Freeway Series, Angels vs. Dodgers: What to watch

A the Freeway Series gets underway, here are some things to keep an eye on.

World Series preview?

Two months ago, that’s what the upcoming four-game series between the Dodgers and Angels looked like. Not so much, anymore.

Both teams are below .500. One team is in last place in its division, the other is third from the bottom. Both have payrolls that rank among the highest in baseball.

Monday and Tuesday's games will be at Dodger Stadium before heading to Angel Stadium for Wednesday and Thursday's matchups.

It’s the first time they’ve ever play back-to-back series at each other’s ballpark and will mark their only meetings this season.

Four things to watch:

1. Mattingly’s last stand?

The Dodgers manager has been on the hot seat virtually all season, given his team’s stumbling start and its $230-million payroll. Injuries have been a contributing factor, but the offense has been a disappointment, particularly Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, who have combined for six home runs and 32 RBIs.

Mattingly called out his players earlier this week in Milwaukee, a welcome sight after he spent most of his managerial tenure protecting them. How they respond could be the determining factor in whether he stays or goes. But the Dodgers need to flip their season quickly to save Mattingly’s job. If not, these might be his final days in the dugout.

2. Best pitching matchup

Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke faced his former Angels teammates in the series opener, but Tuesday night’s pairing of Hyun-Jin Ryu and possibly Jered Weaver is one worth waiting for.

Weaver hasn’t pitched since he suffered a fractured left elbow April 7, but his rehab assignment in an extended spring training game in Arizona this week went well so he could make his return in the series. He’s the Angels’ ace and their best hope to sustain their recent upward trend.

Ryu has been the Dodgers’ second-best starting pitcher after Clayton Kershaw, who is not scheduled to pitch in the series. Ryu is 5-2 with a 3.30 ERA in 10 starts and worked into the eighth inning Wednesday against the Brewers, his longest outing this season.

3. Big money, diminished results

Ordinarily, Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton playing in the same series would look like a home run derby. But their bats have been strangely silent, and disappointingly so.

Kemp, two years removed from a 39-homer season, has just two through the Dodgers’ first 48 games. He’s apparently still trying to find his stroke after offseason surgery on his left shoulder, but his production is lagging badly and he has driven in more than one run in a game only three times.

Hamilton signed a $125-million contract for five years to jump from the Texas Rangers to the Angels, but he hasn’t delivered much punch. He’s showing signs of recovery and has cut down on his strikeouts, but after pounding out 43 home runs last season in Texas, he has eight this season.

Will Kemp, who is earning $160 million over eight years, or Hamilton finally deliver a power surge in the series? Fans are anxious to find out.

4. Reversal of fortunes?

Let’s face it, the Angels have owned the Dodgers in their regular-season meetings. Since interleague play began in 1997, they’ve won nine of 15 series between the teams, with four series splits.

In the overall series, the Dodgers trail 55-38 and haven’t won a head-to-head series since taking four of six games in 2006.

For both teams, these games carry particular importance. If the Dodgers win the series, they could save Mattingly’s job. If the Angels continue dominating their rivals, they can create some momentum heading into June.

While the four games are no longer viewed as a prelude to a World Series matchup, they still bear close watching.

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