Desert showdown set for second half

Desert showdown set for second half

LOS ANGELES -- For the past month the Dodgers have been right on the D-backs' tails in the National League West, never able to break through by taking over the division lead.

Going into the All-Star break one game back despite being three games under .500, the Dodgers will take their first shot at the division lead in a three-game series they open Friday in downtown Phoenix.

"That series is going to be important," said outfielder Andre Ethier. "Whatever we do there is going to make up a lot of ground or lose a lot of ground on Arizona. It's a situation where we've got to go in ready to play, and we've got to knock the dust off early on Friday and be ready for the ballgames there."

Twice this past week, Los Angeles has tied Arizona atop the NL West standings for the first time since April 6, only to have the D-backs retake the lead the next day.

Amazingly, the Dodgers could take their first lead in the division since April 4 with wins in the first two games in the series, although they would remain under .500.

"It's still July, it's a little early to worry about that with as many games that are left on the schedule, but the fact of the matter is you don't want to go in and have somebody manhandle you and then try to recover from that," said Dodgers manager Joe Torre.

Torre and some of his players like having such a grueling series, sure to test the club right off the bat, as that should fight any post-All-Star break complacency teams tend to fall into.

Torre said this is a much better situation than facing a division showdown in a team's second series because of the tendency to look ahead.

"It's going to keep our minds on baseball for the most part, knowing we have a big series coming up," said catcher Russell Martin. "We'll be ready to go."

Because it's a long season and neither team has looked like a club threatening to run away with the division in recent weeks, Torre thinks the series is just as important for his players' psyche as it is the standings.

"You're basically going to measure yourself," Torre said. "I don't think that wins and losses have as much to say about it other than in the standings as opposed to what the confidence is going to tell you".

Pitching matchup
LAD: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (5-6, 3.43 ERA)
He didn't duplicate his nearly perfect one-hitter, but Hiroki Kuroda pitched well enough to win on Saturday against the Marlins. He complained that his breaking ball wasn't as sharp, but it was still a quality start. Don't be fooled by the losing record. He's left four games with leads that the bullpen couldn't protect. In his only Chase Field start, he allowed nine hits in 5 2/3 innings and took the defeat.

ARI: LHP Doug Davis (3-4, 3.80 ERA)
Davis pitched well in his past start, giving up three runs on five hits over six innings in a no-decision against the Phillies. That should come as no surprise, as he has yielded three earned runs in his past four starts and has not given up more than that in his past six outings. However, because of Arizona's offensive struggles, he only has one win to show for it. Davis has dominated the Dodgers in his career, compiling a 4-2 record off a 1.33 ERA in 40 2/3 innings over six starts, including a two-run, six-inning win on April 8 in his past start before undergoing surgery for thyroid cancer.

Jason Schmidt (shoulder surgery) allowed five runs (four earned) on five hits, striking out three and walking two Sunday in a Minor League rehabilitation start for Triple-A Las Vegas against Tacoma. He threw 63 pitches, 41 for strikes. Schmidt now has a 7.94 ERA in four Triple-A starts after compiling a 3.48 ERA in four starts for Class A Inland Empire. ... Injured pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney (right hamstring) went 4-for-16 (.250), all singles, with a pair of runs in four games from July 10-13 in a Minor League rehab stint for Triple-A Las Vegas. Sweeney alternated days between first base and as the designated hitter. ... Dodgers prospect Ivan DeJesus went 2-for-3 with a walk for the World Team in Sunday's XM All-Star Futures Game. DeJesus plays shortstop for Double-A Jacksonville in the Dodgers' system. ... The Dodgers were also a game out of first place entering the All-Star break last season, but at that time they had a 49-40 record. ... Martin was awarded the Heart & Hustle Award on the field before Sunday's game. Former Dodger Maury Wills was on hand to congratulate him. ... The Dodgers went 11-9 in their stretch of 20 straight games before the All-Star break.

 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television

On radio
• KABC 790, KHJ 930 (Español)

Up next
• Saturday: Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 9-8, 3.25) at Diamondbacks (Dan Haren, 8-5, 2.72), 5:10 p.m. PT
• Sunday: Dodgers (Derek Lowe, 7-8, 3.85) at Diamondbacks (Brandon Webb, 13-4, 3.23), 1:10 p.m. PT
• Monday: Dodgers (Chan Ho Park, 4-2, 2.63) at Rockies (TBD), 6:05 p.m. PT

Michael Schwartz is an associate reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.