The first-place clubs begin the latest edition of their interleague rivalry Friday night when the Dodgers travel to Anaheim for the opener of a three-game series against the Angels.
The Dodgers (25-16) and Angels (24-18) began the season with high expectations, and one prominent national publication even picked the Dodgers to defeat the Angels in the World Series. Both teams have lived up to the hype, building slight leads in their respective divisions.
While the Dodgers are three games ahead of San Diego in the NL West, the Angels lead Oakland and Seattle by three games in the AL West. Both teams have won seven of their last 10 games.
Last season, the Dodgers won four of six meetings with the Angels, but suffered both losses on the road. They have dropped 11 of their last 14 games in Anaheim.
Although this series will be highly anticipated, former Dodger and current Angels manager Mike Scioscia would rather not play these games. He’d prefer instead to build on his team’s 13-6 record in AL West play than improve on last year’s 7-11 interleague mark.
“The real challenge of the season is the competition in your division,” Scioscia said. “You need to be playing your division through the first month, the middle of the season and the end. If interleague play is going to compromise that, then I’m not a fan.”
Dodgers manager Grady Little has plenty of experience against the AL from his days managing the Boston Red Sox, but it did him little good last year as the club lost 10 of 15 interleague games.
“Our intentions this year are to try and do better than we did last year in interleague play,” he said.
One positive for the Dodgers last year against the AL was the play of Andre Ethier, who batted .396 (19-for-48) in interleague play. He went 12-for-25 (.480) with eight RBIs against the Angels.
Nomar Garciaparra almost did as well as Ethier against the Angels in 2006, going 11-for-25 (.440) with four multihit games.
The Dodgers, who have won five of their last six games, will send baseball’s ERA leader Brad Penny (5-0, 1.39 ERA) to the mound in the series opener. Penny is off to the best start of his career after he limited Cincinnati to one run and four hits over 6 1-3 innings in a 7-3 victory on Saturday.
“Everything’s working out for me right now, but it’s a humbling game and it can change in five days, so you’ve just got to do the best you can to keep the team in the game,” said Penny, who retired 17 straight batters at one point.
The right-hander is 1-2 with a 3.16 ERA in four career starts against the Angels.
Penny has had his share of trouble against Angels right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, who’s hitting .389 (14-for-36) against him with one homer, not including Guerrero’s solo homer against him in last year’s All-Star game.
Guerrero is a lifetime .316 interleague hitter, but batted just .215 (14-for-65) in 2006. He homered for the first time in 12 games in a 7-3 victory at Seattle on Thursday.
The Angels are hoping that struggling Ervin Santana (2-5, 5.51) will win for the first time in five starts. Santana is 0-3 with a 5.40 ERA in his last four outings after giving up six runs over six innings and not receiving a decision in a 7-6 loss at Texas on Sunday.
The right-hander is making his third start against the Dodgers, going 1-1 with a 5.06 ERA in his first two career outings.