Dodgers, Rockies battle for division lead

DENVER — The Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Dodgers begin a pivotal three-game series Friday with the Rockies looking to widen their lead in the National League West.

The Rockies began their current 10-game homestand with a series sweep against the San Francisco Giants and have won five straight games. That surge has carried them from 1 1/2 games behind in the division to leading it by that same 1 1/2-game margin over the Dodgers.

The Rockies (77-62), who are in their 26th season, have never won the division and are assured of leading the NL West Friday after playing their 140th game, which is the latest in franchise history that they have been in first place. In the 144-game strike-shortened 1995 season, the Rockies were in first place after 139 games.

Jon Gray (11-7, 4.70 ERA) will start for the Rockies and ace left-hander Clayton Kershaw (6-5, 2.40) will take the mound for the Dodgers (76-64), who are beginning a 10-game trip that will also take them to Cincinnati (three games) and St. Louis (four).

The Dodgers just dropped two of three games to the New York Mets to close out a 4-3 homestand and have scored more than three runs in just one of their past eight games.

If save situations arise for the Dodgers this weekend, they can’t call on closer Kenley Jansen. He did not accompany the team to Denver after suffering an irregular heartbeat there last month. Jansen was advised by a cardiologist to avoid Denver, where the mile-high altitude increases the risk of another atrial fibrillation episode. After suffering a similar episode in 2012 and undergoing an offseason ablation operation to repair it, Jansen has said he likely will need another operation this winter and told reporters the decision to miss this series was an easy one.

“At the end of the day, I have three children, and I want to see them get old and graduate and all that stuff,” Jansen said. “That’s what doctors do for a living; they take care of you. That’s what I got to do. I got to care about my health.”

Kershaw gave up four hits and two runs in seven innings Saturday in a no-decision against Arizona, a game the Dodgers won 3-2. He has allowed two or fewer earned runs in eight straight starts, going 3-1 with a 1.94 ERA in that stretch and allowing three walks and 43 hits, including five homers, in 55 2/3 innings with 49 strikeouts.

Kershaw hasn’t faced the Rockies this season. He is 21-7 with a 3.22 ERA against them in career 38 starts, winning more games against the Rockies than any team other than the Giants (22 wins). At Coors Field, Kershaw is 9-4 with a 4.65 ERA in 20 starts.

Gray won Saturday at San Diego, where he allowed two runs in six innings in Colorado’s 4-2 victory. In nine starts since returning from Triple-A Albuquerque, eight of which the Rockies have won, Gray is 4-0, 3.08.

The Rockies have gotten sizable production recently from shortstop Trevor Story and are hoping third baseman Nolan Arenado can end his slump in this series. Story, who hit three homers Wednesday against the Giants, including a 505-foot shot that is the longest in Rockies history and the longest in the Statcast era that began in 2015, is hitting .298 with a .920 OPS and 31 homers, 95 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. He’s 12-for-24 in his past six games with five homers and 10 RBIs.

Arenado is hitting .297 with 31 homers, 93 RBIs and a .929 OPS. But he has hit two homers since Aug. 5, and in his past nine games, Arenado is 4-for-35 (.114) with one double and three RBIs.

“Nolan cares as much as anybody I’ve been around about this organization and winning for this organization,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “Right now, he’s just a little uncomfortable at the plate and that can turn quickly. But you combine that with maybe trying a little bit too hard and maybe putting too much pressure on himself because of the expectation of (being) Nolan Arenado. That sort of works against you.”