Labor Day weekend should have been kind to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Dodgers entered the weekend with a 76-58 record, which was best in the National League. Coming off a two game sweep at Arizona, the Dodgers also had the best road record in baseball at 42-26. They were heading down to San Diego to face off against a team that was 13 games behind them in the West.
However, the San Diego Padres are a very weird team. Though they were eight games under .500, they came into Labor Day weekend with a second half record of 21-16. The Padres have an elite pitching staff, boasting the third lowest team ERA in the majors. However, they also have a historically abysmal offense, ranking at the bottom of most offensive categories, including a .225 team batting average.
The scene was set for a good weekend for the Dodgers, but then the Dodgers forgot how to hit. A Dee Gordon error doomed them in game one, where Dan Haren had a very solid outing. Unfortunately for Haren, head coach Don Mattingly used his bullpen a little too liberally early on, forcing Kevin Correia into the game in the twelfth inning. The Dodgers lost in the twelfth inning. Something tells me those two facts are related.
Game two saw another good pitching performance, this time by Zack Greinke. The offense only managed one run against Ian Kennedy, and Jamey Wright gave up a walk-off single in the tenth. The Dodgers salvaged the series by winning the rubber match on Sunday behind Hyun-Jin Ryu’s strong return from the DL.
To make matters worse, the stupid Milwaukee Brewers got demolished by the stupider San Francisco Giants over the weekend, so the Dodgers lead is down to 2.5 games.
The Dodgers return home to face the NL East leading Washington Nationals, who are fresh off a series win against the Seattle Mariners. One of those two teams with a better team ERA than the Padres? The Nationals. If this weekend is any indication, this could be a rough three game stretch for the Dodgers.
For most teams, coming home would be a huge relief. However, the Dodgers are not most teams. Their offensive numbers are better across the board on the road than at home, which isn’t a huge surprise considering Dodger Stadium is a pitcher-friendly ballpark. However, the Dodgers have a lower team ERA on the road than at home, and have given up 15 more home runs at Dodger Stadium than on the road, despite having 15 more innings pitched on the road.
Which Dodgers will show up this week? When the Nationals leave town, the Dodgers have home series’ against the Diamondbacks and Padres before heading up north for a crucial series against the Giants. The series against the Nationals should be a good measuring stick of where the Dodgers stand in the National League. Everyone knows the Dodgers have the talent to compete with anyone. In a playoff series, Clayton Kershaw/Greinke/Ryu is almost unfair to other teams. The Dodgers bullpen has been their Achilles heel, but all three of those pitchers are more than capable of going eight strong and handing the ball to Kenley Jansen for the save. Or seven innings and give the ball to J.P. Howell, who Mattingly will hopefully soon realize isn’t just a lefty specialist.
If ESPN is correct, the Dodgers will send Roberto Hernandez, Kershaw and Carlos Frias to the hill during the Nationals series. Mattingly likes to reshuffle his rotation to get the right guys going in the right games, so that may be shuffled with a series against the Giants coming up. Reinforcements will surely be on the way with the rosters expanding to 40 men today. If I were a betting man, I would bet against Frias throwing on Wednesday. But there is precedent for me being wrong.
The Nationals will counter with Gio Gonzalez, Doug Fister and Jordan Zimmerman against the Dodgers. Gonzalez is having a solid year, while Fister and Zimmerman are having exceptional years, so the Dodgers will have to come out with the same fire that they did on Sunday if they want to prove that they will be a force in the postseason. A series win against the Nationals would do wonders for their confidence, especially headed into six very winnable games. Which Dodgers will show up? That remains to be seen. But regardless of how frustrating this weekend’s games were, the Dodgers are still looking good for a playoff spot and should be able to secure the division. The Dodgers have three series’ remaining against winning teams, two of which are against the Giants. They should have an easy September, but to be the best, you have to beat the best. And that begins tonight.