Hiroki Kuroda was brilliant last night, throwing seven scoreless innings of 3 hit ball, to lead the Dodgers past Pittsburgh 2 to 0. It was the first time the Dodgers had won two games in a row on the road since April 9. That night they won two games by finishing off the suspended game the night before, and then Kuroda threw eight and two-thirds scoreless innings in game 2. Tonight the Dodgers have a chance to take three of four from the Pirates and set up a 19 game stretch that could very well make or break their season.
After 38 games the Dodgers have experienced every type of calamity they could possibly imagine. The top two hitters in their order have spent the majority of the season on the DL, along with their closer, the N.L.’s most dangerous lefty set-up man and a host of others. The have watched their owner turn the organization into such shambles that MLB was forced to take control of the team on April 20th. They have also been one of the NL’s worst teams in terms of scoring runs due to particularly poor hitting with runners in scoring position.
Despite all of the injuries, distractions, and poor play they currently sit only 3 games behind division leading Colorado. With the prospects of players getting healthy, and a favorable schedule the Dodgers could find themselves in first place come the first of June.
Over the course of the next 20 days the Dodgers will play 19 games, 12 of them at home, and only 7 of them, including the final 5 when they may have Casey Blake and Rafael Furcal back in the lineup, against teams with a winning record. After today’s game in Pittsbugh, the Dodgers return home with 5 games against the D’Backs and Brewers who are a combined 11 games under .500.
Then comes a short 2 game series at home against the Giants, who they also trail by 3 games, where they get 1 crucial break, they are not set up to face Giants ace Tim Lincecum. After that 7 game stretch, the Dodgers hit the road for 6 games against the White Sox and Astros, who are a combined 17 games under .500.
The Dodgers will also get the benefit of 3 games in an A.L. park, where they can utilize the D.H. and hopefully boost a sputtering offense. More importantly they have the opportunity to put together some wins on the road, against teams, particularly Houston, who they should beat.
Meanwhile the two teams they are chasing face a tougher stretch during the rest of the month. While the Rockies will be playing 14 of their next 21 at home, that stretch includes a double header, depending on how the weather cooperates in Colorado today, along with 2 games against the Giants, and 3 against the N.L. Central leading Cardinals. As well as a brief 2 game trip to the N.L. East leading Phillies, certainly on paper a more difficult schedule, particularly with the double header.
After today the Giants will hit the road for 12 of their next 18, including trips to Colorado and L.A, following a 3 game set in Chicago. They return home to face the A’s and Marlins, both teams currently with winning records. The Giants then hit the road also heading to Milwaukee prior to facing the Cardinals. Again on paper the Dodgers appear to have an opportunity to pick up some ground.
There are a couple of key stretches that will likely determine whether or not the Dodgers will be able to turn the calendar with the prospects of first place in their sights. All three N.L. West contenders will square off against the Brewers, with the Dodgers facing them twice at home, while the Rockies and Giants play three games each in Milwaukee. Advantage Dodgers?
Also the Dodgers get both the Giants and Rockies at home. So they have the opportunity to take care of business on their home field, gaining valuable games in the standings while doing so. Everything on paper appears to favor the Dodgers. They get their division rivals at home and must take advantage of a break in the schedule while the teams they are chasing appear to have a more difficult set of games.
The end of May is setting up to be a seminal moment for the Dodgers in a couple of ways. On the field the Dodgers have the opportunity to play their way atop the standings in the N.L. West, while off of it they face the prospects of MLB seizing control of the club. Permanently, if owner frank McCourt indeed doesn’t have the ability to make payroll at months end.
Needless to say the Dodgers could very well be in a completely different place come June 1, both on and off the field, but only if they can take advantage of the next 19 games.