Tough road between here and postseason spot

Having gone 5-7 since the acquisition of Josh Beckett and Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers have been a season-high 4.5 games back of the Giants all week; the two teams had the same result each of the last six nights they played. Both teams lost last Friday before winning three in a row and then losing their next two. That string will end starting tonight, as the Dodgers visit San Francisco for the final time this season.

This weekend’s series begins a challenging 24-game close to the season for the Dodgers. L.A. has the NL’s toughest schedule from now until the end of the regular season, and that doesn’t even account for the fact that many of their difficult games are away from Chavez Ravine. Somewhat unbelievably, the Dodgers still have road series left against each of the three current division leaders in the National League, the Nationals, Reds, and Giants.

Worse for the Dodgers are the remaining schedules of the teams they’re chasing and competing against. The top three teams in the Wild Card standings other than the Dodgers all have a below-.500 strength-of-schedule the rest of the way, as do the Giants, while Dodgers' opponents have a .534 winning percentage.

The Pirates, tied with the Dodgers at a game and a half out of the second Wild Card spot, have 10 of their remaining 26 games left against the Astros and Cubs and don’t play a team currently above .500 until Sept. 28. They don’t have a road series left against a .500 team. Meanwhile the Cardinals, currently occupying that second Wild Card spot, have nine games against the Cubs and Astros, and their only road series left against a .500 team is a critical four-game series at Dodger Stadium next week.

Looking at the NL West, the Giants don’t have any games left outside of the division, meaning their only remaining games against a .500 team are against the Dodgers. The good news for the Dodgers is Clayton Kershaw, scheduled to pitch Sunday against the Giants, would also pitch in the second series with the Giants if kept on regular rest.

Kershaw’s starts might be wasted if Giants starters continue their success against the Dodgers from earlier in the season. Over 12 games and 78 1/3 innings, Giants starters have a 2.07 ERA and have surrendered only one home run to the Dodgers this year. Given that, and also that the Dodgers need to make up 4.5 games in a 24-game span, winning the division seems unlikely. The Dodgers haven’t been more than four games better than the Giants in a stretch of any length since San Francisco took over the division lead for the first time at the end of June.

With that in mind, the Wild Card appears now to be the Dodgers’ most likely path into the playoffs. However, with a remaining schedule significantly tougher than those of other contenders, winning one of those Wild Card spots would be an impressive achievement.

Remaining Strength of Schedule

NL Teams in Contention

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