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Bryant lifts Cubs with late HRs to beat sleeper Dodgers

MVP? Who knows? But Kris Bryant can rest assured his long-ball ways against the Cincinnati Reds did not go unrecognized.

LOS ANGELES – If anybody knows how small things can turn into history-changing moments in the playoffs, it’s Dave Roberts – whose ninth-inning stolen base against the Yankees in 2004 was the pivot point for the most celebrated championship in Red Sox history.

Now he’s threatening to pull off another shocker as the Dodgers’ first-year manager, just by having his team in position to make the playoffs at all with its injury-ravaged starting rotation.

For all the talk about the Nationals and maybe the Giants as the Cubs’ biggest hurdles to reach the World Series this year, the Dodgers could be a serious National League sleeper – comatose starting rotation notwithstanding.

Don’t expect to get an argument from the World Series-favorite Cubs, who struggled Friday against pedestrian starter Bud Norris before Kris Bryant bailed them out with a pair of late home runs in a 6-4 victory.

That included the game-winner in the 10th as chants of “MVP! MVP! MVP” rose from the Dodger Stadium crowd 2,000 miles from Wrigley Field.

Maddon won’t take the Dodgers lightly, no matter how the Cubs finish the season series this weekend after taking four of the first five this year.

“How about last year when we beat the Mets during the season,” he said of the Cubs’ seven-game season series sweep. “And then we can’t even touch them [in the NLCS]. It’s such a different animal, and people get hot, and people get cold.

“I’m not going to diminish the fact that we’re going to be paying attention [this weekend], but trends can be so trendy.”

If the Cubs and Dodgers meet in the playoffs, their paths will be a study in contrasts.

The Cubs have been among the best-performing teams in most areas this year, but in particular with a starting rotation that leads the majors in ERA by a wide margin, led by three legitimate Cy Young candidates.

This month alone, the starters are 15-1 after Mike Montgomery’s no-decision in his second start for the Cubs, going five innings and trailing 3-2 when he left (leadoff walks in the second and third turning into two of his three runs allowed).

The rotation has a 1.95 ERA in 23 starts in August, averaging more than 6 1/3 innings per start.

Even with the loss, the Dodgers have a one-game lead in the NL West, and remain on pace for 90 wins, despite a middle-of-the-pack rotation that has used 14 different starters this season and requires more bullpen innings to finish games than all but one team in the league (the Reds).

With ace Clayton Kershaw on the DL, the Dodgers’ rotation in August – after Norris’ five innings, is just 9-9 with a 5.85 ERA in 23 starts.

Just by going five, Norris exceeded the August average for the rotation by more than a third of an inning.

Even Roberts calls it “amazing.”

“It’s all hands on deck,” Roberts said. “It’s taken a very unselfish group of guys in the pen, pitching in the third inning, the fifth inning, the eighth inning. And there’s no set roles outside of our closer. It’s unusual. And it’s a credit to the seven other guys in the pen that have taken the ball any time I’ve asked.”

The only hit against the all-hands-on-deck crew until the ninth Friday was Bryant’s first homer, leading off the eighth, against Joe Blanton, cutting the margin to 4-3.

That came after Cubs right-hander Justin Grimm gave up a homer in the bottom of the seventh to Adrian Gonzalez to give the Dodgers a two-run lead.

Struggling Jason Heyward doubled against All-Star closer Kenley Jansen, and wound up scoring after a pair of wild pitches to tie.

Fear the Dodgers if they get to the playoffs?

Roberts just wants to get there. Just wants the chance at another one of those moments that can turn a postseason on its head.

“That’s why you see certain teams making acquisitions prior to the deadline and keep making acquisitions after,” said Roberts, who started Carlos Ruiz behind the plate Friday on his first day with the Dodgers since his trade from the Phillies. “Because every game plays huge. To acquire a player who can help you win a couple games – or a game – could prove huge.”