Series preview: Giants at Dodgers

LOS ANGELES -- Considering the baseball season is barely 20 percent complete, it might be too early for such proclamations, but the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants just might be gearing up for the pennant race their fan bases have been missing.

The rival clubs haven't gone at it hot and heavy down to the wire since 2004, the year Steve Finley hit that memorable ninth-inning grand slam at Dodger Stadium to sew up the NL West for the Dodgers.

Though the Colorado Rockies have muddled things a tad, the Dodgers and Giants have looked like the class of the NL West so far. The Giants have tended to be an on-again, off-again team in recent seasons, and they're good again in 2014.

The first-place Giants visit Dodger Stadium starting tonight for the teams' only four-game series of the year and their last meeting until late July.

The Dodgers have already gotten a sense of the Giants' revival as they've lost four of the six games the teams have played this season. In the teams' last series, in San Francisco, all three games were decided by a single run and no team scored more than three runs in any game. That's kind of the mold for a Giants-Dodgers series in recent seasons: good pitching, scant power.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly has been impressed with San Francisco's resolve so far.

"They're just a tough group for me," Mattingly said. "They play hard every day, they seem to be mentally tough, they've got good pitching. They play the game right. You've got to go beat them. They don't usually beat themselves."

The Dodgers do have one edge they didn't have in either of the first two meetings: They have Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 0.66 ERA), who will pitch Sunday against veteran Tim Hudson (4-2, 1.99), who has so far looked like a brilliant signing by general manager Brian Sabean.

Josh Beckett (0-1, 3.14) flew back early from Washington to prepare for Thursday night's start. The Giants, who had to fly back from Pittsburgh for this series, will start Ryan Vogelsong (1-1, 4.60) in that game. Madison Bumgarner (3-3, 3.18) and Paul Maholm (1-2, 4.70) are the pitchers for Friday. The Giants haven't announced a starter for Saturday, the day the Dodgers use Zack Greinke (5-1, 2.35).