Hold On Tight – Tough Sailing Ahead


Hello, fellow Dodgers fans. Are you still riding high from that four-game road sweep in Philadelphia? Me too. But I need to cure this hangover and buckle up as soon as possible, because we have 29 games left until the All-Star Break and the schedule is rough.

This is how the Dodgers’ slate looks for the next month:

3 @ Seattle

3 vs. Los Angeles Angels

3 vs. Chicago White Sox

3 @ Oakland

3 @ Los Angeles Angels

3 @ San Francisco

4 vs. New York Mets

3 vs. Cincinnati

4 @ Arizona

Now, you may look at the Seattle and Oakland series and giggle, expecting two more road sweeps. I’d love to see that, and while the records indicate a pretty sizable disparity between our Dodgers and the two teams battling it out for last place in the AL West, those are big time trap series.

We’re talking about the same Seattle and Oakland who just recently obliterated the twice-defending AL Champion Texas Rangers. We’re talking about a Mariners team who sends 7-game winner Jason Vargas to the mound tomorrow afternoon. We’re talking about an A’s staff that held that stout Rangers offense to one run or less in three of their four games this week.

They may be below .500 but they are no slouches. The boys in blue can’t fall into a trap like they did at Wrigley Field earlier this season and lose two out of three by losing focus late in games. The AL West teams are not to be taken lightly. And neither are the rest of the teams on this schedule by any means.

We all know about the Angels and the fierce Southern California rivalry. Dodger Nation can stubbornly claim L.A. as our town as loudly as we want, but that doesn’t matter if we get spanked on the diamond by the Anaheim imposters. Say what you want about Albert Pujols and his slow start, but this Angels team is absolutely on fire lately, and happens to be scheduled right after both of our potential trap series.

That’s why it’s so key to play well in Oakland and Seattle – if we carry close to zero momentum into playing the Angels, chances are Pujols, Mark Trumbo, Mike Trout and company will do some dirty things to us.

Also on the schedule are two teams that nobody expected to be having so much success. The White Sox are currently sitting atop the AL Central, thanks in large part to good starting pitching and an MVP season from former Dodger Paul Konerko. I don’t expect them to be on top all season, but it’s not a team to be messed with. They can put up crooked numbers any inning, and Chris Sale might just be the next coming of Randy Johnson.

Then you’ve got the New York Metropolitans, maybe the biggest surprise in the National League, sitting just a few games out of first in the NL East. David Wright has been one of the best players in baseball this season, and their team of scrappers scares me. Plus, if we have to face R.A. Dickey, our only chance might be that he’s having an off-day.

Playing the Mets and Reds back-to-back series at Dodger Stadium will be a really big mid-season test. I’d hope to at least pull off a 4-3 record against those two opponents. The biggest factor against Cincinnati will be quieting their big bats. If Dodger pitching continues to thrive and can at least somewhat control the bats of Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and friends, we will win that series.

And of course, we all know it will be a big series facing the defending-division champion Arizona D’backs right before the break. I’m sure our players will be dreaming of a break, and might lose focus being so close to the All-Star Game, but no matter how poorly Arizona has played this year, we can’t let them mangle us in the desert.

They are still chock full of talent, and could easily make a run in the second half. The last thing we want to do is prod the snakes and give them a huge swell of confidence heading into July.

Do I even need to talk about how important the series against the Giants will be? Let’s be honest – it sucks, but San Francisco is playing some good ball right now. Yes, it’s been against the likes of the Cubs and Padres, but winning is winning. In fact, the Giants have the most wins in baseball since Cinco de Mayo (we have one less than them).

I expect at that point, our lead in the division will still be around 3 or 4 games, so we have to stay sharp in the city by the Bay. I’ll be there in person, and ready to report back on Lasorda’s Lair after each game.

Now that I’m done saying nice things about our upcoming opponents, let me remind myself and you all that the Dodgers are still the best team in baseball. We ARE the team to beat. But that’s even more reason to be wary of opponents who are gunning to de-throne us.

Out of the eight teams we are playing over our last 29 games, four of them have records at least six games over .500. And two that don’t are the rival D’backs and the red-hot Angels. Regardless of record, this may very well be the toughest stretch of the season for the Dodgers, especially with Matt Kemp likely sidelined for all of it.

We pulled out some big wins in Philly, but the pitching needs to continue dazzling, and the offense must continue to produce. If Andre Ethier gets out of his funk and James Loney and Juan Rivera stay hot, I see no reason why we can’t win 18-20 of these games and probably lengthen the lead in the division heading into the Break.

All I ask is that our team stay focused and put together one more good month of baseball before getting some time off. If they can maintain this division lead until the second half, when a healthy Kemp returns to the lineup, I’ll continue to be incredibly impressed.

Let’s just sit back and enjoy this team doing what it does best – winning. And hope it continues through June and into July for All-Star festivities.

You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.