Photo by Jordan Megenhardt
By Greg Dillard
The All-Star break has come and gone, which means the second half of the 2011 regular season is set to get underway on Friday.
After a strong first-half performance, the D-backs will resume play at 49-43 and just three games behind the first-place Giants. The team posted a winning record in both May and June to climb toward the top of the National League West.
Additionally, the D-backs are 18-12 in one-run games this season and 23-19 at Chase Field.
Arizona will start the second half by hosting the Dodgers in a crucial three-game series. It was a challenging first half for Los Angeles, who sputtered to a 41-51 mark and occupies fourth place in the division standings.
However, the pitching of All-Star left-hander Clayton Kershaw has been a bright spot this season. The southpaw is slated to take the mound in Friday’s series opener against Arizona’s Joe Saunders, who is 6-3 in his last nine starts. He most recently hurled five shutout innings over the Cardinals.
Heading into his start, Kershaw is well aware of the offensive threats in the D-backs’ lineup. All-Star Justin Upton owns a .293 average with 15 homers, and Stephen Drew is hitting .259 with 45 RBI. The D-backs have crushed 102 homers as a team, as well as stolen 69 bases.
“They’ve got some good guys in the lineup,” Kershaw said. “They’ve got speed. They can go deep. They’ve got a lot of stuff. You’ve just got to obviously pitch to your strengths, but at the same time, every hitter has a hole or two. So you just try and find and exploit that.”
In 19 starts this season, the Dodgers’ ace is 9-4 with a 3.03 ERA. Through 130 2/3 innings pitched, he’s fanned an impressive 147 batters. The lefty last faced the D-backs on May 13 and tossed seven innings to earn the win.
With the series opener set to kick off on Friday, Kershaw anticipates a tough matchup against the division rival D-backs.
“The Diamondbacks are playing really well,” Kershaw said. “They have got some guys swinging the bat really well. Then they’ve got some young guys pitching, throwing the ball really well.”