Division leaders face off at Chavez Ravine as the Los Angeles Dodgers host the Washington Nationals on Labor Day. The month of August has been good to the Nationals (77-58), who have put a good deal of distance between themselves and the Atlanta Braves in the National League East, but now own the best record in the League. Matt Williams’ club has gone 19-10 in August, at one point stringing together ten consecutive victories, but after missing out on the postseason last year, must make sure they remained focused heading down the stretch. Most recently, Washington earned a 2-1 Interleague Series victory over Seattle, a set in which they dropped the finale after winning the previous two entries. Their offense exploded against the Mariners, jacking ten home runs over the course of the three contests, manhandling what is one of the better pitching staffs in the Majors.
That trend continued in the series finale, as Washington belted three more homers in the 5-3 defeat. Bryce Harper tagged his 27th and 28th of the campaign, while Nate Shierholtz popped his cherry with his first dinger of 2014. Harper has been on fire of late, going 6-of-11 in the series, with three home runs over the weekend. However, it simply wasn’t enough against the Mariners, who rallied back from a 3-1 deficit in the 5th Inning, courtesy of Dustin Ackley’s three-run homer. From that point, the flood gates opened as the hosts went on to accumulate a dozen hits, while their own pitching settled down, rendering the visitors powerless for the remainder of the contest. Tanner Roark (12-9, 2.91 ERA), who started the game, sustained the brunt of the damage, allowing four runs on eleven hits despite striking out four. Hopefully, Gio Gonzalez (6-9, 3.86 ERA) will have a better go at it tonight; the lefthander hasn’t earned a victory in his past nine starts, owning an 0-5 record with a 4.38 ERA in that period. In his most recent outing, the former 20-game winner yielded three runs in 6.1 innings of labor in a 4-3 loss to the Phillies, earning a no-decision. Lifetime, Gonzalez is 0-1 in two starts versus the Dodgers, but does own a stellar 1.50 ERA in those outings.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers (77-60) also have their collective eye on the National League’s best record, trailing tonight’s opponent by just one game. After pursuing the Giants for months, Don Mattingly’s club finally overtook their division rival, and now own a 2.5-game lead in the National League West. Pitching has been the key for this club, who boasts arguably the deepest rotation in the League, if not the Majors as a whole. The question however, is will they have the requisite offense necessary to make another run at a World Series Championship? Case in point; Los Angeles is coming off of a 1-2 series defeat at the hands of San Diego, where in the first two contests their inconsistent bats managed to produce a mere three runs, despite their own pitching staff limiting the Padres to five.
The series finale was another beast altogether, as the offense finally woke up, scoring seven runs on a dozen hits in the 7-1 victory. Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-6, 3.18 ERA), returned from the Disabled List in style, allowing just one run on four hits with seven strike outs and no walks in 7.0 strong innings of work. Offensively, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Juan Uribe each pelted a double, with the latter two along with Scott Van Slyke and Darwin Barney recording RBIs. With all that said, Mattingly’s charges still stranded ten men on base, which continues to be a lingering problem for this club. It remains to be seen how much support the lineup gives Roberto Hernandez (8-9, 3.81 ERA) who was acquired before the Trade Deadline to further bolster the star-studded rotation. In four starts since arriving from Philadelphia, Hernandez has been solid with a 2-1 record and 3.52 ERA, permitting three runs in six innings of a 9-5 win over Arizona last Tuesday. The former Phillie has faced the Nationals twice this season, relegating them to one run over eight innings of labor in a 2-1 victory last month.