To win a division title, it’s no secret a team has to be able to hold their own on the road. Each team plays 76 of their 162 games (47%) against division rivals with 38 of those away from home. That’s nearly a quarter of the schedule spent in divisional rival cities alone. Of those 38, 20 will be split between the old Mission outposts of San Francisco and San Diego.
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This week the Dodgers will travel to opposite ends of the state with the goal of strengthening their grip on the NL West in the early going. The struggling Giants (4-10, last place) are a shadow of the team we saw win the title last fall. Their pitching is abysmal with a team ERA of nearly 4, and their offense is anemic averaging 1.6 runs per game over their last 11. Still they should be handled like a wounded animal: with laser focus and big weapons at the ready.
The Giants are champions with talent and the arrival of their hated foes might just be the elixir needed to jolt them out of their early-season funk. For the Dodgers to keep their winning ways they will have to approach this series as if they are playing the World Champion Giants and not the 1-and-9-in-their-last-10 Giants.
The second half of the week poses a different sort of problem. The Dodgers will head south to the border village of San Diego, looking to squash a rebellious group of upstarts looking to turn the division on its head. The Padres (9-5, 2nd place) are 8-3 since leaving Chavez Ravine the first days of the season. Their offense is paced by Justin Upton and Matt Kemp, and their pitching has been as heartless as the desert sun. They own a team ERA of 2.81 and new signing Craig Kimbrel has already collected 4 saves. The perpetual doormat of the division has new blood, a new swagger, and they will be looking to show the baseballing world that it is they, and not the Dodgers, who rule SoCal.
Call to the Pen
These next six games could say a lot regarding the Dodgers’ early season form and where they’ll fit in the Western landscape. I expect the Giants to make at least a partial recovery at some point this year and begin winning games with more regularity. Before that happens, the faster the Dodgers can bury their enemies from the north, the better. The Dodgers currently stand 6 games above the Giants and pushing that lead to double digits before Memorial Day not only looks possible, dare I say it looks inevitable.
I anticipate a season-long battle with the Padres and their upgraded roster. I know it’s early, but April wins count the same as they do in September. Each win, especially those on the road against a team like the Padres, will be precious. The Dodgers haven’t had much experience away from LA yet this year with just those 3 games in Arizona where they dropped 2. If that pattern continues this week it could be a harbinger of a brutal season ahead. On the other hand, if the Dodgers return home with both the spoils of war and a winning record, it could provide that crucial momentum needed to propel this team as we head towards the heart of summer.