What was once anticipated to be the most difficult leg of the current road trip has now turned into the most critical. With 16 games remaining on their regular season schedule, the Dodgers begin a four-game series against the Cardinals on Thursday evening, which could conceivably dictate the direction of both clubs in the postseason.
As it stands now, the Dodgers trail Colorado in the NL West by 1-1/2 games, despite losing two of three to an overachieving Reds squad earlier in the week. The Rockies, who are finishing up a four-game series of their own against the Diamondbacks on Thursday afternoon, have won eight of their last 11 contests and will gear up for three games against the Giants in San Francisco beginning on Friday.
Alongside the Brewers, the Cardinals at one point had a stronghold on a Wild Card berth, but mediocre play by St. Louis has allowed the Dodgers to crawl back within two full games of the second Wild Card spot. Over their last 11 games, the Red Birds have gone just 5-6, although they did sweep the Dodgers three weeks ago at Dodger Stadium in a series that had a bit of a playoff flavor.
If the Dodgers are on the winning-end of this weekend’s series, and if the Rockies somehow falter in San Fran, the Dodgers will be in a much better position as at least a handful of other clubs continue to jockey for playoff spots. If the opposite holds true, the road will certainly become much more difficult, if not highly improbable.
Los Angeles decided to throw a bullpen game in the finale against Cincinnati on Wednesday, allowing management to bump back staff ace Clayton Kershaw to take the mound in the opener against the Cardinals on Thursday. Kersh will square-off against converted reliever Austin Gomber, who has a 5-0 record with a 2.93 ERA over eight starts. He threw five innings and gave up two runs on five hits and four walks while registering the victory at Dodger Stadium back on August 20. Being that Gomber throws southpaw, fans of the Dodgers can probably expect a “creative” lineup from the behind-the-scenes folks doing the mathematical work for Los Angeles these days.
The second game on Friday will see a re-match of the two right-handed youngsters, Walker Buehler and Jack Flaherty. Back on August 22, Flaherty tossed six fantastic innings of one-hit ball while striking out 10 Dodger batters. His only mistake came on a long ball off the bat of Joc Pederson in the sixth inning. In the end, Kenley Jansen took the loss for the Dodgers after surrendering a two-run homer to shortstop Paul DeJong in the top of the ninth. Buehler was impressive in his own right, throwing seven solid innings of shutout ball. He allowed just three hits and two walks while striking out nine.
Saturday’s game will see veteran southpaw Rich Hill face St. Louis righty John Gant. The 26-year-old Gant, another converted reliever, is 7-5 on the year with a 3.16 ERA and 86 strikeouts alongside 47 walks over 102-2/3 innings. Hill has been mediocre at best over his last three starts, having given up 11 runs on 17 hits, four of which were home runs. But, thanks to an offense which produced 21 runs over those three starts, Hill was able to register two victories.
Lefty Alex Wood, who was originally scheduled to oppose veteran right-hander Adam Wainwright in the finale on Sunday, was bumped from the rotation due to his recent poor performances. Skipper Dave Roberts told reporters that Ross Stripling and Hyun-Jin Ryu are the candidates to replace Wood in the rotation. Stripling started the bullpen game and went 3-1/3 innings on Wednesday, but believes he should be fresh for Sunday’s showdown.
“I should be fine by Sunday,” Stripling told reporters after Wednesday’s 8-1 victory. “I’ll be ready—Sunday Night Baseball.”
As far as start times go, Thursday’s opener is set for a 4:15 p.m. Los Angeles time first pitch. Friday’s game will begin at 5:15 p.m., while Saturday’s game will start at 10:05 a.m. Sunday’s finale will be a national broadcast televised by ESPN and is slated for a 5:05 p.m. start time.