East Coast will clash with West Coast when the Dodgers and Nationals meet for the first time Monday at Dodger Stadium in a series pitting two teams with lofty expectations.
The high-payroll Dodgers have underachieved thus far, while the loaded Nationals are heating up a little more than a month into the season. Both teams have playoff hopes. Washington, still chasing division-rival Atlanta in the National League East, has won five of seven. The Dodgers lost eight straight before winning back-to-back games Saturday and Sunday against another NL East foe, Miami.
The pitching matchup Monday will feature an established ace in Los Angeles' Josh Beckett and an emerging one in Washington's Jordan Zimmermann. However, only Zimmermann has pitched like one thus far in 2013.
Zimmermann has been the best of a vaunted Washington rotation, going 6-1 with a 1.59 ERA. In his last outing, he allowed one run on seven hits while striking out seven and walking two to become the NL's first six-game winner.
"Jordan is fun to watch. He attacks guys. I think this year, he's just smarter, more mature," Nationals reliever Tyler Clippard said. "This year, more than any other year, he is throwing a lot more breaking balls for strikes. He is throwing their timing off. On top of that, he is locating. With all of that going for him, he is doing a tremendous job. Hope he keeps it going."
Beckett needs to get something going, as he's still in search of his first win of the year. The righty is winless in seven starts for the first time in his career, though he hasn't given up a home run in two May starts after surrendering eight in April.
"I felt like I've done a better job of not letting them hit the ball hard in my last couple starts," Beckett said.
It's Washington's first trip to Dodger Stadium since late April of last year, when then-rookie phenom Bryce Harper made his Major League debut on April 28. He notched his first hit (a double) and RBI in that game, en route to the NL Rookie of the Year Award.
Harper has kept up the torrid pace this season. Entering the road trip, Harper is batting .297 with 10 homers, 21 RBIs and 22 runs scored.
The Dodgers' own superstar outfielder, Matt Kemp, enters with an 11-game hitting streak. He's hitting .326 (15-for-46) during the stretch, which began on April 30. It's the longest hit streak for a Dodger this year, and the 11th double-digit streak of Kemp's career. He also recorded the 1,000th hit of his career in Sunday's 5-3 win.
Nationals: Home runs keep coming
The Nats have hit at least one home run in 68 consecutive series. The last time Washington went homerless in a series was a four-game set at Citi Field from Sept. 12-15, 2011. It is the second-longest such streak in baseball, behind the Rangers' 77-series streak.
The streak is the longest in Washington baseball history, but the franchise mark was set by the Expos from April 16, 1998-June 18, 1999 (71 consecutive series).
• Zimmermann's 2.31 road ERA over the past two seasons is the best in baseball among qualified pitchers.
Dodgers: Gonzalez still dealing with neck discomfort
Adrian Gonzalez sat out Sunday's series finale against the Marlins, as the first baseman continues to work through his neck strain.
Gonzalez, who suffered the strain on May 1, said he is pain-free when swinging the bat, but still feels discomfort in the field and on the bases. In nine games since the injury, Gonzalez has played just three full contests, while Sunday marked the third game he has missed completely.
"It just seems to keep going on," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said Sunday. "We're trying to get on the other side of this thing."
Despite the lingering neck pain, Gonzalez has put together a season-long nine-game hitting streak and is hitting .367 (11-for-30) with two homers and nine RBIs during the stretch, dating back to April 29.
• The last time the Dodgers lost eight in a row -- Aug. 22-29, 2008 -- they responded immediately with eight consecutive wins en route to an NL West title. Los Angeles snapped an eight-game losing streak with a win against the Marlins on Saturday and won again Sunday.
• This will be the Nationals' first trip to face a foe from the NL West, as they embark on a 10-game road trip that includes series against the Dodgers, Padres and Giants.