie NL relievers this season, behind only Philadelphia's Ken Giles (12.72).
Barrett was sent down for a month to fix his throwing motion and to get some rest. Look for Barrett to continue his role in the late innings.
Dodgers: Puig moved to sixth in batting order
Looking to jump-start a slumping Yasiel Puig, Mattingly dropped his center fielder to the sixth spot in the Dodgers' batting order for Monday's series opener against the Nationals.
"Just hopefully he'll relax and get back to what he does," Mattingly said. "Wanted to take little pressure off of him and just allow him to be in a spot with a little less pressure."
Puig went 0-for-3 with a walk and run scored in the 6-4 loss to Washington.
Puig entered the night 2-for-27 over his prior eight games, striking out 10 times and lowering his average to .298. He batted .216/.296/.247 overall in August.
"He'll be hitting some balls hard," Mattingly said. "You can just see a guy when he gets his feel back. That changes quickly. It changes at any moment. It changes with a take or one swing, and all of a sudden the guy will be hot again."
• Since the Nationals moved to Washington in 2005, the Dodgers have the second-best record among NL teams against them, going 34-22 -- including a 20-6 record at Dodger Stadium.
• Kershaw last faced the Nationals in early May, throwing seven scoreless innings. In his career, he's 6-2 in nine starts against them with a 2.79 ERA.
Jake Kring-Schreifels is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.