The Dodgers were eight games out of first place as recently as June 26. Since then they've gone 30-20, the second-best record in the National League since that date (Cubs are best at 33-19), while the Giants have gone 20-30, and so L.A. enters this weekend in first place by two games.
I asked Eric Stephen, manager of our SB Nation Dodgers site True Blue LA, to update us on his team.
If there is a way for a $245 million team to be a gritty, fighting group playing like they have something to prove, this Dodgers team might be it. They have been without Clayton Kershaw for two months, but have managed to climb back to the top of the N.L. West, and if they get Kershaw back as planned in the next couple of weeks they are as capable as anyone of challenging the Cubs in the playoffs.
But as for this weekend, the Dodgers will stick to the same formula that has sustained them for a few months -- a resurgent offense and a deep and productive bullpen covering up whatever shortcomings the current rotation might have.
Rich Hill is finally active, which is great, but he won't pitch this weekend. Brett Anderson and Scott Kazmir went on the DL this week, leaving Kenta Maeda as the only Dodgers starter who has been healthy this year. Dodgers starters in August have an ERA north of 6 and are averaging fewer than five innings per start. Bud Norris starts Friday and that is seen as some sort of stability, to give you an idea of the current state of the rotation (playoff rotation ideally is Kershaw, Hill, Maeda, then one of Kazmir/McCarthy).
I would imagine Kris Bryant will win MVP and deservedly so, but Corey Seager is certainly in the discussion, enjoying a remarkable rookie season. In his first year, he has already emerged as the Dodgers best position player. He's joined in the middle of the lineup by Justin Turner, who has 21 home runs since June 7, and Adrian Gonzalez, who since taking a couple starts off in late June is hitting ~.350 with power, now fully healthy after back issues earlier in the year.
Yasmani Grandal leads all catchers in home runs, though he'll probably get a day off Friday with newcomer Carlos Ruiz starting. The Cubs with two lefties should have an added advantage this weekend because the Dodgers are near the bottom of the N.L. in production against southpaw pitchers. They have players to hit LHP but this year they have either been hurt (Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson), ineffective or both (Kiké Hernandez). Or sent to the minors to get his act together (Yasiel Puig).
The Cubs have a chance to win a season series from the Dodgers for the first time since 2008, when they won five of seven during the regular season. We'd have traded that for a NLDS win, of course.
Friday: Mike Montgomery, LHP (4-5, 2.41 ERA, 1.152 WHIP, 3.44 FIP) vs. Bud Norris, RHP (6-10, 4.69 ERA, 1.399 WHIP, 4.09 FIP)
Saturday: Jason Hammel, RHP (13-6, 3.07 ERA, 1.126 WHIP, 4.27 FIP) vs. Julio Urias, LHP (4-2, 3.95 ERA, 1.526 WHIP, 3.32 FIP)
Sunday: Jon Lester, LHP (14-4, 2.81 ERA, 1.078 WHIP, 3.67 FIP) vs. Kenta Maeda, RHP (13-7, 3.37 ERA, 1.101 WHIP, 3.68 FIP)
Times & TV channels
Friday: 9:10 p.m. CT, ABC7 Chicago
Saturday: 3:10 p.m. CT, WGN, FS1
Sunday: 3:05 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago, TBS (outside Chicago market)
As of the time of this post on Friday, the Dodgers didn't have any starters listed for Saturday or Sunday, but according to Eric Stephen, it'll be Urias and Maeda as listed. The Cubs appear to have favorable pitching matchups in all three of these games (as noted by Eric, the two lefties going give the Cubs an advantage over the Dodgers, who don't hit lefties well), and they did take three of four from the Dodgers at Wrigley, so I'll say they'll finish this trip on a high note and take two of three, which would give them a 6-3 trip.
The Cubs return to Wrigley Field Monday night to begin a three-game series against the Pittsburgh Pirates.