The first-place Los Angeles Dodgers and second-place San Francisco Giants have rotated atop the NL West for the better part of three months, and one-half game is all that separates the rivals heading into their series at Chavez Ravine.
Clayton Kershaw is hoping to push that advantage to the Dodgers' largest in 6 1/2 weeks.
Kershaw looks to win his fifth straight start in Monday night's opener with the Giants, who counter with a talented left-hander of their own in Madison Bumgarner.
This is the first meeting between these clubs since Los Angeles (67-55) outscored San Francisco 19-3 in sweeping a three-game series at AT&T Park from July 27-29. Hanley Ramirez made an immediate impact in his first series in the rivalry, driving in six runs and scoring three.
"Two good teams and both clubs know what's at stake,'' Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "They had their way with us last series. We're going to have to play better.''
That sweep moved the Dodgers, who had lost four of the season's first six meetings, into a virtual tie for first place in the West with the Giants (66-55) after entering the series three games back.
The two have remained within two games of one another since, and with Los Angeles defeating Atlanta 5-0 on Sunday coupled with San Francisco falling to San Diego 7-1, the Dodgers reclaimed first place.
A win Monday would give Los Angeles its first lead of 1 1/2 games since July 5, and Kershaw (11-6, 2.90 ERA) seems to give the Dodgers a good shot at creating some separation in the standings.
Kershaw has a 1.78 ERA in winning his last four starts, a streak that began in San Francisco on July 29, when he threw a five-hitter in a 4-0 final.
He has regularly frustrated the Giants in his nine games in the series since the start of his 2011 NL Cy Young Award-winning season, going 6-2 with a 1.25 ERA. His 1.32 ERA in 15 career games versus San Francisco is his lowest against any team he has faced more than three times.
"He just keeps coming on the attack all the time. That's what I like about Clayton," Don Mattingly told the Dodgers' official website after his staff ace allowed three runs and six hits while striking out eight and walking none over eight innings in Wednesday's 9-3 win over Pittsburgh.
Kershaw will be facing a San Francisco team that has been hit-or-miss in splitting four contests since outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended for 50 games following a positive test for testosterone. The Giants have combined for 18 runs and 29 hits in their two wins, but five runs and 15 hits in their two defeats.
The Dodgers enter this series winners of eight of 11, but their offense could run into problems against Bumgarner (13-7, 2.97), who tossed a five-hitter in Tuesday's 6-1 victory over Washington. In seven starts since the All-Star break, he is 3-2 with a 2.25 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 48 innings.
This will be his first outing of the season versus the Dodgers, against whom he is 4-2 with a 3.72 ERA in six career starts. He did a solid job last season against Matt Kemp, who was 2 for 11 with three strikeouts and three walks against the lefty.
Kemp, who is mired in an 0-for-15 slump, is batting .385 with a homer, three doubles and four RBIs in six games against the Giants this season.
San Francisco's Buster Posey is batting .300 with one RBI in eight games against the Dodgers this year, but is hitting .214 in 28 career at-bats against Kershaw.