The San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have been in a tight battle for first place in the NL West for the better part of two months. One club hopes for separation Monday in the opener of a big three- game series in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers were the front runners in the division from April 11-June 26 until falling into a tie with the Giants following a loss to the club on June 27. The teams have been within three games of each other since, with San Francisco holding at least a share of first place from July 14-Aug. 14.
However, it is the Dodgers who enter this series a half-game up on the Giants following a 5-0 win over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday, coupled with San Francisco's 7-1 defeat to the San Diego Padres.
Los Angeles got excellent pitching from starter Chad Billingsley yesterday, with the righty scattering three hits over seven scoreless frames to win his sixth straight start.
"(Billingsley) did a good job, we didn't even score," Braves center fielder Michael Bourn said. "He shut us down, there is nothing you can do about that. You have to tip your cap to him, he pitched a great game. He had us off balance and we couldn't get anything going against him."
Luis Cruz homered and Mark Ellis had two hits and drove in four runs for the Dodgers, who have won six of their last eight.
Manager Don Mattingly served the final contest of his two-game suspension and will hand the ball to Clayton Kershaw, who is riding a four-game win streak.
The left-hander has pitched to a 1.78 earned run average over that span since allowing eight runs over 5 2/3 frames in a loss to the St. Louis Cardinals on July 24. He lasted eight innings at the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday, yielding three runs on six hits while striking out eight in a 9-3 win.
"Any time you get that many runs you just try to attack the strike zone and make them beat you," said Kershaw, who is 11-6 with a 2.90 ERA in 25 starts this season.
Kershaw, who is 6-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 13 outings at home this year, lost his first two starts to the Giants this year before hurling a five-hit shutout in the most recent encounter on July 29 in San Francisco. The 24-year-old is 7-3 with a 1.32 ERA in 15 career games versus the Giants, 14 of those starts.
Madison Bumgarner gets the call for the Giants and will face the Dodgers for the first time in 2012. In seven career meetings, including six starts, he is 4-2 with a 3.62 ERA.
The 23-year-old southpaw followed up a loss at the St. Louis Cardinals with a complete-game victory against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday. He went the distance for the second time this year, allowing a run on five hits with six strikeouts in a 6-1.
"It started with him with the job (Bumgarner) did," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "We needed a well-pitched game and he's as good as anybody."
Bumgarner is 13-7 with a 2.97 ERA in 24 starts this year, but has struggled to a 4.06 ERA in 13 road games compared to a 1.87 ERA at home.
The Giants failed to finish off a three-game sweep of the Padres on Sunday, with Ryan Vogelsong lasting just three-plus innings in the start. He threw 96 pitches and was charged with three runs on eight hits and a walk with seven strikeouts.
"My stuff was OK today," Vogelsong said. "Once again, I can't control where the ball goes after it comes out of my hand."
Hunter Pence doubled and knocked in the lone run for the Giants, who had won five of seven coming in.
The Dodgers have won five of nine versus the Giants this season.