For a while it looked like the Los Angeles Dodgers would run away with the National League West, but the San Francisco Giants have slowly been gaining ground. The Giants sit three games behind their archrival and host the Dodgers for three games starting tonight. Our experts break down this intriguing series in today's Triple Play.
1. What's the one thing baseball fans should be watching for in this series?
Jon Weisman (@dodgerthoughts), Dodger Thoughts: Nail-biters. The Dodgers and Giants are first and third in the majors in one-run games played this year -- each with winning records (18-13 for the Dodgers, 16-11 for the Giants). Much will be made of the starting pitching for both teams, but odds are this series will be decided by the two teams' bullpens.
Molly Knight (@molly_knight), ESPN The Magazine: As always, Tim Lincecum. He has been awful this year, but it seems like he is being hurt by one horrendous inning per game. The Dodgers lineup is anemic at best without Matt Kemp -- no-hit by Seattle and held to eight hits total in the three-game series they were swept by Oakland. This would be a wonderful time for Lincecum to rediscover his form. The Giants have been playing better -- and don't look now, but the Diamondbacks are streaking with Trevor Bauer on the way. I'm interested in seeing how the Dodgers respond to a bad week while trying to hold off their rival. Their momentum is no good right now.
Christina Kahrl (@ChristinaKahrl
), SweetSpot: To see if the Giants can win a series against the Dodgers when Clayton Kershaw pitches and Matt Cain doesn't. That's how bad things have gotten for The Freak, that he is no longer the guy the Giants want on the hill against their rival.
2. Who is the one player on these two teams who will have the greatest impact on the NL West race?
Weisman: It's pretty easy to make a case for Lincecum considering that San Francisco would be in first place in the division (instead of trailing by three games) if he were having even an ordinary season instead of one of the worst in baseball. And Kemp is making an impact just by being sidelined with his hamstring injury.
Knight: Matt Kemp. If he comes back and is healthy, the Dodgers will win the division. If he doesn't, they won't. There is no other player on either team who that can be said about. I don't care who they trade for; they can't do it without him. In addition to being the best player in baseball, he is the heart and soul of that team. Pixie dust doesn't last forever.
Kahrl: He isn't active, but it's still Matt Kemp. It's great that Don Mattingly has gotten so much mileage out of his supporting players, but Kemp remains the difference-maker. Among actives, though, I guess it's the Giants' Melky Cabrera, because the alien inhabiting his body is due to return to his home planet sometime soon, right? Wasn't this a major plot point in "The Green Lantern"?
3. What is the one move the Dodgers could make to solidify their chances of holding off the Giants?
Weisman: There's no shortage of places to improve the Dodgers' offense. Left field is being held together by Bobby Abreu, Elian Herrera, Juan Rivera and duct tape. As for third base, shortstop and first base ... duct tape might get top billing over Juan Uribe, Dee Gordon and James Loney. But finding a trading partner in this two wild-card environment isn't going to be easy.
Knight: I'd like to see them add a starting pitcher like Ryan Dempster and trade for a third baseman like Chase Headley. They were smart not to move on Kevin Youkilis -- too many question marks, and with the problems they've been having staying healthy, they don't need any more injuries. The Cubs will trade Dempster if the Dodgers can offer the right return. A deal for Headley seems unorthodox because he is already playing in the same division, but it's not totally out of the question. He is an excellent hitter away from Petco, and the Dodgers would be smart to kick the tires.
Kahrl: Get a first baseman worthy of the label "adequate." If, as Bill James said, mediocre means better than some, that certainly includes being better than James Loney. Losing out on Youkilis hurts, but it isn't too late to start talking to the Blue Jays about renting free-agent-to-be Edwin Encarnacion for the stretch run.