Season comes into focus with LA series

Season comes into focus with LA series

PHOENIX -- Their focus has been on playing better and not the standings, but the next few days could tell a lot about what direction the D-backs's 2009 season is headed.

Arizona opens a seven-game road trip to Los Angeles and San Diego with a three-game set against the Dodgers on Monday.

The D-backs trail the first-place Dodgers by 11 1/2 games in the National League West. And while they have played better of late, the question remains if they are a team that will compete for a playoff spot or a team that will begin focusing on 2010.

"Every series has been important because we're trying to make small goals, get back to .500, get back on our feet," Arizona manager A.J. Hinch said.

The series with the Dodgers, though, takes on added importance because a good showing means the D-backs may be competitive, but lose in a sweep and the deficit becomes even more daunting than it already is.

Of course, there is still the Wild Card to play for, but if they hope to do that, the D-backs will have to outplay teams like the Padres, who came into Chase Field and took two of three last week.

"It seems like every time we play the Dodgers it gets magnified and the guys in that clubhouse know that," Hinch said. "We're going to go in with the mind-set of winning the series in L.A. and win the series in San Diego. I don't want to put too much emphasis on it, but it's pretty obvious that it's a big road trip for us."

The last time the D-backs traveled to these two cities on a trip it was one to forget.

After splitting two games in Milwaukee, the D-backs were swept in a two-games series in Los Angeles. Then the club split a pair with the Padres with the last game of that series marking Bob Melvin's final game as D-backs manager .

Pitching matchup
ARI: RHP Billy Buckner (1-1, 7.16 ERA)
Buckner nibbled at the strike zone a little too much in his last start and paid the price with a 8-5 loss to the Padres. The right-hander gave up a two-run homer in the first to Adrian Gonzalez on a fastball that caught too much of the plate. On the night, Buckner allowed five runs on seven hits over five-plus innings. In his first start of the year against the A's on May 22, he allowed just one run over 7 1/3 innings. Buckner's best pitch is a 12-to-6 curveball, but he showed against the A's that he could get batters out with his sinker and changeup when the curve wasn't working.

LAD: RHP Hiroki Kuroda (1-0, 1.59 ERA)
Welcome back, Hiroki Kuroda. He won Opening Day, strained an oblique muscle in a bullpen session two days later and hasn't pitched for the Dodgers since. He's coming off a pretty shaky rehab appearance at Class A, but manager Joe Torre can't wait to get him back into the rotation. The Dodgers are looking for an innings-eater, which he is when he's healthy, and that is all they are hoping for at this point.

Tidbits
The D-backs announced that their game against the Braves that was rained out May 17 in Atlanta will be made up Aug. 17. That was a scheduled off-day for the D-backs, who will travel to Philadelphia, Houston and San Francisco after that. Game time is 1:10 MST. ... Though he said Josh Whitesell would get an extended look at first base, Hinch did not figure that Augie Ojeda would feel as good as he did on Sunday. So Ojeda was in the lineup at third, which put Mark Reynolds at first and Whitesell on the bench. Whitesell, Hinch said, will likely be in the lineup on Monday. ... Second baseman Felipe Lopez has been back in the lineup, but he has yet to really go full out running. "I told him to be cautious early on," Hinch said. Lopez strained his left hamstring May 22 in Oakland. ... Utility man Ryan Roberts was out of the lineup on Sunday after starting five straight games. It had to be hard for Hinch not to write Roberts name in the lineup card given that he has performed well lately. Giving him "a mini blow," is how Hinch described the off-day.

Tickets
 Buy tickets now to catch the game in person.

On the Internet
 MLB.TV
 Gameday Audio
•  Gameday
•  Official game notes

On television
• FS-A

On radio
• KTAR 620, KSUN 1400 (Español)

Up next
• Tuesday: Diamondbacks (Dan Haren, 4-4, 2.54) at Dodgers (Randy Wolf, 3-1, 2.84), 7:10 p.m. MST
• Wednesday: Diamondbacks (Jon Garland, 4-4, 5.75) at Dodgers (Chad Billingsley, 6-3, 2.80), 7:10 p.m. MST
• Thursday: Off-day

Steve Gilbert is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.