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Series preview: Dodgers at Pirates

PITTSBURGH -- The Dodgers will be looking for their bats to heat up while their emotions simmer down after they arrived in Pittsburgh in the wee hours of Monday morning.

On ESPN’s Sunday Night Baseball, the Dodgers played a raw finale in St. Louis, one in which Hanley Ramirez was hit twice by 99-mph fastballs. Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw also hit Cardinals slugger Matt Holliday in the left hip and it certainly appeared to be a retaliation fastball.

X-rays on Ramirez’s left hand proved negative, but both he and Yasiel Puig, who was struck in the hand by a pitch Saturday, are questionable for Monday’s opener here.

The Dodgers won’t see the Cardinals again until 2015 if the teams miss each other in the playoffs, but the stress of their schedule hasn’t quite abated. In fact, the Dodgers face just one team with a losing record, the Chicago Cubs, between now and Aug. 19. This is the stretch of schedule they’ll need to survive to put themselves in place for a playoff run. The Pirates are a season-high six games over .500 after a weekend sweep of the Colorado Rockies, having gone 17-8 since June 20.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers are enduring one of their worst-hitting stretches of the season, which could be related to who they’ve been facing. In the last eight games against good pitching staffs from Detroit, San Diego and St. Louis, the Dodgers have scored 16 runs.

They lost three of four to the Pirates at Dodger Stadium in late May, the series before Dodgers manager Don Mattingly called his team out for its selfish play and, in one of his postgame media sessions, called it “basically s-----.”

The Dodgers' first riddle is Edinson Volquez, a pitcher the Pirates picked up after the Padres discarded him near the end of last season. Volquez is pitching well lately, coming off his second career complete game (against the Cardinals) and having gone 4-0 while allowing three earned runs in his last 30 innings.

The Pirates miss both Kershaw and Dodgers No. 2 starter Zack Greinke in this series, with Mattingly and pitching coach Rick Honeycutt having configured the second-half rotation so those two would pitch this weekend in San Francisco. Monday’s game is an important one for the Dodgers considering Tuesday is a mystery with Josh Beckett expected to return from the disabled list and pitch with a hip injury and No. 5 starter Dan Haren in a bit of a downward spiral entering Wednesday’s start.

The Dodgers have gotten clutch starts in the past from tonight’s starter Hyun-Jin Ryu, who pitched one of the worst games of his career against Detroit, but bounced back nicely against an exceptionally weak-hitting Padres lineup.