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What to watch for in today's games

Two National League playoff contenders will open an important three-game series today, when the Nationals and Dodgers meet up in Los Angeles at 10:10 p.m. ET.

The Dodgers, trying to hold off the Giants in the NL West, are beginning a seven-game stretch at home, where they are 37-18 this season. Meanwhile, the Nats had to take a long flight out West after Sunday's tough 6-4 loss to the Rockies closed a disappointing 3-4 homestand against two sub-.500 teams. The Nationals have dropped 14 of 23 games since the All-Star break, including two of three to the Dodgers in D.C. from July 17-19, falling 1 1/2 games behind the Mets in the NL East.

Tonight's series opener will be a battle of left-handers, with Washington's Gio Gonzalez opposing Los Angeles' Brett Anderson, who has a 2.60 ERA in 17 starts since the beginning of May.

Here are a few other things to look forward to today.

A test for Gray: COL @ NYM, 7:10 p.m. ET
The Mets have experienced no shortage of pitching prospects the past few years, but today they will oppose someone else's highly touted arm. Right-hander Jon Gray,'s No. 35 prospect, is set to face New York in his second Major League start and first away from Coors Field. Gray, the third overall pick in the 2013 Draft, went four innings in his debut against Seattle last Tuesday, allowing two earned runs on five hits and striking out four.

The Mets will counter with left-hander Jon Niese as they try to shake off back-to-back losses on Saturday and Sunday against Tampa Bay. Before that, New York had reeled off seven consecutive victories to jump into the division lead.

Here's Johnny: DET @ KC, 8:10 p.m. ET
The Royals had big expectations for right-hander Johnny Cueto when they acquired him from the Reds before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Cueto has given his new club a pair of quality starts, posting a 3.46 ERA over 13 innings, but Kansas City lost both games, including a 2-1 defeat to the Tigers last Wednesday in Detroit.

Rookie left-hander Matt Boyd, acquired by the Tigers in the David Price deal, outdueled Cueto in that game, his Detroit debut. Those two pitchers match up again in the opener of a three-game series at Kauffman Stadium as the American League Central-leading Royals try to build off a three-game sweep of the White Sox to begin their homestand.

Slumping Sale: LAA @ CWS, 8:10 p.m. ET
Heading into his July 30 outing at Boston, White Sox lefty Chris Sale was cruising through a dominant season, sporting a 2.85 ERA. But the Red Sox tagged him for seven earned runs on 12 hits over five innings, and five days later the Rays got to him for seven more earned runs over 5 1/3 innings at U.S. Cellular Field. Sale did strike out 16 batters over the two starts, but he saw his ERA rise all the way to 3.52.

He will try to right the ship in the opener of a three-game home series against the Angels, who are countering with righty Matt Shoemaker. This starts a seven-game road trip for the Halos, who are trying to keep pace with the first-place Astros in the AL West. Meanwhile, the White Sox have lost eight of their last 10.

Andrew Simon is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @AndrewSimonMLB.