LA Dodgers: Breaking Down Each Remaining Series in Their Playoff Race
The Los Angeles Dodgers have 15 games remaining to make up a one-game deficit in the National League Wild Card race. Nine of those games are against the three best teams in the NL, so they’ll need to play exceptionally well to avoid missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
The Dodgers find themselves trailing the St. Louis Cardinals for the final playoff spot following a 5-2, 12th inning loss to the Redbirds on Sunday. The two teams wound up splitting the pivotal four-game series in Los Angeles last week.
St. Louis now returns home to take on the Houston Astros. The Cardinals face the Astros six times in the next 10 days during a stretch of nine consecutive games against the two worst teams in Major League Baseball (the Chicago Cubs being the other). The Cardinals close the regular season with six road games against the Washington Nationals and Cincinnati Reds that could mean little to either opponent
The Dodgers, meanwhile, begin a nine-game road trip tomorrow that takes them to Washington, Cincinnati and San Diego. The Nationals and Reds have the two best records in the National League and the Padres have been the best team in the NL West (27-15) since August 1.
Erasing a one-game deficit wouldn’t appear to that difficult. But the Cardinals have a decided advantage over the Dodgers given their substantially weaker closing schedule.
Let’s assume that the Cardinals finish the season on a 9-6 run (6-3 versus the Astros and Cubs and 3-3 against the Nationals and Reds who are battling for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs) to finish with a 86-76 record.
The Dodgers would have to go 10-5 to reach the same 86-76 mark, forcing a one-game playoff for the final NL Wild Card spot.
Here’s what Los Angeles needs to do in each of its five remaining series to gain an improbable postseason berth.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Washington Nationals, September 18-20
The Dodgers enter their three-game series against the Nationals catching a bit of a break.
Nationals ace Stephen Strasburg—who was slated to start the series opener—was shut down for the rest of the 2012 season following his last start on September 8. Los Angeles will also avoid facing NL wins leader Gio Gonzalez, who started Sunday’s series finale against the Atlanta Braves.
The Dodgers will send Aaron Harang (1.54 ERA in two career starts at Nationals Park) to start the series opener against Jordan Zimmerman. Zimmerman has an ERA over five in his last seven starts.
Los Angeles will start Josh Beckett against John Lannan on Wednesday and Chris Capuano against Ross Detwiler on Thursday.
The Dodgers will certainly miss 2011 Cy Young award winner Clayton Kershaw who may miss the rest of the regular season with a hip ailment. But a healthy Kershaw wouldn’t help the lack of run production that has plagued L.A. for weeks.
The Dodgers are 3-0 against the Nationals this season, and given the favorable pitching matchups, they need to take two out of the three games in Washington.
Los Angeles Dodgers at Cincinnati Reds, September 21-23
The brutal road trip continues for Los Angeles with a weekend series against the NL Central-leading Cincinnati Reds.
The Reds are 11 games clear of the second-place Cardinals, but trail the Nationals by 1.5 games for the best record in the National League. The NL’s All-Star game victory in July means Cincinnati will be plenty motivated to take on the Dodgers.
Los Angeles took two out of three games from the Reds at Dodger Stadium in early July. This series, however, will be played in Great America Ball Park and Cincinnati’s 47-28 home record is the NL’s best.
The Dodgers will win one game in this series to avoid the sweep.
Los Angeles Dodgers at San Diego Padres, September 25-27
The Dodgers’ season series against the Padres has been a tail of two halves. After going 7-2 against the Padres in the first half, Los Angeles has dropped four of six games to San Diego since the All-Star break.
That includes back-to-back,11th-inning losses at Dodger Stadium less than two weeks ago.
The Padres are clearly embracing their role as spoilers, and have absolutely nothing to lose as they play out the stretch. They are a young team that genuinely enjoys playing together, demonstrating a chemistry that the Dodgers seem to lack.
But Los Angeles has San Diego native Adrian Gonzalez who enjoyed five great seasons with the Padres before being traded to the Boston Red Sox after the 2010 season.
Gonzalez will have a big homecoming and lead the Dodgers to a series victory. Los Angeles will take two-of-three games in San Diego and return to Chavez Ravine following a successful 5-4 road trip.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs Colorado Rockies, September 28-30
The Dodgers’ three-game series against the Colorado Rockies to kick off the last weekend of the regular season may be L.A.’s most important remaining series. Strange as that may sound, those are the only three games that the Dodgers will be expected to win.
Even a wildly successful 6-3 road trip would force the Dodgers to win four of their final six home games to reach the 86-76 target. Given the team’s recent history against the Giants, a sweep of the Rockies is essential to making their playoff dreams come true.
Los Angeles has lost four of six games versus Colorado since the All-Star break, so a series sweep will not be easy. If, however, there is any truth to the saying that great teams beat the teams that they’re supposed to, the Dodgers will enter the last weekend of the regular season on at least a three-game winning streak.
Los Angeles Dodgers vs San Francisco Giants, October 1-3
Just because the Giants will be NL West champs when they travel to Los Angeles for the season’s final series doesn’t mean they’ll lay down against the Dodgers. San Francisco would love to keep their hated rivals out of the playoffs altogether.
Since sweeping the Giants in San Francisco in late July, the Dodgers have lost five of the last six games in the series. That trend cannot continue if Los Angeles wants a shot at meeting their old nemesis on the postseason stage.
As much as he’d love to stick it to the Dodgers, Giants manager Bruce Bochy can’t risk the health of his key players in a meaningless series. He won’t put anything above San Francisco’s ultimate goal of reaching a second World Series in the last three years.
Key position players like Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval and Angel Pagan will likely get a day or two off during the Dodgers series.
Bochy will also limit the work of his starters, giving them just enough work to stay sharp for the postseason. That means brief appearances for Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner and Ryan Vogelsong.
Los Angeles manager Don Mattingly won’t have the luxury of resting anyone. The Dodgers will leave everything out on the field in pursuit of the playoff berth that eluded them last season.
Dodger Stadium will be rocking with a playoff-like atmosphere, and the Dodgers will wake up on October 4 preparing to play another day...in 2012.
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