LOS ANGELES -- Two of the major leagues' best pitchers, Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg, will face either other for the first time in their careers when the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Washington Nationals begin a three-game series Monday night in Los Angeles.
Strasburg, who signed a seven-year contract extension worth $175 million last month, has yet to lose this season. With 10 wins, the right-hander shares third place with Kershaw and three other major-league pitchers for wins. Strasburg also amassed 118 strikeouts, tied for the third most in the majors, while having conceded just 24 walks and 75 hits in 93 innings and allowing opposing batters to hit just. 220 against him.
Kershaw, meanwhile, is making the case for his fourth Cy Young Award in six years. The left-hander leads the majors with a 1.58 earned-run average and 133 strikeouts. Opponents are batting just .170 against the Dodgers' ace, the lowest such average in the majors. Kershaw also has walked only seven batters, by far the fewest of any starter this season.
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Yet for Nationals manager Dusty Baker, Kershaw is the least of his worries as his team prepares for its fifth of seven games on the West Coast as part of a 10-game road trip.
"The West Coast has always been tough on teams," Baker told the Washington Post after Wednesday night's 5-4 home win against the Chicago Cubs. "Lot of distractions out there. I've seen the West Coast destroy teams. I've seen guys rent boats. I've seen guys sunburned. I've seen guys go to Universal Studios and can't get a ride back, can't play because they've got blisters on their feet."
Baker speaks from personal experience. He played 11 of his 19 seasons with teams in California, eight with the Dodgers.
But Baker can employ one weapon no other team owns: second baseman Daniel Murphy, who leads the majors with a .358 average and holds second place with a .995 OPS. Murphy's .595 slugging percentage ranks second in the National League.
Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig is expected to be activated Monday from the disabled list. Puig just completed a rehabilitation assignment with Class A Rancho Cucamonga and could bring some adjustments to his swing with him.
"When he attacks the ball, he gets a little too rotational," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts told MLB.com. "It affects his defense and his offense."
Extremely hot weather could become a factor. On Saturday, the National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning that will last until 8 p.m. Tuesday.