The Dodgers and Nationals, a pair of National League division leaders, will open September on Monday with the first of three games at Dodger Stadium. Over the past few weeks, though, the two teams have been trending in different directions.
Los Angeles led the NL West by six games as recently as Aug. 12, and while the Dodgers have posted an 8-8 record since then, the Giants have been surging and now trail in the division by 2 1/2 games.
"I expected this from early on," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said of the tightened race. "Everybody told me we'd run away with the division, and we were down 9 1/2 games and had no chance to win. Then we're up by six, and now we're back to this. Everyone in this locker room understands how good the Giants are, how hard we have to play, how hard games are to win down the stretch."
Washington, meanwhile, started August with just a 1 1/2-game edge in the NL East. But the Braves have floundered, and the Nationals -- whose August was highlighted by a 10-game winning streak -- will start September with a six-game cushion.
Left-hander Gio Gonzalez will begin the series for the Nats in Los Angeles. He has not notched a win since July 5, going 0-5 with a 4.38 ERA in his last nine starts.
The Dodgers will go with righty Roberto Hernandez, who has made four solid starts since being traded from the Phillies in early August. Hernandez is 2-1 in those outings with a 3.52 ERA.
"I thought Roberto was OK," said Mattingly after Hernandez's last start, a six-inning, three-run effort in Arizona that earned him a win. "He got behind in the count but got back in it somehow, and we got him enough cushion."
The Nats took two of three from the Dodgers at Nationals Park in May.
Nationals: Werth puts great stock in September performance
Earlier this season, outfielder Jayson Werth said it was an honor to be hitting third in the lineup. But on Sunday, Werth declined to evaluate his performance this season because the team has another month to go.
In fact, Werth went so far as to say the final month is the most important of his career. Werth has been to the World Series twice, winning one with the Phillies in 2008. He wants another World Series ring.
"I like the way we are playing. I like the way we are going about it. I like our team, but we have a long way to go," Werth said. "It's no secret I want to win another championship. I want another ring. Those were my intentions when I came here. In order for that to happen, we have to play well, I have to play well."
Dodgers: Mattingly defends struggling Gordon
Dee Gordon, hitless in his last 14 at-bats, did not start Sunday against San Diego left-hander Eric Stults.
Mattingly started Darwin Barney at second base and moved Yasiel Puig to the leadoff spot. But Mattingly didn't think the Dodgers' sudden offensive problems against the Padres were linked to Gordon's mini-slump.
"When you look at our lineup, it's really unfair to say it depends on Dee Gordon," said Mattingly, who reeled off the names of run producers Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. "It's pretty easy to see when Dee and Yasiel get on base, there's a different energy. You can say that about any club at the top of the order.
"Three or four days ago, Dee has three hits and nobody says anything about his offense. It's the ebb and flow of the game. You'd like him to walk a lot more and hit .500, but sometimes you make outs. He hasn't panicked all year. He still tries to bunt. He's hit some balls in the air, but part of it is what they do to you."
Gordon has 92 strikeouts and 30 walks on the season. In August, he had 21 strikeouts and one walk.
• Dan Haren, who was originally scheduled to start for the Dodgers on Wednesday, will now start on Friday. Rookie right-hander Carlos Frias will likely start on Wednesday.