Clayton Kershaw looked like a Cy Young Award winner while earning his first victory in his last outing.
Ross Detwiler has pitched liked a potential award contender early on for the Washington Nationals.
Kershaw hopes to help the Los Angeles Dodgers avoid a season-high third straight loss Friday night when they host the Nationals in a matchup of two surprise division leaders.
After going 38-16 down the stretch to conclude a 2011 season marred by ownership distraction, the NL West-leading Dodgers (13-6) have carried that success over to the beginning of 2012.
Washington (14-5), meanwhile, is baseball's biggest surprise - boasting the NL's best record and a 2.20 staff ERA. The Nationals look to bounce back from Thursday's 2-1 loss at San Diego that snapped their four-game winning streak.
"You're going up against the best, or a club that's playing the best," manager Davey Johnson told the team's official website. "I'm looking forward to that."
The Nationals, however, are 5-15 at Dodger Stadium since relocating from Montreal in 2005. That season also was the last time the franchise won a series at Chavez Ravine.
Despite its strong pitching and overall record, Washington's 69 runs rank in the bottom half of the majors. The Nationals likely will face a stiff challenge against Kershaw (1-0, 1.61 ERA) in the opener.
A 21-game winner last season, Kershaw allowed four earned runs over his first three outings before scattering three hits and striking out nine in seven scoreless innings of a 5-1 win at Houston on Saturday.
Manager Don Mattingly thinks this is the beginning of good things to come for the left-hander.
"I don't think Kersh is where he wants to be yet," Mattingly told the Dodgers' official website. "He's been pretty good, but he hasn't quite been what you would consider midseason form. I don't think he's been quite right yet and where he wants to be."
Kershaw is 2-2 with a 4.97 ERA in five starts against the Nationals, including 2-1 with a 3.71 ERA at home.
In the rotation while Chien-Ming Wang remains on the disabled list with a hamstring injury, Detwiler has allowed five runs - one earned - and struck out 15 in 16 innings of his first three starts. He pitched a season-high six innings and fanned seven in a 2-0 win over Miami on Friday.
"I do have to prove myself every time out because there's someone great right behind me (in Wang)," Detwiler said.
In Detwiler's only previous start versus Los Angeles in 2009, the left-hander allowed three runs in 5 2-3 innings and did not factor in the decision of a 5-4 home win.
Los Angeles sluggers Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier are a combined 1 for 7 against Detwiler, but together they've totaled 14 home runs and 45 RBIs in 19 games this season.
"For me, it's having that big two - two guys in the order that you can build around," Mattingly said. "We've got two pretty good players."
Kemp leads the majors in batting (.449), home runs (10) and RBIs (23), and is 7 for 21 (.333) in his last five games versus Washington.
Mattingly is expected to stick with closer Javy Guerra, who allowed four runs and seven hits in 1 1-3 innings while going 0-2 with a blown save in the Dodgers' last two losses versus Atlanta.
Ex-Dodger Jayson Werth homered for Washington's lone run Thursday.
Batting .290, the Nationals need Werth to produce while teammate Ryan Zimmerman misses a fifth straight game with a shoulder injury. Zimmerman is expected to see a doctor in Los Angeles, but it's uncertain if he will be placed on the DL.