The Dodgers trail the Giants by only a game in the National League West, and the teams with the two best records in baseball will play seven times over the next 11 days, beginning Monday with the start of a four-game series at Dodger Stadium.
Though the Dodgers seem determined to downplay the importance of the showdown series.
“We’re playing the team that’s in first place in our division,” baby-faced stoic Will Smith said of the series. “[The games] will be big, but they aren’t any bigger than the  we’ve got left.”
If a meeting of rivals wasn’t enough to whet your whistle, this series in Los Angeles might see the return of Corey Seager to the Dodgers lineup after the shortstop missed over two months with a broken hand. Buster Posey is expected back for the Giants on Monday after missing some time with a thumb contusion, per Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.
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Tuesday could mark the major league debut of 23-year-old right-hander Josiah Gray, the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect. It’s either that or a bullpen game, and only one of those options is desirable.
“It’s TBD. We still haven’t decided,” manager Dave Roberts said Sunday of the possibility of Gray getting called up Tuesday. “Kind of seeing how today goes, how tomorrow goes. But he’s certainly in the mix.”
Chaos could also be looming, and not just because of a potential bullpen game. Gavin Lux injured his hamstring on Sunday and will probably miss at least the first few games of this series and could be placed on the injured list. Max Muncy’s wife Kellie is due to deliver their first child at any moment, so he could miss some time on the paternity list, with Zach Reks hanging around to fill in if needed.
But no matter the combatants, Dodgers-Giants is usually a competitive treat.
Before the season, the division was expected to be a race between the Dodgers and Padres, after the two teams had the two best records in the NL last season and met in the division series. But the Giants have proven resilient all year long, currently owners of the best record in MLB and the fourth-best run differential in the sport.
San Francisco has been in first place for 49 straight days.
The Dodgers are currently a game back, and haven’t been separated from the Giants by more than two games in all of July.
“You don’t want to start thinking about a certain team, and then maybe that team is not the team anymore. Maybe another team sneaks up and they become the team,” outfielder AJ Pollock said Friday. “It’s just not a really good mindset to be thinking about someone besides ourselves.”
That approach has worked for the Dodgers of late, winners of 14 of their last 19 games since getting no-hit by the Cubs on June 24. After getting blanked, the Dodgers have averaged 6.32 runs per game, including scoring six or more runs 10 times during that stretch.
NL West standings
Los Angeles leads the National League in runs scored (5.32 per game), on-base percentage (.339) and wRC+ (112). The Giants are tops in home runs (136) and slugging percentage (.432), and second in wRC+ (108).
San Diego still looms at five games back.
For the most part, Roberts and his players have preached not worrying about other teams, keeping the focus internal. But even Roberts admitted it’s impossible to completely avoid such information, especially over the weekend at Coors Field, with the visitors dugout on the third base line and the out-of-town scoreboard on the right field wall.
“I was watching. It’s right in my face,” Roberts said Friday, a night on which the Dodgers, Giants, and Padres all won. “I’m still focused on our guys.”
With San Francisco on the docket, the Dodgers can make time to focus on both, at least for seven of the next 11 days.