The first place Los Angeles Dodgers come to San Francisco tonight to open a three game series that will have huge implications in deciding the National League West. The Dodgers have played well in the first half, spending most of the season with the best record in baseball. They have stumbled as of late, due to injuries and a lack overall run production, as their once-commanding lead in the division has slipped to three games. The Giants look to win at least two of three, making up another game in the division, but a sweep could put them in a tie for first place.
Since the Giants were swept by Arizona to open the year, and the Dodgers won nine of their first ten, San Francisco has been trying to make up ground. Four weeks ago, the Giants were just three games over .500, and six and a half games back of the red hot Dodgers who had the best win percentage in the league at .667 (32-16).
While the Dodger’s have played well after losing Matt Kemp to a nagging hamstring strain and Ted Lilly to shoulder inflammation, some of their injuries have started to catch up with them.
Without Kemp in the lineup for protection, Ander Eithier has slumped, hitting just .222 in the month of June (18-81), compared to .366 in May, and .276 in April. His homerun production has also dipped as he’s only left the yard once this monthcompared to nine times in the previous two.
The Dodgers have lost five of their last six including being swept by the A’s in Oakland before losing two of three in Anaheim. They are reeling a bit but you can usually throw all of the numbers out the door when these two teams play one another.
The Giants and Dodgers rivalry is absolutely one of the most heated and contentious battles in all of sports. Even if the players are new to either organization, the fans and the media will educate them quickly as to how important these games are to each city.
Regardless of the standings, these two teams play epic games. The fact they are one and two in the division with only three games separating them will only add to the crazed atmosphere.
Even though they are at home, the Giants have their work cut out for them. Two of the three starters in the series are struggling mightily, as Barry Zito (5-5) and Tim Lincecum (2-8) are a combined 0-5 in their last three starts.
Zito, who pitches tonight against Nathan Eovaldi (0-3), is looking to regain the form that allowed him open the first two months of the season with a 5-2 record and a 2.98 ERA. Since then, Zito has gone 0-3 and his ERA has ballooned to 4.35 as he’s been leaving his curveball up in the zone, and at times lost command of his fastball.
Lincecum is coming off a much improved start in Oakland Friday night, one that saw him give up three runs in the first inning before recording an out, only to then retire 18 of 20 hitters over six innings, fanning eight with impeccable control.
Lincecum would end up getting a no-decision as the Giants rallied for four runs in the ninth to win in dramatic fashion, but the start was a victory of sorts for Timmy as he battled through early adversity and his stuff was electric.
He will look to build on Friday’s performance in an afternoon start on Wednesday against Chad Billingsley (4-6) who has had his own struggles this year.
Tuesday’s game is the best pitching matchup of the series, pitting the Dodger’s ace and the reigning NL Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw (5-3), against Ryan Vogelsong (6-3). While both have pitched with limited run support this year, Kershaw sports a 2.73 ERA versus Vogelsong’s outstanding 2.41 ERA.
The Giants were able to take two of three games from the Dodgers in Los Angeles when they met earlier this year. The Dodgers would love to come into AT&T and repay the favor, padding their lead with another game.
This is undoubtedly the biggest series for both teams in the first half, but it’s only the beginning. The Giants and the Dodgers play each other twelve more times in the second half, including the final three games of the season in Los Angeles. If either team is going to win the West they will need to go through one another, and that's just the way it should be.