Los Angeles Dodgers: Why a Division Title Would Be Earned, Not Bought
We all know about the kid in class whose parents hit the jackpot in the California Lotto earlier this season and aren't being shy about spoiling their family.
That family is the Los Angeles Dodgers, and it is really good to be a part of it. Players, coaches and fans alike are being lavished upon by the new owners, who are determined to win a title at any cost. Literally.
As a fan, you love to see your team being competitive and showing such a willingness to acquire winning talent. At the same time, it kind of sucks to be "Yankees West."
But, any suckage that may occur for being the rich franchise that everyone hates in the National League would be wiped out with a World Series title. The Yankees are also hated for winning so often. And as many opposing fans have pointed out, snagging Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Shane Victorino, Josh Beckett, Brandon League, Randy Choate, Joe Blanton and Nick Punto over the last month doesn't mean anything unless the Dodgers win as big as they spend.
And as the Colorado Rockies so aptly demonstrated last night, money doesn't always guarantee success. A 10-0 blowout loss and an extra half-game behind the San Francisco Giants in the standings later, this new-look Dodger team needs to wake up. Now.
No, not just to please a disgruntled fan like myself, but instead, because the September schedule they are a mere three games away from entering is an absolutely terrifying gauntlet.
If the Dodgers win the division, it will have been earned, not bought, regardless of how many players were brought in at the deadline and beyond. Here's why:
August 30th - September 5th
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Arizona @ Los Angeles for 4
San Diego @ Los Angeles for 3
Yes, the D'Backs have faded to seven games back in the West. Yes, the Padres have been mostly demolished by the Dodgers this season. No, that doesn't make me feel any better, thanks for asking!
We are talking about an Arizona team that has some very quality starting pitching (including some young guys like Tyler Skaggs, who the Dodgers haven't seen yet and the type of rookie arm they have struggled against regularly in 2012), and a still very explosive offense.
Justin Upton has been swinging the bat better recently and Paul Goldschmidt is just one of those guys that happens to kill the Dodgers. Not to mention they are the defending division champs and will be hungry to retain that title.
And while you may dismiss the Padres as a joke, remember that they have the best record in baseball this month, including a current, scorching 8-game winning streak.
Division games are always difficult, especially in the thick of a race in September. But the Dodgers will have the advantage of playing these games at home.
September 7th - September 16th
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Los Angeles @ San Francisco for 3
Los Angeles @ Arizona for 2
St. Louis @ Los Angeles for 4
Do I really need to explain the significance of that first series to anyone? It will be the Dodgers' second matchup with a Melky-less Giants team. The first matchup really didn't go so well, as the Giants swept L.A. at Chavez Ravine.
Assuming the current trend of a one or two-game lead at any given point by either team in the division continues, that series in San Francisco will very likely determine who is in first place in the NL West heading into the last 15 games of the season.
I'm not going to re-iterate what I wrote on the last slide about playing the Diamondbacks. But even though that's a two-game series, it's in the desert. Home field advantage does matter, people! Especially if Arizona has a good series in early September in Los Angeles, they might be creeping up on a playoff spot when this series rolls around.
There might not be a hotter contender right now than the Cardinals, which should terrify other teams considering what happened in 2011. We all know about the offense—solid in all eight spots. But the pitching is coming around too. Adam Wainwright looks like his old self and Kyle Lohse is a sneaky Cy Young candidate.
The Dodgers have fared very well against the Central and East this season, but they've never played the Cardinals when they are this hot and there is so much at stake. Because of the point of the season and the way these two teams are playing, the St. Louis-Los Angeles series might be the Dodgers' make-or-break weekend.
September 18th - September 23rd
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Los Angeles @ Washington for 3
Los Angeles @ Cincinnati for 3
Again, the Dodgers have been very good against these two divisions, and especially successful in the Eastern time zone for some reason (Can we move back to Brooklyn? We might never lose!).
That being said, the Nationals and Reds are far and away the best two teams in the National League. Both have great pitching and hefty offensive attacks, led by exceptional veteran managers. There might be a couple saving graces for the Dodgers in these series.
1. The Dodgers might come into town as both these teams' magic numbers dwindle into the range of five or less. If that's the case, you might see some young players getting starts for invaluable experience. You might see some of the teams' better players getting more off-days to prepare for the postseason, too.
2. The Nationals will have shut down Stephen Strasburg for the season at that point. Which means the Dodgers only have to worry about potentially facing Gio Gonzalez, Ross Detwiler and Jordan Zimmermann instead. Oh, joy.
