After winning the NL Cy Young Award last season, the Los Angeles Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw has for the most part been good - but not great - in 2012.
He looked every bit like one of the best pitchers in the game his last time out, though.
Kershaw looks to build on arguably his most dominant effort of the year Saturday night when their three-game series continues against the Chicago Cubs at Chavez Ravine.
While Kershaw (8-6, 2.95 ERA) was tagged for a season-high eight runs in 5 2-3 innings during an 8-2 loss at St. Louis on June 24, he rebounded strongly Sunday in a 4-0 road win over San Francisco. The left-hander struck out seven in a five-hitter for his eighth career complete game and fifth career shutout.
"Guys do that who are really, really good," manager Don Mattingly told the team's official website. "They don't let one bad one affect the next one."
Kershaw was superb over three July home starts, going 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA while striking out 22 in 21 innings. He's also thrived in three career meetings with the Cubs, posting a 2-1 record and a 1.71 ERA.
Chicago (43-61) didn't generate much offense during Friday's series-opening 6-1 loss, either. Chad Billingsley threw seven strong innings, holding the Cubs to four hits and helping limit them to an 0-for-4 effort with runners in scoring position.
Chicago has lost three in a row overall and five of seven on the road while batting .164 - including .097 (3 for 31) with runners in scoring position.
The second-place Dodgers (57-50), meanwhile, won for only the second time in nine home games as A.J. Ellis went 3 for 3 with a pair of homers. Hanley Ramirez added two hits and two RBIs as Los Angeles remained one-half game behind the NL West-leading Giants.
While the Dodgers were at one point interested in trying to acquire Chicago's Ryan Dempster before he landed in Texas, they're hoping to get a boost from Joe Blanton. Philadelphia sent Blanton to Los Angeles in exchange for a player to be named or cash Friday after he was placed on waivers.
"You play for the postseason and a chance to go to the World Series. And they're in a good position," Blanton said. "They have a very good team over there ... They're fighting to win out there, and that's always exciting to be a part of."
Having moved Dempster and Paul Maholm in separate deals, the Cubs give the ball to Chris Volstad (0-7, 7.94) after calling him up Wednesday. The right-hander is 0-12 with a 5.68 ERA over his last 20 starts dating to last season.
"It's not not in his head," manager Dale Sveum told the Cubs' official website. " ... Instead of just pitching, you're worrying about another entity that shouldn't be in your head, but I think it's only natural to be in your head."
Volstad went 3-5 with a 5.17 ERA in 12 starts at Triple-A Iowa but threw eight shutout innings in his most recent outing July 27.
He gave up five runs in as many innings during a 5-1 loss to the Dodgers on May 5, dropping to 3-4 with a 5.01 ERA over seven career starts versus Los Angeles.