As baseball enters its stretch drive, here's a look at what the schedule makers have lined up for the three teams that are still in the hunt for the NL West crown.
LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers plainly have the easiest schedule of the three teams. They'll play 30 games (15 home, 15 away), with no games against teams currently in first place, and 15 games against last-place teams. Their four off days are relatively well-spaced – September 10, 17, and 21, and October 1. With rosters expanding on September 1, there's no telling how many AAA pitchers they'll see from teams that are out of the running and want to audition next year's rookies.
COLORADO – The Rockies have the most home games of this trio, with 19 of their 31 contests in Denver. They'll face first-place teams six times (entertaining the Cardinals and traveling to Chavez Ravine), and the same number for cellar-dwellers (home and home against San Diego). They'll have just three days off, all bunched into a 12-day stretch (September 17, 21, and 28). They begin the month with 16 straight game days. September callups will help to ease the strain that that schedule will produce on the pitching staff, but doing that means that Jim Tracy will have to insert a few AAA-quality pitchers in games in which he'd rather have an established, well-rested major leaguer on the mound.
SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants also play 31 games, with a nearly-even split of 16 home and 15 away. They have nine games against first-place teams (three at Philadelphia and a home-and home against Los Angeles) and face the last-place Padres for two three-game series. They'll have three well-spaced off days: September 10, 17, and 28. They have a key nine-game homestand starting on Labor Day – three games against last-place San Diego, then three each against the Dodgers and Giants. If they can somehow win seven or eight of those games (including all three against the Dodgers), they could make a serious run at the division.
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One problem common to both trailing teams is the paucity of games remaining against the Dodgers. The Giants have six games left against their bitter rivals, while the Rockies get to see the Dodgers only once more, at the very end of the regular season. Then again, LA has owned the Rockies this season, winning 12 of the first 15 games between the two clubs, so that might be a blessing in disguise.
By the time the Rocks roll into Los Angeles on October 2, there is a good chance that the Dodgers will have sewn up the divison already. If Los Angeles wins 2/3 of its games against the last-place teams, and plays .500 ball against the rest of its schedule, either the Rockies or the Giants would have to win at close to a .700 clip to catch the division leaders. Colorado certainly showed two years ago that that's possible, but don't bet on it this year.
From a fantasy perspective, this situation commends starting your Dodger hitters in September, especially with all those games against weak teams. Each of those last-place teams has, as of this writing, a team ERA in excess of 4.50 for the year, and of the Dodgers' opponents, only the Giants have an elite-level pitching staff. (As noted above, don't expect the addtion of September callups to make things tougher on the Dodger hiters.) On the pitching end of the equation, keep an eye on the San Francisco staff. The Giants have 15 games against the top four NL teams in OPS (Philly, Colorado, Milwaukee, LA), all in the first three weeks of September. After that, the slate eases significantly.