Anytime you have to go on the road and play two of the best teams in Major League Baseball with about 15 games left in the season when you are fighting for a division title...it's going to be a tough go.
If the Dodgers come out of this week with three or four wins, it will likely be considered a grand success. Anything worse may be fatal. Anything better may put them on the roll they need to capture the NL West crown.
September 25th - October 3rd
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Los Angeles @ San Diego for 3
Colorado @ Los Angeles for 3
San Francisco @ Los Angeles for 3
Ah, the last nine games of the season. Guaranteed to be some of the most stressful days of my entire life. And whoever is in charge of scheduling is a complete jerk for pitting the Giants and Dodgers against each other in the last weekend of the season. Sure, it's great for ratings and for baseball fans anywhere to witness, but damn if it doesn't abuse yours truly both mentally and physically.
We've already talked about the Padres and their penchant for hot Augusts and Septembers that could ruin a certain blue-colored, fellow Southern Californian team's postseason dreams. It's the last road series of 2012 for the Dodgers, and it will be a big one. I promise.
Then in comes Colorado, the door mat of the NL West. The door mat of the NL West. The door mat of the NL West. Then why do they always beat the Dodgers?? I don't know. It won't ever make sense. But as long as Carlos Gonzalez is in the lineup and Jeff Francis is in the rotation, the Dodgers may lose that series.
And the big one. A three-game series against the hated Giants that might determine the division winner in 2012. In Los Angeles, where we were just swept in three games. Granted, the lineup will include Adrian Gonzalez and the rotation will include Josh Beckett.
But is that enough? Will the Dodgers be able to withstand this ridiculous September schedule and secure the division title on October 3rd?
And That's Not All...
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...don't forget the Dodgers are battling more than just the Giants and Diamondbacks within their own division for a playoff spot.
Realistically, there are three other teams with legitimate playoff aspirations in the National League. Assuming the Reds and Nationals hold on to their pretty sizable division leads and secure the first two spots, and the Giants (shudder) take the West, there are five teams that might be fighting for two spots.
The Cardinals and Braves both currently hold a Wild Card spot, and the Pirates are breathing down the Dodgers' necks. All are good clubs. But what am I worried about?
You've just seen the schedule the Dodgers have to contend with down the stretch.
Here are some tidbits on these teams' opponents in September:
Cardinals: 15 of their 34 remaining games are against the Astros, Cubs, Brewers and Mets.
Braves: 3 games vs. Washington, 3 games vs. Pittsburgh, and...well. That's it.
Pirates: 9 games are either against the Braves or Reds. The remaining 20-something? Astros, Cubs, Brewers and Mets.
And just for fun, let me throw in that the Giants will play the Cubs and Astros at the end of August and beginning of September. Then the remainder of September before the big series in October is against NL West teams.
The Dodgers have by far the most difficult schedule of these contending teams, and will thus have to really earn a playoff spot, let alone a division title. It's going to take some very, very solid baseball over the final month of the season.
Oh Yeah...This Just In:
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The Giants are still really good.
I yelled, texted, tweeted and pinned it as loud as I could to Dodger Nation when Melky's suspension was announced. THE GIANTS ARE STILL GOOD. They are fielding a heck of a better squad than they did in the 2010 World Series season.
Until it says "Los Angeles Dodgers" on top of the standings in the NL West, it's the Giants' division. Losing Cabrera is a huge blow, but they still have Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Hunter Pence in the heart of that order.
Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro have been lighting it up in the top two lineup spots. And we all know the pitching is unbelievable. So before anyone gets complacent and says the Giants are toast without Cabrera, think twice.
I hate to admit it, but it's my team playing catch up in this rivalry. Hopefully spending money and prospects on an elite hitter like Gonzalez will be enough, but the team still needs to play well down the stretch. Especially against San Francisco.
Earned, Not Bought
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It may sound stupidly obvious to write that the Dodgers "need to win," and "need to play really well" when they are fighting for a playoff spot. Everyone does.
But the Dodgers have placed heaps of pressure and expectations on their shoulders by making so many blockbuster moves at the deadline. Even though the current roster has been in place just a few days, it is a team on paper that should be playing in October.
That being said, if the Dodgers pull it off—if they play well, win often, gain ground, take the West—and are celebrating a division title on October 3rd, they will have earned it.
Not paid for it. Because if the Dodgers can take down a schedule that includes a lot of games against the best teams in baseball over this last month, it means the team, regardless of how expensive, played their best baseball of the entire season.
So, Dodger fans. Let's hope the boys pull through. Let's hope they play extremely well over the last 30-plus games. So that if the division banner is raised, we can all tell the haters "Hey...we EARNED it."