The Dodgers, playing on Saturday at a historic ballpark, sit on the verge of history.
A win over the Cubs at Wrigley Field would give the Dodgers 13 straight on the road, a club record for a franchise that began play in the 19th century. The 1924 team, then known as the Brooklyn Robins, was the last to win 12 in a row.
That team operated in a far different era. Its roster included Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes, the last pitcher legally permitted to throw a spitball, and had its streak snapped on Sept. 6 of that season, in a loss to another since-relocated franchise, the Boston Braves.
The current Dodgers are on a roll, no matter the ballpark. By taking the first two of their four-game set in Chicago, they have moved to 29-7 since June 22, surging from 9 1/2 games behind the D-backs in the NL West, to a season-high four games ahead before Arizona's game on Friday night.
The Dodgers will start left-hander Chris Capuano against righty Jeff Samardzija and the Cubs, who are 1-5 to start their eight-game homestand.
Both pitchers will have to contend with an exciting rookie star in the opposing lineup. Outfielders Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers and Junior Lake of the Cubs are both age 23 or younger and play with a similarly aggressive style in all facets of the game. Both swing hard and often, and have shown a willingness to take on outfield walls to make catches.
Puig burst on to the scene in June and is now hitting .371/.423/.599 in his first 52 big league games. After going through a lull, he has hit safely in nine of his last 11 contests, homering on Thursday and reaching base four times on Friday.
"He's got the ability and everything to, when that ball's in the strike zone, to hit it, and he does a lot of damage with it," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said of Puig. "But he's still in that stage obviously that, when you make your good pitches, strike to balls, and keep the ball out of the middle of the plate, he can be vulnerable. Those kind of players with that kind of electricity don't come around all the time."
Lake debuted on July 19, and the converted infielder has raked ever since. He homered twice on Thursday and followed that up with a four-hit performance on Friday to give him a .358/.377/.582 batting line. He is the first Cubs player since at least 1916 with two four-hit games out of his first 16.
"I told Dale when he came up here, he's going to do things on the baseball field you haven't seen before -- both good and bad -- until he fully develops and matures," Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein said. "But its' going to be fun to watch, and it's great to see this ball of clay being formed before your eyes. He's an exciting player."
Dodgers: Capuano-Federowicz a fine pair
With Capuano starting on Saturday, Tim Federowicz will be behind the plate. Capuano has a 4.54 ERA overall, but a 3.06 mark in nine games throwing to Federowicz, A.J. Ellis' backup. This will be the eighth consecutive outing the two have worked together, a situation manager Don Mattingly didn't plan.
"But I can't be so hard headed to ignore the fact that they just click," Mattingly said. "I'm not afraid to have A.J. [Ellis] catch Cap, but there's a double reason. This helps keep A.J. strong and gives Fed regular experience. I can't tell you why Cap and Fed have worked so well together. They just do."
Capuano said he didn't request to have Federowicz as his personal catcher, but that the two have enjoyed a strong comfort level since the beginning of Spring Training last year.
• Shortstop Hanley Ramirez and left fielder Carl Crawford both received routine days off on Friday. Nick Punto and Scott Van Slyke started in their spots. Punto had two hits and drove in two, and Van Slyke walked twice and drove in a run.
Cubs: Shark's been sharp
Samardzija will be trying to halt the Dodgers' streak and continue his strong pitching since the All-Star break. In three starts and 20 innings over that period, he has a 1.80 ERA, with 13 hits allowed and 18 strikeouts, although he has walked 10.
On Monday, Samardzija held the Brewers to three hits and two walks while striking out seven over seven scoreless.
"I've been feeling great these last few times out," Samardzija said. "I'm pretty happy with how everything went. I kept the walks down, the leadoff hitter got out a lot, I was pretty efficient out there, so I felt pretty good."
• Third baseman Cody Ransom went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts on Friday, falling to 1-for-30 with 11 K's since the All-Star break.
• Mattingly and second baseman Mark Ellis both were ejected from Friday's game in the fourth inning, after Ellis disputed home-plate umpire Alan Porter's strike-three call.
• Longtime Cubs closer Carlos Marmol made his debut as a visitor at Wrigley Field on Friday, pitching a scoreless ninth for the Dodgers. He gave up one hit and one walk.