As the pennant races start to heat up in the second half of the season, Big League Stew is there to take a closer look at some of the biggest series down the stretch.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The situation: Pittsburgh's visit to St. Louis might hold bigger playoff implications this weekend, but I'm a little tired of writing about the Pirates right now. So instead we'll take a look at the Dodgers' trip down to Atlanta for a meeting of two of the league's top teams. This could be a potential play-in game matchup, but both teams would rather make it a playoff series matchup by taking their own divisions. Los Angeles currently hold a half-game lead over San Francisco in the NL West while the Braves can't seem to catch up to the Nationals in the NL East, no matter how much they win. They hold the third-best record in the NL with 69 wins but still trail Washington by four games. Getting an edge over the other team will be important this weekend, though not as important as just the sheer act of piling up wins to use against any team in the competitive NL postseason race.
Previously on: The Braves took two of three at Dodger Stadium in late April.
What's left: Nothing in the regular season, postseason TBD
For starters: Chris Capuano (11-8, 3.11) and Tommy Hanson (12-5, 4.29) will open the series on Friday, followed by Aaron Harang (8-7, 3.76) and Ben Sheets (4-2, 2.13) on Saturday and Chad Billingsley (9-9, 3.62) and Mike Minor (4.93) on Sunday.
Super storylinesHow will the Braves starters perform? Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made headlines this week by saying the team will be using a six-man rotation through the end of August and so it'll be interesting to see if that creates a little bakeoff to avoid being the odd man out when they revert to five for September. Of course, that's assuming everyone stays healthy. Hanson is returning from a stint on the DL for a back injury and Ben Sheets will be making his first start since saying "my whole body felt dead" during an awful start against the Mets last Sunday. Both might want to perform well considering they'll be throwing Mike Minor against a red-hot Chad Billingsley in the series finale. Billingsley has won each of his last five starts, posting a 1.56 ERA along the way. Those are the sort of numbers that'll make Dodgers fans feel OK about Clayton Kershaw's turn in the rotation not coming around at Turner Field.
Do we want to see Matt Kemp angry? The Los Angeles Dodgers star is probably still stewing after being ejected by umpire Angel Campos for something that was said by Kemp from the dugout during Thursday's game in Pittsburgh. And while he could possibly miss some time after making contact with the umpires, I'd guess he'd appeal whatever ruling so that he can play this weekend. Kemp has been superb since returning from his hamstring injury after the All-Star break, posting a line of .354/.396/.554 with five homers and 23 RBI. But he hasn't quite kicked into the power that defined his unbelievable first month of the season. Is this the weekend he goes wild?
Is this where the Dodgers take off? A big three-game series against the Giants awaits them at home on Monday, but Los Angeles has been on a great tear this road trip. They've gone 5-2 against the Marlins and Pirates and now they're running into a nice playoff barometer with the Braves. Hanley Ramirez and Shane Victorino have been good additions so far — Hanley in particular with his line of .317/.354/.476 over 21 games — and Jon Morosi of Fox Sports notes that Los Angeles has gone 9-5 with them both in the lineup. The Dodgers had a rough go of it there in the middle of the season, but their retooled team looks good as it enters the dash toward the end of the season.