Tonight begins the biggest series of the season … you know, since the last series against the Giants. And make no mistake, this will be a playoff-like series, despite the Giants’ second-half struggles.
Each team’s rotation is set up exactly the way it would be come October:
- Game 1: Madison Bumgarner vs. Clayton Kershaw
- Game 2: Johnny Cueto vs. Rich Hill
- Game 3: Matt Moore vs. Kenta Maeda
If the Dodgers ever played the Giants in the playoffs, this would surely be the rotation for each side the first three games. Kershaw is coming off a performance that should give Dodger fans a lot of hope that he can return to his pre-injury form. Bumgarner is one of the best pitchers in the game, but he has struggled against the Dodgers to the tune of a 5.63 ERA in the three games the Dodgers have, somehow, beaten him in this season. Cueto has fared much better in his four games against them (3.18 ERA) and split the four games overall. The Dodgers jumped all over Moore in May while he was with Tampa Bay, but he came to LA in July and, despite the walks, carved up the Dodger lineup. In his only start as a Giant against them, he almost threw a no-hitter.
On the other side, Kershaw has, historically, been great against the Giants. This season, the Dodgers have won all three of his starts against SF because Kershaw has limited the offense to seven runs (six earned) in 23 innings, as well as 24 strikeouts and just one walk. Hill spent the majority of the 2016 in the American League, but his first start as a Dodger was against the Giants, and all he did was throw six shutout innings. The Dodgers are also 2-0 in starts by Maeda against the Giants, and he has pitched to a 3.00 ERA against them.
These are all small sample sizes for sure. There is history for both sides, but most of it lies with Bumgarner vs. LA and Kershaw vs. SF.
Offensively, the Dodgers’ struggles against left-handed pitching has been well documented, which should give some concern for this series — especially if guys like Enrique Hernandez and Charlie Culberson continue to get significant playing time down the stretch. OK, that might not be totally fair, but seriously: Why is Charlie Culberson?
The Dodger offense just needs to continue to produce. Against Bumgarner and Moore, they just need to find a way to scrape across a few runs. Somehow, some way. It won’t be a high-scoring series, but the offensive edge would, seemingly, sit with the Dodgers. If you’re comparing lineups, there’s not much debate. Of course, you have to factor in the whole “left-handed pitching thing,” which helps even things out tremendously. The Giants are just about league-average against lefties (99 wRC+ — 26 points better than LA) this season, and they’re a couple points worse against righties (97 wRC+ — 10 points worse than LA). They’re much more consistent than the Dodgers on offense, though that doesn’t necessarily mean better.
Overall, each team is surprisingly similar on offense. Both have a 98 wRC+ overall. The Giants do it with more on-base and manufacturing runs, while the Dodgers hit for more power. Either way, they both end up with generally the same amount of offensive production (665 runs for LA, 655 runs for SF).
The Dodgers are currently comfortably ahead in the NL West by five games. Their Magic Number is nine (i.e., any combination of Dodger wins or Giant losses, meaning each win in this series would take two games off the Magic Number). Worst-case scenario: The Dodgers are two games up in the division come the conclusion of Wednesday night’s game. Best-case: They’re eight games up. Most likely: They’ll either gain or lose a game in the standings and the Magic Number is down to seven (1-of-3 wins in the series) or five (2-of-3).
The Giants always play the Dodgers tough, no matter how much they might be struggling. This will not be an easy series for either team, but it should be about the closest thing to playoff baseball you can get in September.
The Dodgers could do themselves (and the fans, frankly) a favor by taking at least two of three games in this series so that the division title, hopefully, doesn’t come down to the final weekend of the season in San Francisco. That weekend — especially the last game — should be about Vin Scully and not the team fighting for the division championship.
This team is on the verge of its fourth consecutive division title — something that has not been done by the Dodgers. If only the front office would have pulled its collective nose out of the spreadsheets and built a winning baseball team.