The upcoming weekend brings a surprisingly pivotal series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Diego Padres.
On May 14, 2009, the Dodgers had the best record in baseball at 24-12, five games ahead of the second place San Fransisco Giants. Flash forward to 2010 and once again the Giants find themselves in the two-spot, only this time they are chasing an unlikely front-runner.
The Padres currently hold the best record in the National League and lead the Giants by two and half games, taking the first two games of the series against the in-state rivals to the north.
The final game of the series between the Padres and Giants may have relevant implications to the NL West standings. The Dodgers have climbed out of the basement and in to third place, and if the Padres pull off the sweep, the Giants will be in fair reach. The Dodgers will have Thursday off as they make the trek from Phoenix to San Diego, and the extra day of rest may make a difference.
However, it will be the pitching match-ups that may make or break the early season, and the rivalries are marked by a few surprises themselves.
The first game of the series on Friday, May 14, may be a crooked stage for the Dodgers, as they send veteran Ramon Ortiz to the hill against former mate and renewed Padre Jon Garland.
Ortiz's ERA is still in the clouds at 5.16, while Garland has dominated for the Padres with a 4-2 record and a stingy 1.71 ERA. Coming off a sweep in Arizona, largely due to a struggling Diamondbacks bullpen, the Dodgers will have to face one of the toughest and most consistent pitching staffs in the National League.
In order for Ortiz to be effective, his fastball must be crisp and his off-speed pitches must hit their mark, which Ortiz has struggled to accomplish thus far. Garland spent the back half of the 2009 season with the Dodgers, and virtually all of his teammates from last season are still in the Dodgers' line-up, with the exception of Orlando Hudson.
Garland may have an edge if he took notes on his teammates during his short stint as a Dodger.
Andre Ethier's success against right-handers (and everybody else so far) will have to continue to support Ortiz.
Kevin Correia is arguably experiencing the best start of his career. He has not been particularly dominant, but his consistency has kept his team in ballgames, games that the Padres have turned in to wins.
Opposing Correia will be Dodgers youngster Clayton Kershaw. The lefty is coming off a sharp outting in which he out-dueled Ubaldo Jimenez. The Rockies ace suffered his first loss while Kershaw surrendered just two hits and struck out nine over eight innings.
The Padres certainly know how to back their starter, scoring an average of just over nine runs per Correia start. The Padres will have to figure out Kershaw, who seems to have found his rhythm after a forgettable short outing against the Brewers.
Kershaw needs to stabilize his location and minimize the number of walks he issues; the Padres will not let the opportunity go by the wayside.
Dodgers sluggers Manny Ramirez and Andre Ethier have had success in recent years against Correia, and their success would be greatly appreciated. Ethier is 8 for 15 while Manny is 2 for 6.
Chad Billingsley is tabbed as the starter for the Dodgers in the series finale, although the Padres haven't named a starter. Adrian Gonzalez is having a decent year for an average player, but surprisingly his numbers are lower than his averages but his team is still winning.
Billingsley is notorious for his command issues but recovers well given a challenge. Maybe the thought in the back of his mind that Gonzalez is due up soon may make him more accurate.
Rafael Furcal is due to re-enter the Dodgers line-up following completion of his minor league rehab assignment. His health and ability to bounce back from a nagging injury will be vital is starting the Dodgers' offense against a suddenly potent Padres pitching staff.
When the dust settles, the smoke clears, the curtain rises, and any other cliche you'd like to throw in, one thing is for certain: The approaching weekend series between the Boys in Blue and the Fathers may provide the beat for the remainder of the season.
The Dodgers will look to prove they can defend their NL West crown, and the Padres will attempt to prove they belong. The series should be exciting....