The Los Angeles Dodgers may have stumbled into the break, but they hope the pending returns of both Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier will get the club on track.
The duo could be back in action tonight, when ace Clayton Kershaw takes the hill for the opener of a three-game series against the San Diego Padres.
The Dodgers dropped three straight prior to the All-Star break and have lost 15 of their last 20 overall. That skid has dropped them to just a half-game up on the Giants for the top spot in the National League West.
Kemp and Ethier, who are both expected to be activated from the disabled list today, could serve as a needed spark. Kemp enjoyed an excellent April in which he hit .417 with 12 homers and 25 RBI, but then suffered a strained left hamstring that hampered his play and eventually landed him on the disabled list twice. He hasn't played since May 30, while Ethier has been out since June 27 because of a strained left oblique.
Kemp and Ethier were just two of 15 players placed on the disabled list in the first half for the Dodgers, and manager Don Mattingly isn't looking for the pair to carry the load themselves upon their return.
"We need Matt to be himself, we need 'Dre to be himself," Mattingly told his club's website. "I think Clayton Kershaw has been himself. He just hasn't gotten the wins. I said before the season, he could pitch just as well as last year and win 12, 14 games instead of 21. Some things are out of his control, like defense and scoring runs. But we've gotten consistency from the starting staff. We still need a group effort."
Kershaw has won just twice in his last nine outings and looks to rebound tonight after dropping his most recent start on Friday in Arizona. The left- hander was charged with five runs on five hits and two walks over 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven. All of the runs he allowed came in the fifth frame, an inning that began with the ominous leadoff walk.
"I walked the leadoff guy, (they) got some hits and before you know it we're down so it was just a rough inning, really," said Kershaw, who is 6-5 with a 2.91 earned run average in 18 starts.
Kershaw played with fire a bit in Tuesday's All-Star Game, needing 27 pitches during the fifth inning of the NL's 8-0 win as he escaped a bases-loaded situation.
The 24-year-old has faced the Padres twice this season without a decision and is 7-3 with a 2.40 ERA in 15 lifetime meetings against the club.
San Diego's Clayton Richard also struggled in his final start before the break and will look to get on track tonight.
The lefty lost for the second time in three outings on Saturday as he was charged with six runs on eight hits over six-plus frames of a 6-5 defeat to the Reds. Richard fell to 6-9 with a 3.91 ERA in 18 starts on the year.
Richard will go up against the Dodgers for the fourth time in 2012. He has beaten them twice at home, but yielded eight runs -- four earned -- over six frames of a no-decision at Los Angeles on April 13.
In 10 lifetime meetings against Los Angeles, the 28-year-old is 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA.
Like the Dodgers, the Padres also struggled with injury in the first half, executing 19 disabled list moves. However, they were unable to battle like their division counterparts and sit 13 games out of first place.
"We've shuffled the deck for a number of different reasons -- injury, performance," noted manager Bud Black. "We didn't get of to a good start through April and May. I think the last month we've played much better."
San Diego was hit particularly hard in the rotation, placing seven starters on the DL. That has led to the likes of Jason Marquis, Kip Wells and Ross Ohlendorf getting turns as a starter.
Following a six-game win streak, the Padres lost their final three games before the break.
The Dodgers own a 7-2 mark over the Padres so far this season, including a three-game sweep at home from April 13-15. They have taken 17 of the past 21 encounters overall and nine in a row at home.