“Back in the day” when a team was in first place on July 4th , there was more than a 60% chance they would finish atop the standings. Over the last ten years, those odds have dropped to a little more than 50%. In 2011, three of the six teams in first place on the 4th did not finish the season in first. Why the percentages have dropped may be fodder for sports talk radio but the fact remains many fans still perceive July 4th as the day they find out whether or not their favorite team is for real. For Dodgers fans, July 4th may actually begin in San Francisco on June 25th.
That is because the NL West leading Dodgers begin a three game series against the Giants who, coincidentally enough, are just three games out of first. This may not be a critical series when it comes to talking about Jim Mora’s favorite subject but it is shaping up to be the series the Dodgers can finally prove they are a real contender.
Both teams enter the series stumbling rather than running. The Dodgers won only six of their recently wrapped 15-game interleague “swing.” The Giants are only 4-5 in their last nine games. And both teams have a very similar offense – overwhelmingly mediocre.
The Dodgers rank 15th in the NL in home runs; the Giants are 14th. The Dodgers are 10th in the NL in runs scored with the Giants right behind them in 11th. This series may be all about the pitching.
The first game pits the Dodgers hard-luck right hander Nathan Eovaldi ( 0-3, 2.35 ERA) going against is-he-in-or-is-he-out Barry Zito ( 5-5, 4.35 ERA). Eovaldi’s record magnifies the Dodgers atrocious offense. The Dodgers have scored just three runs over the 30.2 innings he has been on the mound. This is Eovaldi’s first career start against the Giants. It seems Zito enters each season as the odd man out yet he was handed the fifth rotation spot when the team traded one of the unsung heroes of the 2010 World Championship run, pitcher Jonathan Sanchez, to Kansas City for outfielder Melky Cabrera. Zito has lost his last three starts and is 6-9 lifetime versus the Dodgers.
The two players considered the offensive “leaders” on this team are having eerily similar seasons to this point. The Dodgers Andre Ethier is batting .294 with 10 home runs; Giants catcher Buster Posey is batting .295 and also has 10 home runs. The Giants at least have Cabrera (.351) to provide some secondary punch. The Dodgers aren’t so lucky. Dodgers fans can only pray infielder Juan Uribe starts justifying his paycheck against his old team. Uribe is 1-13 (0.76) in his last five games.
It is somewhat hard to believe these two NL West rivals have only played three games against one another this season. Back in early May at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers won two of those games and outscored the Giants 16-5.
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly may be downplaying how critical this specific series is given the Dodgers and Giants will still meet up 12 times before the end of the season but he also knows this is the time the Dodgers can right a sinking ship.
“It’s a pennant race. It’s impossible not to see the scoreboards,” Mattingly said. “We take care of our own business. We’ve got to play up to our ability. If we play our best baseball every day I like our chances. I really don’t care who we’re matching up against. You prepare for that lineup that night and try to put your best lineup out there.”