NL West: Rivalry renewed as Dodgers stand in Giants' way
SAN FRANCISCO -- The San Francisco Giants hoped the home-field advantage in the final three games of the regular season would work to their benefit in the race with the Los Angeles Dodgers for the National League West crown.
Turns out, it won't.
That said, the Giants are still glad to be at AT&T Park this weekend.
San Francisco needs a series win -- perhaps even a sweep -- against Los Angeles in the three-game set that begins Friday night. But it is not the Dodgers that San Francisco is battling.
The Giants (84-75) are sandwiched between the New York Mets (85-74) and St. Louis Cardinals (83-76) in the three-team battle for the two NL wild cards. The Mets lead the Giants by one game, with the Cardinals currently on the outside looking in, one game back of San Francisco.
"It's exciting," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said after his team retained its lead over the Cardinals with a 7-2 win over the Colorado Rockies on Thursday night. "We wish we were in a better position, but you don't stop fighting."
The Dodgers, meanwhile, clinched the NL West last Sunday, and they have little to play for as the series begins.
Los Angeles is locked into a first-round playoff matchup with the Washington Nationals, champs of the NL East. That series will open in Washington unless the Dodgers (91-68) can catch the Nationals (93-66) in the overall standings.
The Dodgers won the season series from the Nationals 5-1, so they would get home-field advantage in the best-of-five should the teams finish the regular season in a tie.
San Francisco staff ace Madison Bumgarner will duel Los Angeles newcomer Rich Hill in the Giants-Dodgers series opener.
Bumgarner (14-9, 2.71 ERA) will get a rematch with the Dodgers after he wasn't involved in the decision Sept. 19 at Los Angeles in a thriller the Dodgers won 2-1 by scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth.
The left-hander shut out Los Angeles on one hit over seven innings that night before getting into a scuffle with Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig near first base at the end of the seventh. Bochy chose to pull his standout at that point.
The loss was costly for the Giants. They fell six games off the pace in the division and never seriously challenged the Dodgers again.
The Giants now find themselves needing to beat their rivals just to join them in the postseason.
Bumgarner is 13-9 with a 2.66 ERA in 26 career outings (25 starts) against the Dodgers.
The Dodgers initially slotted their ace, Clayton Kershaw, in the Friday game, but they pushed him back to Saturday as a precaution.
Kershaw hasn't allowed an earned run in his past three starts, covering 18 innings, as he works his way back into form following a 10-week absence caused by a back injury. He hasn't thrown more than 91 pitches in any of those starts.
Getting Kershaw back on top of his game is critical for the Dodgers because, if fully healthy, he would be a possibility to start a potential Game 4 against the Nationals on three days' rest. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts already has announced that his ace will go in Game 1.
"It's definitely an issue," Roberts said recently of Kershaw's conditioning after the long layoff. "(Pitching him on short rest) would be an honest conversation depending on where we're at. I'm not prepared to have that yet."
While Kershaw enjoys his extra day of rest, Hill will get the call Friday. The lefty is 3-2 with a 1.53 ERA in five starts since joining Los Angeles in a trade-deadline deal with the Oakland A's. Overall, he is 12-5 with a 2.05 ERA in 19 starts this year.
In two starts against the Giants this year, Hill is 1-1 with a 0.82 ERA, improving his career mark against San Francisco to 3-2 with a 2.60 ERA in seven starts.