After entering the All-Star break as one of baseball's hottest teams, the Los Angeles Dodgers are hoping to see their success carry over in the second half.
Visiting Los Angeles opens a three-game set Friday night against the Washington Nationals' Stephen Strasburg, who tries to bounce back from one of the worst starts of his career.
The Dodgers (47-47) failed to meet expectations for much of the season before going a major league best-tying 17-5 since June 22 to climb within 2 1/2 games of NL West-leading Arizona. Los Angeles, averaging 3.8 runs to rank 26th in the majors, has posted 4.8 per game and a 2.91 ERA in its last 22.
"I was really proud of the way they have persevered. We've been through a lot," manager Don Mattingly told MLB's official website. "We've put ourselves in a good position. But we're not there yet. ... We've got to be ready to play."
"It really is a short second half, and it doesn't start in an easy manner. We go through the Nationals, a club that needs to get on a roll themselves."
Sitting six games behind NL East-leading Atlanta, Washington (48-47) ranks in the bottom third of nearly every offensive category.
"Obviously we are a better team than what we have shown," said third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, whose club entered the break in a 2-5 funk. "Whatever happened in the first half has happened. You can't do anything about it. You have to learn from it. Just go out, play the second half. ... If we go on a run, have a good 25-game stretch, we are right back in it."
While the Nationals would normally be feeling good about giving the ball to Strasburg (5-7, 2.99 ERA), he's coming off an outing to forget. The right-hander was tagged for a career-high seven earned runs and lasted two innings last Friday in an 8-3 loss at Miami.
"You just have to hang in there, I guess. It's tough. It happens to everybody. It's all about how you bounce back," he said. "You are always trying to get better, always trying to learn. It's these types of games where you have nothing working. You take a step back, just pick it apart a little bit. You kind of see the flaws a little bit more."
Strasburg has proven nearly flawless in two career matchups versus Los Angeles, posting a 0.75 ERA and striking out 13 in 12 innings.
Strasburg will get his first look at Yasiel Puig, who has carried the Dodgers since debuting June 3. The 22-year-old Cuban defector is hitting .391 with eight homers, 19 RBIs, 28 runs and five stolen bases in his first 38 games.
Hanley Ramirez has also given Los Angeles a huge lift, batting .427 with seven homers and 22 RBIs over a 26-game stretch.
"Yasiel brought a ton of energy to us and Hanley was right with him," Mattingly said.
The Dodgers give the ball to Ricky Nolasco (6-9, 3.76), who has posted mixed results in two starts since coming over from the Marlins on July 6. After allowing one run in seven innings to beat Arizona 6-1 in his team debut July 9, Nolasco surrendered three runs, eight hits and three walks in five innings Sunday in a 3-1 loss to Colorado.
Nolasco is 4-2 with a 2.32 ERA in seven career starts at Nationals Park. While Nolasco has had his way with Jayson Werth (4 for 34), Ian Desmond (3 for 16) and Zimmerman (4 for his last 20), Bryce Harper is 9 for 20 with two homers in their matchups.
The Nationals have hit .210 in dropping 12 of 17 to the Dodgers.