The Dodgers endured a walk-off loss on Wednesday. Key pitchers Hiroki Kuroda, Clayton Kershaw and now Randy Wolf have missed September starts. The inconsistencies have added up to an unimpressive second half.
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Oh, and the Rockies won again Thursday. Seven in a row. They are stingier than Karl Mecklenburg. The Dodgers’ lead in the National League West has been whittled to two.
Manny’s next stop is San Francisco, where the sons of Alston, Lasorda and Torre have been jeered for some 50 summers.
So, you would think there is suffocating pressure on the Dodgers. You figure Ned Colletti is avoiding the team’s athletic trainers, for fear that the next conversation will bring more bad news about a pitcher. You believe Chavez Ravine to be a very nervous place right about now.
I can’t tell you what Dodgers officials and players are thinking, as they prepare for their visit to AT&T Park. But I’m quite comfortable making the following statement: This weekend’s series might be a must-win — just not for Los Angeles.
The Giants, for all their brilliant pitching, are one bad series away from watching their postseason hopes take a splash hit. Beginning with Prince Fielder’s pyrotechnic home run on Sunday afternoon, they have dropped three of their past four games. And they weren’t facing contenders. That’s no way to earn a playoff bid.
So, it has come to this: The Giants have three games against the Dodgers, followed by three against the Rockies. By this time next week, we will know if San Francisco still has a legitimate chance of advancing to the postseason for the first time since 2003.
“The next six are really big,” said J.T. Snow, the popular former Giants first baseman who now serves as an adviser and broadcaster for the team. “The people in San Francisco know it’s big, and the players know it’s big.”
Snow said the Giants need to win five of the six in order to position themselves well for a late-season run. I agree. They are 4 1/2 games behind Colorado with less than four weeks to play. Without delving too far into the statistical scenarios, let’s agree that it’s hard to make up that much ground without winning the head-to-head games.
That’s why Marquis Grissom, the former Giants outfielder and current Nationals coach, forecasted “a playoff atmosphere” for San Francisco this weekend. This is the biggest meeting between the old borough rivals since the last series of the 2004 regular season, when the Giants trekked to Dodger Stadium with hopes alive in the divisional and wild card races.
Then came Steve Finley’s walk-off grand slam on that memorable Saturday.
“The place,” said Gene Glynn, then a Giants coach, “went nuts.”
San Francisco hasn’t had a winning season since, while the Dodgers have started looking like perennial contenders. Really, that’s the way it’s been for these teams dating back to the Polo Grounds and Ebbets Field: The rivalry has persisted, even though (save Bobby Thomson and a number of other instances) the teams haven’t made a habit of being good at the same time.
Now, there is a (diminishing) chance of both teams participating in the same postseason. That’s never happened.
“This rivalry is starting to mean something in the standings again,” said Dave Roberts, the former outfielder who played for both teams. “In recent years, it seemed like one team was playing for a playoff spot, and the other team wasn’t. The stakes are a lot higher now.”
And in order for them to stay that way, the Giants are going to have to start providing more timely hits … or at least taking a strike … every third game or so.
The Giants have hit the second-fewest home runs in the majors (104); that has something to do with their home ballpark. They also have the fewest walks in the majors (331); that has nothing to do with their home ballpark.
It’s hard to win when you don’t swing. It’s also hard to win when you swing too much. That has been the downfall of this team.
Of course, the Giants have a great pitching staff, one that has recently been more reliable than that of the Dodgers. And the gap may be widening, even though Tim Lincecum’s sore back forced him to miss a start.
In addition to the recent injuries to Kershaw and Wolf, Chad Billingsley has a 5.23 ERA in 10 starts since appearing in the All-Star Game. Just as everyone expected, Vicente Padilla looks like the most reliable of Joe Torre’s three starters this weekend.
Dodgers reliever Ramon Troncoso, one of the National League’s steadiest relievers in the first half, came unraveled in Wednesday’s ninth. He’s thrown a lot of pitches, which tends to happen to Torre’s favorite setup men.
“I do think the Dodgers are vulnerable,” said Roberts, who now works as a television analyst. “The rotation hasn’t logged the innings that I expected they would. That puts a lot of strain on the bullpen. Now you lose Wolf. You’re asking even more of the bullpen. That’s a concern.”
Normal breathing won’t resume for McCourt & Associates until Kershaw and Wolf get back on the mound, in games, and show they’re healthy enough to win. And it would help if the indispensable Casey Blake were to cure his bad hamstring.
But the Dodgers shouldn’t fret about the Rockies now. In one month, it won’t matter who won the division. It’s about playing in the postseason, period. And in that regard, the Dodgers remain in very good stead. They are 6 1/2 games ahead of the Giants. That’s the important number.
This won’t qualify as an abject collapse unless two teams pass the Dodgers. And that’s highly unlikely.
So, this series is about the Giants. They will be the more desperate team this weekend, and they need to play like the better one. Otherwise, they won’t get close enough for their fans to fear another Finley Moment.