And now, the main event.
In the blue corner, the defending World Series champions, your Los Angeles Dodgers. In the black corner, or the orange corner, depending on the day, the archrival San Francisco Giants.
The teams with the two best records in the major leagues: the Giants and the Dodgers.
The teams atop the National League West standings: the Giants, by one game over the Dodgers.
The teams that open a four-game series Monday at Dodger Stadium: the Giants and the Dodgers.
The Dodgers could have started the series in a first-place tie, but they lost to the Colorado Rockies 6-5 on an afternoon they twice were three outs from victory. In the ninth inning, Kenley Jansen blew his first save since May 5, giving up a tying single to Chris Owings. In the 10th inning, Phil Bickford, the sixth Dodgers pitcher, gave up a walkoff home run to Charlie Blackmon.
The Dodgers are one game out of first place. They are 1-9 in extra innings, and they have played five games this season with their projected varsity lineup, and their starting rotation is depleted, and they already have used 27 pitchers.
All that, and they are on pace to win 100 games.
So, yeah, bring on the Giants.
“This is a relentless team,” manager Dave Roberts said. “I think that anybody that’s watched us play over the years knows that.”
That the Dodgers, touted in these preseason pages as “the best team in baseball history,” have not led the division in three months means nothing now. It is where you finish, not where you start, and the Dodgers have put themselves in position to take the lead for good.
The Dodgers and Giants face off in seven of the next 10 games, with another series starting next Monday in San Francisco.
“We’re playing the team that’s in first place in the division,” catcher Will Smith said. “That’s always big. But I don’t think these 10 games are any bigger than the last 70, 75, however many we’ve got left.”
The Dodgers have 68 games left. Smith more than did his part Sunday. In the eighth inning, his two-run home run gave the Dodgers a one-run lead with six outs to get. In the 10th, his RBI single gave the Dodgers a one-run lead with three outs to get.
As the Dodgers try to rebuild a rotation behind Walker Buehler and Julio Urias, and as they wait for the expected return of Clayton Kershaw in August, they received an encouraging performance from David Price.
Price, 35, a five-time All-Star as a starting pitcher, moved into the bullpen this spring, amid what was then a surplus of starters. With Dustin May out because of season-ending surgery and Trevor Bauer on leave pending investigations into sexual assault allegations, the Dodgers have redeployed Price.
Price pitched four innings Sunday, giving up one run and two hits at this notoriously hitter-friendly ballpark. He faced the minimum number of batters over his final three innings. For Price, who opted out of playing last season amid the pandemic, the start was his longest since July 30, 2019.
“David did everything we asked, and more,” Roberts said.
He made 66 pitches, up from 51 in his previous outing and 42 in the one before that. In an era where five innings counts as a decent start, Price has rebuilt the arm strength necessary to serve as a legitimate starting pitcher as the Dodgers move forward. Roberts said Price would start again on Friday.
“I can tell when I’m going to be sore the next day or whenever I’m going to feel good,” Price said. “I know that I will feel good tomorrow. My body has bounced back really well.”
As a bonus, Price scored the first run of his 13-year major league career. He singled in the third inning — a dribbler that died not far beyond home plate, good for his fifth career hit — and scored on a home run by Justin Turner.
Roberts said the Dodgers expect to add a fresh arm to their bullpen Monday, most likely by activating Victor Gonzalez. It is uncertain whether they would create a roster spot by putting infielder Gavin Lux on the injured list.
Roberts said Lux departed the game with what the manager called a “cramp/strain-ish” condition in his leg. The Dodgers plan to send him for tests to determine whether a couple days off might suffice, or whether a stint on the injured list might be necessary.
The Dodgers expect to activate shortstop Corey Seager this week. However, the Lux injury could keep the Dodgers from considering whether to move Lux to second base and Chris Taylor to center field, in place of an unproductive Cody Bellinger.
Bellinger is batting .168, with four home runs and 43 strikeouts in 131 at-bats. Since June 23, when the Dodgers last activated him from the injured list, he is batting .116.
In 2019, when Bellinger won National League MVP honors, he hit 47 home runs, with a .629 slugging percentage.
In 2021, he has a .282 slugging percentage. Of the 145 NL players with at least 150 plate appearances, Bellinger ranks 144th in slugging percentage, ahead of only infielder Kevin Newman of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Said Roberts: “I think, for me, for Cody, when he was really good in ‘19, he was a hitter first, and the slug followed. He was using left center, he was using the middle of the field, right-center field. Breaking balls in the zone, he would slug those to the pull side.
“For me, if he could go back to being a hit collector, using both gaps, I think that’s a great start. The game is not easy, but I expect him to get to that point.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.