Why S.F. Giants Have the Advantage over L.A. Dodgers Down the Stretch
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This looks to be the closest race in the National League through the rest of the season (though the AL Central race between the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers also looks as if it will be tight). But it's not an unfamiliar scenario for either team, as each has been through competitive division races during the past five years.
The two rivals each tried to gain the upper hand before the July 31 trade deadline. The Dodgers acquired Hanley Ramirez, Brandon League and Shane Victorino. With arguably fewer holes to fill, the Giants countered with a trade for Hunter Pence.
But which of these teams has the advantage for the final two months of the season? From this view, it looks like the Giants have the edge, and that will ultimately give them the NL West title.
What do they have over the Dodgers? These three things in particular.
The Schedule Is Friendlier
For the last two months of the season, the Giants face an easier schedule than the Dodgers.
San Francisco will have eight series against losing teams, including three each against the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres. Throw in sets against the Chicago Cubs and Houston Astros, and that's a much softer course to run.
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The combined records of the teams that the Giants will face for the rest of the season is 468-514. That's a .477 winning percentage.
Additionally, San Francisco will play more home games, though it's close. The Giants have 27 games at AT&T Park through the rest of the season, as opposed to 26 on the road.
Compare that to the Dodgers, who have seven series against losing teams, including three against the Rockies, two versus the Miami Marlins and two against the Padres.
Maybe that doesn't seem like a huge difference, but the Dodgers also have to face the Pittsburgh Pirates, Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds through the rest of their season. Each of those teams is either in first place or in the wild-card race.
The teams that the Dodgers have to play down the stretch have a combined record of 566-524, giving them a .519 winning percentage.
The Giants also have to face the Cards, Nats and Braves, but playing the two worst teams in the NL Central rather than the two best could make the difference in the NL West race.
Fewer Holes in the Lineup
As of August 7, the Dodgers have three players in their regular lineup with an OPS under .700. Shortstop Luis Cruz (.683), second baseman Mark Ellis (.695) and first baseman James Loney (.641) are each big holes in the Dodgers batting order.
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Newly acquired Ramirez (.690) and Victorino (.465) could be on that list too. But to be fair, both players have a season OPS over .700.
Does it get much better if the Dodgers put Juan Uribe back in the lineup? Or Dee Gordon, when he returns? Not so much. Uribe has a .545 OPS this season, while Gordon carries a .562 mark.
Meanwhile, the Giants have just two players with an OPS below .700 in their lineup: shortstop Brandon Crawford (.613) and second baseman Ryan Theriot (.626). Theriot will likely be replaced by Marco Scutaro (.692 for the season but .797 with the Giants) once Pablo Sandoval returns at third base.
One more player with a sub-.700 OPS that was taken out of the Giants' regular lineup was Gregor Blanco (.684). Pence has been a disappointment so far since coming to San Francisco, compiling a .448 OPS, but he does have a .763 mark for the season.
Here Comes the Panda
As reported by the San Jose Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic, Sandoval could be activated from the disabled list by Sunday (Aug. 12) after a one- or two-game rehab assignment with the Single-A San Jose Giants.
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Sandoval, who's been out with a hamstring injury, brings a .299/.352/.491 stat line, which includes eight home runs and 33 RBI, back to the Giants lineup. When healthy, he's one of the best hitters on the San Francisco roster.
Will the Dodgers bring back anyone of a similar caliber to their lineup? Gordon and his .229/.280/.282 won't cut it, though he would add the speed that's stolen 30 bases to the batting order.
Maybe Ted Lilly could be that player. But after suffering a setback in his rehab from a shoulder injury, as reported by the Los Angeles Daily News' J.P. Hoornstra, it's looking less likely that he'll be able to rejoin the Dodgers rotation. Even the bullpen might not be a possibility if Lilly isn't throwing pain-free.
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