Despite missing their opening day starter since the beginning of the season and their top slugger for the past 3 1/2 weeks, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have the best record in the majors.
They’re about to get a little closer to full strength, which doesn’t bode well for the rest of the NL West.
Hiroki Kuroda(notes) is expected to be activated from the disabled list and pitch for the first time since the season opener Monday night, when the first-place Dodgers start a three-game series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Very little has slowed down Los Angeles (35-17), which finished May an NL-best 20-9 and opens June atop the major league standings with an 8 1/2-game lead in the West.
In Sunday’s 8-2 win over the Chicago Cubs, the Dodgers scored five runs in the first inning to conclude a 5-2 road trip. They also improved to 14-9 since Manny Ramirez(notes) began serving a 50-game suspension for violating baseball’s drug policy.
It’s been considerably longer since one of their top pitchers made an appearance.
Kuroda (1-0, 1.59 ERA) hasn’t pitched since the opener on April 6, when he allowed one run in 5 2-3 innings of a 4-1 victory over San Diego.
He was fine after the start but felt tightness in his left oblique in his side session two days later. An MRI exam showed no structural damage, but the right-hander felt it again when he threw off the mound and went on the DL on April 10.
Kuroda was shaky in his latest rehab start for Class A Inland Empire on Wednesday, yielding seven runs in five innings, but manager Joe Torre is ready to get him back in the mix.
Kuroda went 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA in four starts against Arizona (22-29) last season.
The Dodgers have outscored the Diamondbacks 24-6 in winning the last four meetings after losing 9-4 in their first matchup of the season. Los Angeles has also won seven straight at home against Arizona by a combined 42-13 score.
The Diamondbacks lost to Atlanta 9-3 on Sunday, their fifth defeat in eight games.
Arizona, which visits San Diego for four games after this series, is already 12 1/2 games out of first and trying to avoid falling further out of playoff contention.
“We’re going to go in with the mind-set of winning the series in L.A. and win the series in San Diego,” Arizona manager A.J. Hinch told the team’s official Web site. “I don’t want to put too much emphasis on it, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s a big road trip for us.”
Justin Upton(notes) enters this series hitless in eight at-bats over his last two games after going 14 for 24 (.583) with four doubles and six runs in his previous six. He may have trouble getting back on track at Dodger Stadium, where he’s 2 for 14 in his last five games.
In the series opener, Hinch gives the ball to Billy Buckner(notes) (1-1, 7.16), who was tagged for five runs in two-thirds of an inning of relief in an 11-2 loss to the Dodgers on April 11. Three days later, the right-hander was sent to Triple-A Reno.
In his first start since being recalled from the minors, Buckner allowed one run and five hits in 7 1-3 innings of a 2-1 win at Oakland on May 22. He wasn’t as sharp in his next outing, though, permitting five runs and seven hits in five innings of a Wednesday’s 8-5 loss to the Padres.