Can the Dodgers Overtake the Giants with just 12 Games Left?

LA trails SF by just one game after healthy Kershaw wins, Giants lose Sunday.

One game separates the Giants and the Dodgers in the standings.

One of these teams will take the NL West and cool their cleats while the other team will have to scratch and claw its way through a sudden-death wild card game.

Then these two teams will likely play each other for the first time ever in October.

Are we having fun yet?

I’m not! I wish these Dodgers and Giants had one more series against each other over the season’s last weekend and I’m going to keep whining about it because whining about things I can’t control is Ia highly refined coping skill for me. We deserve a three-game death match for all the Totino’s and we’re not getting it. Wah.

Both teams are off tonight. The Dodgers will get Colorado in Denver beginning tomorrow, which is not that great of a draw when you need a sweep. The Rockies are 45-27 at home. (The Giants, by comparison are *only* 49-26 at home.)

Meanwhile, San Francisco gets to go to Petco and play the Padres for three. San Diego made news over the weekend for this:

That’s Manny Machado screaming at Fernando Tatis Jr. during a game the Padres absolutely could not afford to have Tatis Jr. thrown out of the game for arguing balls and strikes. And while I agree with those who said Machado was acting as a team leader here, you never want this drama spilling out into public view because then people like me will write about your big old mess. Do Tatis Jr. and Machado get along in normal times? Yes. Can an epic, public collapse in August and September turn teammates into frenemies with hair triggers? You bet.

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My friend Jon Weisman notes that the Padres have the worst record in the National League since August 11. The boys in orange and brown know it:

Anyway, my point is this: do these dudes look primed to take a game or two from the Giants? No chance. The Padres’ fiasco is one of the season’s crazier storylines. Here’s an excellent analysis of what went wrong by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union Tribune. The Dodgers better figure out a way to sweep Colorado at Coors because the Padres problems are not fixable before this season ends.

The great news for Los Angeles? Clayton Kershaw came back from the injured list last week and enjoyed two solid and uneventful starts, giving up 2 ER in 9.1 innings with 13 strikeouts and one walk. Tony Gonsolin has also shown he is healthy. In three appearances since September 9th, Gonsolin has given up 4 runs in 10.1 innings with 11 strikeouts and 6 walks. The walks concern me, but with Kershaw healthy, and Walker Buehler, Max Scherzer, and Julio Urias on cruise control, the Dodgers won’t need Gonsolin to start any games in October.

A word about Max Scherzer: I am 99 percent confident the Dodgers will win any sudden death game they play this October when they’ve got Scherzer on the bump. Since coming over to Los Angeles in the deadline deal that also brought the Dodgers Trea Turner, Scherzer has only given up five earned runs in 58 innings while striking out 79 and walking just seven. He’s currently on a 36 innings scoreless streak. I have not seen a pitcher dominate so consistently like this since Kershaw won the Cy Young and MVP awards in 2014. (Full disclosure: I was one of 30 MVP voters that year. I voted for Kershaw even though I never thought I’d vote for a starting pitcher for MVP because they only play every five days. I agonized over my vote, but Kershaw was so much better than everyone else that I needn’t have worried: He wound up collecting 28 of the 30 first place votes).

Last week I wrote that Corbin Burnes is the most underpaid player in MLB and I haven’t yet changed my mind. Scherzer is making $34.5 million this season compared to Burnes’ $608,000. I mention these two because they are probably the frontrunners for the NL Cy Young award, with Buehler falling back a little bit after a couple of lackluster starts in September. Luckily for Scherzer, voters don’t take salary into account when they vote on major awards. If he keeps this scoreless streak through September, Scherzer will not only win the Cy Young in a walk but he will receive MVP votes as well.

The rumor is that the Nationals traded Scherzer to the Dodgers instead of the Padres because they preferred Dodgers catching prospect Keibert Ruiz to Padres catching prospect Luis Campusano. If that’s actually what went down, whatever slight edge Ruiz had over Campusano in the Nationals’ mind altered the course of two franchises. The Dodgers would be in big trouble without Scherzer. The Padres certainly are.

The Dodgers were optimistic Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin would return by the end of the season and contribute to the club’s stretch run and postseason games. They seemed ready to give up on second baseman of the future Gavin Lux, he of the .656 OPS on July 18. They appeared so over Lux’s struggles they even traded for Trea Turner in the Scherzer deal and moved him from shortstop to second to get Lux’s bat out of the lineup. But with Cody Bellinger scuffling, injuries to AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor, and literally every other bench player besides Albert Pujols laying rotten eggs, the Dodgers recalled Lux on September 10th, tossed him in left field, and held their collective breath. Since then, the twenty-three year old has gone 11 for 24 with four walks. That’s a .458 batting average, a .552 on-base percentage, and a .708 slug. Nobody is more thrilled than I am, since I am running out of ways to explain Max Scherzer’s brilliance every Monday in my Dodger diary and need new plot lines.

Lux’s development seems to have been derailed by the pandemic. Once a top prospect, he posted a .596 OPS last season and looked like he was going the way of Billy Ashley and Blake DeWitt. But he gets eleven gold stars for carrying the Dodgers offense in Cincinnati this weekend when they needed him most. With Taylor back in the lineup yesterday and Pollock nearing his return next weekend, Lux will probably head back to the bench. But if he keeps hitting like this, it’s not going to be possible to keep his bat out of the lineup.

You can’t talk about the Dodgers season, and where the team finds itself right now, without talking about how ridiculously great the Giants have been. Five Thirty Eight had an excellent article last week about how the Dodgers have been great this year despite injuries to nearly all of their star players. The website gives the Dodgers a 31% chance to win the World Series, almost triple the odds of the next most likely team (the Rays and Astros are at 13%, while San Francisco sits at 9%). I wonder how many Giants games the brains behind that model have watched. Those dudes in orange and black are not as talented as the Dodgers, but they are much better at coming from behind and winning close games late, which is what the Dodgers were so good at doing last year when they finally won it all. I know I’ve written that the Dodgers are better than the Giants, and after 150 games I still believe that. But if the Giants hold on over these next two weeks to win the NL West it won’t be a fluke. They will have earned every inch of their success.

What’s going to happen?

The Giants lead the Dodgers by a game. They play three in San Diego, three in Colorado, three at home against Arizona, then three at home against San Diego again.

The Dodgers have three in Colorado, three in Arizona, three at home against the Padres, then three in Milwaukee. If the Brewers were playing for anything, the Dodgers would have a much tougher final two weeks than the Giants. But the Brewers will clinch their division as early as today, and, luckily for the Dodgers, they will spend their series vs. Los Angeles lining up their rotation for the playoffs, and giving their starting pitchers final tune-ups.. The Brewers will still be tough, but the Dodgers won’t have to face Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff for seven innings each.

The division will likely be decided by how hard the Padres choose to play against their two rivals over their season’s final 12 games. San Diego is 3.5 games behind the streaking Cardinals and will need to win every game going forward to stay alive.

They should ask the Dodgers to lend them Max Scherzer.