With three games remaining in the regular season, the Los Angeles Dodgers still have a sliver of a chance to nab the second wild-card playoff spot in the NL.
Going into Monday, the Dodgers trail the St. Louis Cardinals by two games in the wild-card standings. Los Angeles ends their season with a three-game set vs. the San Francisco Giants while the Cards play their final series against the Cincinnati Reds.
According to Coolstandings.com, the Dodgers' playoff chances are at 4.8 percent. Baseball Prospectus has their odds at five percent. If we were doing Vegas-style odds here, the Dodgers would be listed as 49/1. Those are obviously not great odds. But there's still a chance, even if the Dodgers need some significant cooperation from the Cardinals.
So how can the Dodgers pull this thing off? They need outside help, of course. But their star players also have great success against the Giants, the LA's bitter NL West rivals. If those superstars can come through when their team needs them the most, the Dodgers could pull off the kind of playoff miracle that we'll be talking about years from now.
The Captain Obvious Solution
Let's get the Dodgers' most obvious path to the postseason out of the way first.
If the Dodgers were to sweep the Giants in their final series and the Cards lost all three of their games vs. the Reds, then Los Angeles will have overtaken St. Louis for the NL's final wild-card bid and will play the Atlanta Braves on Friday (Oct. 5).
Of course, it's not going to be that simple. The Dodgers will have to beat Matt Cain, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, all three of whom have pitched well against them this season.
Is it a slight consolation that the Giants have nothing left to play for in these final three games? They can't improve their playoff seeding. But surely, San Francisco would relish the chance to keep its fierce arch-rival from making the postseason.
The Cardinals will face Bronson Arroyo, Mat Latos and Homer Bailey (fresh off his no-hitter on Friday) in their three games against the Reds. Cincinnati needs every win it can get as it tries to beat out the Washington Nationals for the top seed in the NL playoff field.
Matt Kemp Needs His MVP Form
Had Kemp not missed 56 games due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, he likely would have been in the competition for the NL MVP Award.
Nothing is guaranteed, of course.
Perhaps Kemp would have hit a deep slump at some point during the season. Staying healthy plays a major factor in winning a MVP award and suffering injuries is part of the game. Joey Votto also lost his chances at the award because of his knee injury.
Kemp began the season swinging a furious bat, hitting .417/.490/.893 in 98 plate appearances with 12 home runs and 25 RBI.
In his past five games, with the Dodgers' playoff chances on the line, Kemp has hit .550 (11-for-20) with three doubles, four homers and nine RBI. He's coming into these final three games hot.
Kemp could get doused by Cain, against whom he's batting .227/.244/.409 in 45 plate appearances. But he has a .462/.533/.692 slash line with three homers and nine RBI vs Zito. Against Vogelsong, Kemp is hitting .333/.412/.667.
A stellar performance in these last three games would be redemption for Kemp.
Ace in Place for the Finale
If the Dodgers' season comes down to winning their final game, they're in the fortunate position of having their ace, the reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, on the mound.
Clayton Kershaw has struggled with an impingement in his right hip throughout September, an injury that cost him two starts.
Since returning, however, Kershaw has looked like the dominant pitcher that could very well beat out the New York Mets' R.A. Dickey for a second consecutive Cy Young Award. In his past two starts, the Dodgers left-hander has allowed one run and 10 hits in 13 innings with 15 strikeouts.
Kershaw has been especially effective against the Giants over his career, which has to be encouraging for the Dodgers if they can keep their playoff chances alive until the season finale.
In 16 career appearances (15 starts) against San Francisco, Kershaw has compiled a 7-4 record and 1.39 ERA. He's racked up 119 strikeouts and 24 walks in 110 innings, and this season, he has a 1-3 mark against the Giants with a 1.74 ERA. Kershaw has struck out 32 Giants and walked only four in 31 innings.
Obviously, Kershaw is going to need some runs support (as any pitcher does, regardless of ability). That won't be easy against Vogelsong and his previously mentioned 0.89 ERA facing the Dodgers.
But if it comes down to a do-or-die game in the season finale, at least the Dodgers know their best guy is on the mound. They can—and should—worry about a wild-card playoff after that.
Follow @iancass on Twitter