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Series preview: Dodgers at Phillies

5/23/2014

It’s all about Clayton Kershaw for now as the Dodgers try to finally get on a roll in Philadelphia this weekend.

The Dodgers’ rotation, generally viewed as the backbone of the team, is intact (pending Chad Billingsley's slow rehab) now that Hyun-Jin Ryu has returned and Kershaw has been healthy for a few weeks.

Now, the question is whether Kershaw’s last start -- in which he lasted 1 2/3 innings at Arizona and allowed seven runs -- was just a bad day or signaled a mechanical issue. Kershaw, who has perhaps the best curveball in baseball, has been hanging breaking balls in his past two starts, giving up three extra base hits on curveballs alone. In the two previous seasons combined, Kershaw had given up two extra-base hits on curveballs.

Justin Turner lined a ball off Kershaw’s shin during batting practice Wednesday, but Kershaw has told reporters traveling with the team that he’s OK.

The last time the Dodgers played the Philadelphia Phillies, they lost three of four, but maybe they’ve got them right where they want them this time. The Phillies, like the Dodgers, have not played well at home, going 8-12 at Citizens Bank Park. Both teams are within five games of first place in their division, which is widely considered good news for the aging Phillies and bad news for the Dodgers, who have the highest payroll in baseball.

The Dodgers have been hitting balls hard lately, particularly on the road. Adrian Gonzalez is batting .474 with three home runs and six RBIs in his last five games, Matt Kemp is hitting .344 since May 3 and Yasiel Puig has a 1.252 OPS in May. Puig has also been as exciting as always on the bases and in the field, both for good and bad. The Dodgers admit they’re concerned about Kemp’s fielding in center field.

For the first time in a while, the Dodgers are facing a bit of uncertainty at the top of the lineup, as manager Don Mattingly gave slumping Dee Gordon Thursday’s game off. Gordon was batting .336 on May 10, but since then he has hit .154 and his average has dipped under .300 for the first time all year. Veteran utility man Chone Figgins led off Thursday and got on base twice. With Gordon, Figgins, Puig and Carl Crawford in the lineup, the Dodgers have one of the fastest teams in the league. They have 52 stolen bases, easily the most in baseball.

Friday the Dodgers face Roberto Hernandez, the pitcher who once worked under the assumed name of Fausto Carmona. Because he pitched most of his career in the American League, the Dodgers haven’t faced his hard sinker often. They fared well against him last August, scoring five runs on eight hits in four innings.