September 2, 2012 in Sports

Giants still team to beat in N.L. West

Phil Rogers Chicago Tribune

Score the Los Angeles Dodgers with a landslide victory in the battle of the headlines, but the San Francisco Giants are quietly still the team to beat in the National League West.

As the Dodgers look to click on all cylinders with talent they have imported from four teams since July 25, the Giants have two potentially deciding factors on their side: They have pitching, pitching and more pitching, and they have a major advantage in difficulty of schedule.

This weekend’s series at Chicago’s Wrigley Field fits a pattern that gives the Giants only six games against teams that currently have winning records, all of those in the two remaining series with the Dodgers.

The Giants entered the weekend playing .620 baseball against teams with losing records while splitting games against winning teams 30-30.

For the Dodgers to make up their deficits in the West and wild-card races, they almost certainly are going to have to play well during a 10-game stretch against current contenders. They play the Cardinals, Nationals and Reds in a potentially decisive stretch Sept. 13-23.

After taking on about $258 million in contract obligations from the Red Sox, the Dodgers dropped four of their first six games with Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto in uniform (and Carl Crawford rehabbing from Tommy John surgery).

Entering the weekend, the computer models gave the Giants an 80 percent chance of holding on to the N.L. West lead and the Dodgers only a 24 percent shot at reaching the playoffs as division champs or one of the N.L. wild cards.

And the odds grow longer with closer Kenley Jansen – the former Dutch national catcher with the cannon arm – out indefinitely while doctors deal with the return of his irregular heartbeat, which first surfaced last season.

The Dodgers don’t know if Jansen will pitch again this year, leaving Brandon League and Ronald Belisario to work the ninth innings.

“There are good scenarios and there are bad scenarios,” manager Don Mattingly said. “We just don’t know which one we’re going to get.”

Speaking of unknowns, what would you make of the future of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig?

Seemingly to celebrate Walter’s purchase of the team from Frank McCourt, the Dodgers signed the unproven Puig to a $42 million contract. They did that even without rival teams trying to outbid them.

And the Giants? They just keeping running out Matt Cain, Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Barry Zito. They’re moving the chains, not throwing Hail Marys.

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