Return home brings hopes of first place

Return home brings hopes of first

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have spent five days over the past two weeks of play tied with the D-backs for first place in the National League West.

But they have never taken over sole possession of first, an elusive spot Los Angeles has held only one day all season -- when the club sported a 3-1 mark on April 4.

With the D-backs embarking on a 10-game road trip while the Dodgers prepare to host 10 straight at Dodger Stadium, this stretch could be the period Los Angeles finally takes over that top spot -- and maybe even breaks the .500 mark it has been below since a win improved the club to 27-27 on May 30.

The Dodgers will oppose a pair of struggling teams, the Nationals and Giants, that are a combined 41 games under .500 in consecutive three-game sets before opening a pivotal four-game series against the D-backs that could make a big dent in the standings -- and, just as importantly, the psyche of one of the clubs.

The Dodgers may also debut a new bat during the homestand, as manager Joe Torre has said general manager Ned Colletti has a number of "irons in the fire."

Los Angeles has been rumored to be interested in shortstops Jack Wilson and David Eckstein, along with third basemen Casey Blake and Adrian Beltre.

With or without any new additions, the Dodgers enter a homestand in which they can make a charge in the NL West while facing a pair of underwhelming opponents before their showdown against Arizona.

Here's how the homestand breaks down:

Friday, July 25 vs. Nationals
Projected pitching matchup: Chad Billingsley (9-9, 3.32) vs. John Lannan (6-9, 3.29)
Promotion: Brad Penny Bobblehead; First Day of the Return of the Dodgers Trolley
Why you should go: Two impressive young pitchers square off in what has the looks of a pitchers' duel.

Saturday, July 26 vs. Nationals
Projected pitching matchup: Derek Lowe (7-8, 3.97) vs. Odalis Perez (3-7, 3.99)
Why you should go: A Dodgers win and D-backs loss on Friday would make this the day Los Angeles could take over sole possession of first -- with some help from fans.

Sunday, July 27 vs. Nationals
Projected pitching matchup: Clayton Kershaw (0-3, 5.18) vs. Jason Bergmann (1-7, 4.21)
Promotion: 50th Anniversary Autograph Day; Buy a Ticket, Get $10 of Free Gas with the purchase of a Field-, Loge- or Reserve-level ticket
Why you should go: The 20-year-old phenom Kershaw has remained winless through nine outings -- some good, some not. A start against the struggling Bergmann makes this as good a chance as any for Kershaw to net victory No. 1. Plus, fans in some sections don't even have to pay for gas.

Monday, July 28 vs. Giants
Projected pitching matchup: Hiroki Kuroda (5-7, 3.98) vs. Kevin Correia (1-5, 5.71)
Promotion: Japanese Community Night; "Deal or No Deal" Casting
Why you should go: Kuroda has thrown shutouts in two of his past three Dodger Stadium starts. An outing against the weak-hitting Giants makes this contest a candidate for another gem.

Tuesday, July 29 vs. Giants
Projected pitching matchup: Jason Johnson (0-0, 2.57) vs. Matt Cain (6-8, 3.82)
Promotion: Topps Tuesday
Why you should go: This could be fans' only chance to see Johnson start, if he even remains on schedule for the outing. The journeyman is holding down a spot for Brad Penny, and was scratched from his July 22 start -- when the Dodgers brought up Kershaw.

Wednesday, July 30 vs. Giants
Projected pitching matchup: Billingsley (9-9, 3.32 -- pending July 25 start) vs. Jonathan Sanchez (8-5, 4.10 -- pending July 25 start)
Promotion: Disability Awareness Night
Why you should go: Do Dodgers fans really need a reason why to see the Giants, especially when San Francisco will not make another visit to Chavez Ravine until Sept. 19?

Thursday, July 31 vs. D-backs
Projected pitching matchup: Lowe (7-8, 3.97 -- pending July 26 start) vs. Brandon Webb (13-4, 3.11 -- pending July 26 start)
Why you should go: When these two pitchers matched up on July 20 in Phoenix, it turned into the Dodgers' game of the year, although that had more to do with their five-run outburst in the ninth for a thrilling come-from-behind win than their anemic display against the National League's wins leader. Those who appreciate the art of the ground ball will enjoy two of the top five pitchers in the Majors in ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio going at it.

Friday, Aug. 1 vs. D-backs
Projected pitching matchup: Kershaw (0-3, 5.18 -- pending July 27 start) vs. Randy Johnson (7-7, 4.89 -- pending July 27 start)
Promotion: Cooler Bag
Why you should go: The Dodgers expect Kershaw to become one of the game's most dominant lefties as his career progresses. But even the most optimistic Kershaw observer would be hard pressed to believe he will rack up the 291 career victories and 4,715 strikeouts -- second-most all time -- entering this week possessed by Johnson, who is 24 years Kershaw's elder.

Saturday, Aug. 2 vs. D-backs
Projected pitching matchup: Kuroda (5-7, 3.98 -- pending July 28 start) vs. Yusmeiro Petit (1-1, 2.78 -- pending July 28 start)
Promotion: 1980s Reunion Luncheon; Universal Studios Hollywood Free Kids Ticket
Why you should go: Based on pitching matchups alone, this would be the one game of the weekend series the Dodgers should most expect to win. Kuroda pitches great at Dodger Stadium, and Petit has been inconsistent in his career.

Sunday, Aug. 3 vs. D-backs
Projected pitching matchup: Johnson (0-0, 2.57 -- pending July 29 start) vs. Doug Davis (3-5, 4.22 ERA -- pending July 29 start)
Promotion: Dodger Build-A-Bear; Nomar Garciaparra's Carne Asada Sunday
Why you should go: Johnson's the scheduled starter at this point, but this date could make sense for the return of injured ace Brad Penny (right shoulder). He's slated to start a Minor League rehab stint this weekend, and Torre has said he could be ready by early August. If there's any way Penny can make this start, expect him to, as he's 8-3 with a 2.13 ERA in his career against the franchise that drafted him.

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