While few pitchers have been better than Clayton Kershaw over the past six weeks, few have been worse than Barry Zito.
However, the San Francisco Giants have won more of Zito's starts in that span than the Los Angeles Dodgers have with Kershaw - an indication of how things have been going for these teams and why the NL West standings look the way they do.
Though the Dodgers got more bad news this weekend with injured star Matt Kemp leaving the team, they have a chance to leave the Bay Area on Sunday night with a series victory and a smaller gap behind the first-place Giants.
Kemp will miss a second straight game due to a shoulder problem which has bothered him since a collision with the outfield wall in Colorado on Aug. 28. The All-Star center fielder sat out two games after that incident and has gone 3 for 30 since returning.
"I appreciate him wanting to play and wanting to be tough and go out there, but at some point you've got to be able to be honest and say, 'Either I can help the team or I can't help the team,'" manager Don Mattingly said. "If it's hurting him to swing the bat and do some things, it doesn't do us any good for him to be out there."
Kemp could be back Tuesday, but his absence further hinders a Los Angeles offense which has failed to score more than three runs in nine of 13 games. The Dodgers (74-66) are 5-8 in that span and have fallen 4 1/2 games behind the Giants (78-61), though they evened this three-game set with a 3-2 victory Saturday.
A three-game sweep in San Francisco from July 27-29 had pulled Los Angeles into a virtual tie atop the West. The Giants would lose their next series to the Mets but have since gone 22-12.
"It's going to be a fight and we know it," manager Bruce Bochy said. "It's our nature. We don't do anything easy in our games. There's a lot of baseball left."
Since July 28, Kershaw leads all NL starting pitchers in strikeouts (65), innings (59 1-3) and opponent batting average (.194). While he has a 1.97 ERA in that span, Zito is at 6.59 with opposing batters hitting .319 against him - both second-worst in the NL.
The Giants, though, have won each of Zito's last six starts mostly because they've scored 37 runs. The Dodgers have lost three of Kershaw's last four, totaling four runs in those three defeats.
Kershaw (12-8, 2.79 ERA) gave up one run in seven innings of a 6-3, 11-inning loss to San Diego on Tuesday.
"It's always nice to get those wins and have something to show for it," Kershaw told the team's official website. "All you can do is pitch well."
Zito (10-8, 4.51) has failed to get through six innings in six of eight outings, a rough stretch which began July 28 against Los Angeles as he yielded four runs in 5 1-3 innings of a 10-0 defeat. The left-hander is 1-5 over his past 10 starts versus Los Angeles despite a 2.92 ERA.
Andre Ethier is a .158 hitter versus Zito and 0 for 6 in this series. Hanley Ramirez, 2 for 21 against Zito, doubled home the go-ahead run in the ninth inning Saturday for his 10th RBI in eight games at San Francisco this year.
Marco Scutaro has the hot bat for the Giants, going 10 for 21 over the past five games. He's 4 for 7 against Kershaw, but teammates Hunter Pence and Brandon Belt are a combined 4 for 40.