Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, left, talks with Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia prior to their baseball game, Wednesday, June 13,
Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, left, talks with Los Angeles Angels manager Mike Scioscia prior to their baseball game, Wednesday, June 13, 2012, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Clayton Kershaw grinned sheepishly, pulled off his Dodgers cap and ran a hand through his thick, blond hair.

Kershaw had just put the finishing touches on a complete-game win over the Atlanta Braves Thursday to wrap up the Dodgers' first sweep of the Braves in 24 years. It was their sixth win in a row to finish a 14-10 month of July and it pushed the Dodgers three games ahead of the second-place San Francisco Giants.

Not bad for a club that trailed San Francisco by 9 1/2 games just seven weeks before.

Kershaw, the driving force behind the surge while going 4-0 in July with three complete games and and an N.L.-best 1.07 ERA, struggled to find the right words to put it all in perspective.

Then he reared back and unleashed one of those knee-buckling curveballs that's left the rest of baseball helpless.

“This is fun,” he said with a grin.

And with those three words, the Dodgers' ace perfectly summed up baseball in the southland at the moment. And the way things are going, perhaps for the next four months or so.

From Chavez Ravine to Anaheim, the Dodgers and Angels are waging a summer-long battle of anything you can do, I can do better.

The way things are looking, it might keep rolling over the next four months.

The Angels and Dodgers have remained at arm's length, but that all changes Monday when the Angels arrive at Dodger Stadium to begin a four-game series that wraps up Wednesday and Thursday in Anaheim.

It's the most meaningful Freeway Series in years.

Only four teams are on pace to win 90 games this year, and the Dodgers and Angels are two of them.

There is plenty of star power, with Kershaw putting together a season for the ages, Yasiel Puig a human highlight film and Mike Trout's first three seasons comparable to Ted Williams, Frank Robinson and Mickey Mantle.

It's also left fans dreaming of an October Freeway Series. Only this time a Fall Classic seems more doable than ever.

The World Series is a long way off, of course, but the fact we're even dreaming a little bit represents a dramatic change from expectations coming into this season and just how far managers Mike Scioscia and Don Mattingly have traveled.

Both came into this season sitting on hot seats, although for completely different reasons.

Scioscia needed a bounce-back year in the worst way after a four-year slump. His job, essentially, was hanging in the balance.

Mattingly faced a different set of issues, with the long-term commitment the Dodgers made in him and a soaring payroll turning up the heat on him.

For now, at least, both have solidified their positions.

It wasn't so long ago Mattingly was frustrated by his contract situation and challenged the Dodgers at a season-ending press conference last year to either extend his contract or find someone else to manage the club.

The former New York Yankee great wasn't interested in working on a one-year deal after his 2014 option got picked up. He believed the lack of long-range commitment deprived him the hammer he needed to manage his star-studded clubhouse.

The Dodgers relented by extending Mattingly for the next three years, but with commitment came expectations — especially considering the high-priced, power-packed team management entrusted him with.

After easing their way into the season, the Dodgers turned things up a notch in early June and have risen to the top of the National League.

Meanwhile, Mattingly is proving to be a deft handler of the array of personalities and egos inside the powder-keg clubhouse.

Aside from a few early missteps — all of which were dealt with — the mercurial Puig has shown steady growth and maturity.

A crowded outfield situation that could have led to resentment and hard feelings has been managed as well as can be expected by Mattingly, and by moving Matt Kemp from left field to right Mattingly created a comfort level that allowed Kemp's offense to blossom.

There's still a long way to go, but with the rest of the NL West either vulnerable or downright bad, you get the sense Mattingly and the Dodgers will navigate their way to the postseason.

And with no super teams emerging across the rest of the National League, they have just as good a chance as anyone to break through to the World Series.

The Angels' situation is more tenuous given the strength of the A's and Detroit Tigers, but Scioscia has his team in the thick of a playoff chase.

That's saying something after three third-places finishes over the last four seasons and last year's 78-84 record left them buried 18 games under the Texas Rangers.

It's hard to imagine owner Arte Moreno stomaching another year of discontent considering his hefty financial commitment. Another year of unmet expectations would have left Scioscia exceedingly vulnerable, no matter what he's done over his 15 years in Anaheim.

But a progressive approach to winter conditioning, specifically a pitching program that began much earlier than normal, resulted in a more fit club in spring training and to start the season.

That, coupled with the maturation of some key young players, more organizational depth and a revamped bullpen propelled the Angels to a 14-12 April — a dramatic improvement from the 9-17 and 8-15 nosedives in 2013 and 2012 — and set them up for a 57-win first half.

Scioscia is back on solid ground and the Angels are two games behind the Oakland A's and securely in front in the wild-card race.

Meanwhile, for the first time in five years, the Dodgers and Angels are positioned to make mutual playoff runs.

If you close your eyes and allow yourself to dream a little bit, maybe, just maybe stage a long-awaited Freeway Series World Series.


Follow Vincent Bonsignore on Twitter: @DailyNewsVinny