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Battle for 1st place: 5 big things to watch in the Diamondbacks-Dodgers series

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Posted at 12:27 PM, Jul 03, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-03 17:02:40-04

It won't simply be a battle between the two best teams in their division, but between the two best teams in the entire National League.

The National League West-leading Dodgers (55-29) are set to host the Arizona Diamondbacks (52-31) in a crucial three-game series beginning Tuesday night. The Dodgers are the hottest team in baseball, as they've won 20 of their last 24 games. But the D-backs have won four of their last five games vs. L.A., and a series sweep would give Arizona the division lead.

Here are five important things to watch as the series gets underway at Dodger Stadium.

1. Kershaw vs. Corbin

The Dodgers will look to set the tone in the series’ first game when three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, who has a National League-best 12 wins this season, takes the mound. The D-backs will respond with Patrick Corbin, who has struggled most of the season but has pitched better lately. If the D-backs can find a way to steal this game, they'll have a real chance to leave L.A. with the division lead.

2. Bellinger's brilliance

On the offensive end, former Chandler Hamilton High School star Cody Bellinger is having a historic season for the Dodgers. The 21-year-old rookie from Scottsdale leads the National League in home runs and is on pace to shatter Mark McGuire’s record for most multi-home run games as a rookie. Containing Bellinger (easier said than done) will be crucial to the D-backs’ success.

3. Pollock's return?

The D-backs could get a massive boost at the plate and in center field in this series, as A.J. Pollock could return to the lineup as soon as Tuesday. Pollock has been out since May 15 with a groin injury but has looked impressive in his recent minor-league rehab starts, and the D-backs have an open spot on their roster to fill. The 2015 All-Star and Gold Glove Award winner would add hitting, power, speed and outstanding fielding to the D-backs’ lineup.

4. Bullpen battle

Much of the D-backs’ success can be attributed to their relief pitchers, whose combined 3.32 ERA is the second-best in the National League. The only NL team with a better bullpen ERA? That would be the Los Angeles Dodgers (2.89). Which team’s pen will hold strong in a close game in the eighth, ninth and (if applicable) extra innings?

5. No margin for error

One area in which the D-backs need to improve is fielding, as their 56 errors and .982 fielding percentage are both the fifth-worst in baseball. (The Dodgers are middle-of-the-road in both categories.) In a tight game, an untimely error could be the difference between gaining or losing ground on the division leaders as the All-Star break approaches.