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NYM@LAD: Kershaw impressive over eight shutout frames

If you'd bet someone in Spring Training that the D-backs would be challenging for the National League West title at the All-Star break, you might be feeling like the world's smartest prognosticator. Or you were simply backing up your team.

Either way, that's exactly the position the D-backs will be in when they start the season's second half on Friday against the Dodgers, who won four straight heading into the break.

"One thing I feared is that we'd stumble into the break. That scared me," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It would have been easy for the guys to [act] like players at the end of the year, making plans. I'm proud of the way the club showed up."

Arizona's 6-9 record in its last 15 games certainly isn't eye-popping, but the D-backs began making their move on May 13. Since then they have 34 wins, the second most in the Majors behind the Red Sox.

Kirk Gibson, in his first full season as D-backs manager, is pleased with his team's first half but knows that the dog days of summer will be another challenge.

"We've established some things about our identity. Now we need to continue to refine that and find a way to get the job done," Gibson said. "I've seen improvement in many areas. We've shown that we choose to compete as a team all the time. ... But now it's just smart things we can do to predict what we're up against to be more successful. It's there for us."

In order to hang with the reigning World Series champion Giants in the NL West, the D-backs need to keep up their current pace. In the past they have faltered in pressure situations. They haven't this year, though, which Gibson said bodes well for their chances.

"I think people know that when they play us, they view us differently than they used to. And they should," he said. "I'm sure people thought, 'Oh, here they go, they're going to crumble.' But it hasn't happened."

Dodgers: Kershaw to start on Friday
• Clayton Kershaw, who tossed a perfect inning of relief with one strikeout in Tuesday's All-Star Game, will take the bump for the Dodgers in the first game of the second half. Kershaw, the Dodgers' Opening Day starter, went 9-4 with a 3.03 ERA in the first half, tossing three complete games and striking out 147. • The Dodgers will play the rest of the season without starter Jon Garland, who underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder on Monday. The arthroscopic procedure is expected to sideline Garland for approximately six months. • Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the other two Dodgers All-Stars, made an impact during the All-Star Game. Ethier stroked a pinch-hit RBI single in the fifth inning to increase the NL's lead to 4-1. Kemp, who hit two home runs in Monday's State Farm Home Run Derby, went 1-for-2 with a walk and scored on Prince Fielder's three-run home run.

D-backs: Gibson impressed with Parra
• Of all the surprises on the roster during the season's first half, the play of left fielder Gerardo Parra certainly has to be up there. Parra, now in his third season, is hitting .286 with five home runs, 11 doubles and 23 RBIs while getting on base at a .348 clip.

"He's had a good first half for us," Gibson said. "I'd like to see him continue to improve. He knows the things he needs to work on. He's kind of gone to the next level, now we'll try to develop him into the next level. He's far from his ceiling."

• J.J. Putz (elbow tendinitis) threw a bullpen session on Sunday and reported no issues. Putz is eligible to come off the disabled list on July 16, but Gibson said that it usually takes pitchers 20 days to come back from this type of injury. Putz is key to the D-backs' success, having converted 21 saves in 25 chances.

• Joe Saunders will start the second-half opener for the D-backs.

Worth noting
• The D-backs have spent eight days in first place after not spending one day, excluding Opening Day, atop the NL West since 2008.

• With Sunday's win, the Dodgers avoided entering the All-Star break in last place for the first time since 1999.

• The Dodgers have not allowed a first-inning run since June 29.

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