An important four-game series begins tonight in Chavez Ravine between the Padres and Dodgers. L.A. leads the N.L. West over San Diego by just a half-game, and the Padres have opened up a 2 1/2 game wild card lead over Philadelphia and San Francisco. It's no surprise that David Wells and Greg Maddux are making important September starts on Friday night, but it is interesting that they are doing so for the Padres and Dodgers, not the Red Sox and Cubs.
The Padres are 11-3 against the Dodgers this season, and can take major steps towards securing their second straight N.L. West title if that streak continues this weekend. What most people fail to realize is that both of these teams are likely to qualify for the postseason. San Diego's 2 1/2 game wild card lead (three games in the loss column) doesn't sound like a lot, but it is. They have 17 games remaining in the regular season, while their closest competitors (Philly and San Fran) have 16 games. If the Padres continue at their current .524 winning percentage, they will go 9-8 down the stretch. That means that the Phils and Giants will have to close 11-5 just to force a playoff -- a .688 winning percentage. Not too likely.
The Padres and Dodgers are in an excellent position right now. It's like having a three-game lead at the beginning of the NFL season. Of course, both want to win the west in order to secure a likely divisional series matchup against the Cardinals and not the Mets.
San Diego will be a very interesting team if they do, indeed, qualify for the playoffs. The number one question asked by playoff fantasy owners is "how long will they be around?" The answer could be a while. The Padres have a solid starting rotation (Jake Peavy, Chris Young, David Wells and Woody Williams), and have winning records against St. Louis (2-1) and Los Angeles (11-3) in 2006. The Pads were just 2-5 against the Mets this year, but have a good chance of avoiding New York until the NLCS. Plus, the Padres shape up better in the playoffs (with their N.L.-best staff ERA) than they do in a marathon regular season. I'll write plenty more about this in October, but the Padres are a team to watch. Look for them in the postseason for the second consecutive season.