West Coast's best rivalry heats up playoff chase

Updated: September 10, 2009

Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

The Dodgers hope Manny Ramirez will break out in time for the playoffs.

We always talk about the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees, but the West Coast version of that rivalry takes place this weekend between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the San Francisco Giants.

Although the Dodgers have struggled lately and are hearing the footsteps of the Colorado Rockies behind them, they have an opportunity to further drive the nail into the Giants' coffin.

Neither team has its pitching lined up exactly as it would prefer. Friday's pitching matchup has an edge going to the Giants with Matt Cain on the mound against Hiroki Kuroda. This season, Cain (13-4, 2.51 ERA) has been the right-hand man to Tim Lincecum in their dynamic one-two punch. Cain is one of the best starting pitchers in the major leagues and is a tremendous competitor.

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Kuroda (5-6, 4.15) will make his second start since being hit in the head with a line drive. In his first start back, Kuroda threw first-pitch strikes to only 12 of the 23 hitters he faced. He'll need to throw more strikes to be effective. He doesn't want to give free passes to the Giants, who have one of the weakest lineups in the game. Walks only do them a favor.

In Saturday's pitching matchup, Vicente Padilla will take the hill for the Dodgers. He has been a pleasant surprise since his release from Texas, going 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA. Padilla is pitching in this spot because Clayton Kershaw and Randy Wolf are injured. The Dodgers hope they can come back quickly, because the two left-handers are critical to their run to the playoffs and October hopes.

Giants starter Jonathan Sanchez (6-11, 4.03) has been outstanding in his past five starts (2.03 ERA, 34 K's, 31 IP) and seems to have figured it out. He hopes to neutralize Andre Ethier, the Dodgers' left-handed slugger who leads the team in home runs (28), RBIs (94) and -- aside from Manny Ramirez, who has almost 230 fewer at-bats -- slugging percentage (.364) and on-base percentage (.526). Ethier is a career .158 hitter (3-for-19) against Sanchez.

Featured series: Dodgers at Giants
FRIDAY
Dodgers (Hiroki Kuroda) at Giants (Matt Cain), 10:15 p.m. ET
SATURDAY
Dodgers (Vicente Padilla) at Giants (Jonathan Sanchez), 9:05 p.m. ET
SUNDAY
Dodgers (Chad Billingsley) at Giants (Brad Penny), 4:05 p.m. ET

Sunday is an interesting matchup, with Brad Penny pitching against his former team. Penny has allowed only two runs in 15 National League innings this season since his release from the Boston Red Sox. Chad Billingsley (12-9, 3.93), who hasn't won since Aug. 18, will take the hill for the Dodgers in an effort to reclaim his early-season form. The Giants have struggled to score runs all season, and the Dodgers have had problems doing the same during the past month. Expect three low-scoring close games in which the bullpens ultimately will be the deciding factor. The Dodgers' bullpen is the best in baseball (3.12 ERA), and I expect it to be the difference in this series.

Look for the Dodgers to take two out of three games. The last time these two teams met, tensions flared and warnings were issued after a scuffle in the fifth inning when Dodgers pitcher James McDonald hit Pablo Sandoval of the Giants with an inside pitch. Don't expect any brawling in this series, though, as both teams know it's more about winning the game on the field than winning a fight. Neither team can afford losing its key players for the stretch run. However, with Padilla on the mound and his propensity for the beanball, nothing should surprise us.

Now is the time for Manny to get hot and gain momentum as the Dodgers head into October. Look for Dodgers manager Joe Torre to put his struggling offense into motion; Sanchez has given up 21 stolen bases, the most in the National League, and Penny 27, the second-most in baseball. It could turn into a weekend track meet in San Francisco.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 9 | Sept. 8 | Sept. 7 | Sept. 6 | Sept. 3

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Adam Dunn, WAS36BlantonBot 5: 3-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Dan Uggla, FLA27ParnellTop 3: 1-0, 1 Out. None on.
Torii Hunter, LAA20Rowland-SmithBot 4: 2-1, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Lance Berkman, HOU19LoweBot 3: 2-1, 1 Out. 2 on.
Nate McLouth, ATL18OswaltTop 1: 1-0, 0 Outs. None on.
The complete list of Thursday's homers

ON DECK: WEEKEND WATCH

Rays at Red Sox

Tampa Bay RaysBoston Red Sox The Rays, who've lost eight straight, can prove to be a stumbling block for the Red Sox, who are two games up on Texas in the wild-card standings but are 1-7 at Tropicana Field in 2009. Of Boston's three starters this weekend, Josh Beckett is the one to watch on Saturday. The right-hander has been lit up lately; he's 0-2 with a 7.56 ERA in his past five starts, allowing 12 home runs in 31.1 innings.

Mariners at Rangers

Texas RangersSeattle Mariners Since the All-Star break, Texas has the AL's third-best record (31-21) and the AL's second-best ERA (4.09). Yet Saturday's starter, rookie Derek Holland, has scuffled in his past three starts (0-3, 16.06 ERA). Ichiro Suzuki could reach a significant milestone this weekend. With four more hits, he'll reach 200 for the major league-record ninth consecutive season.

White Sox at Angels

Los Angeles AngelsChicago White Sox The Angels, who have the second-best record in the majors, host the White Sox, who are 4-2 against them in 2009 and still have a fleeting chance in the AL Central but only because the first-place Tigers just lost three straight games. They'll send their three top pitchers, Gavin Floyd, John Danks and Mark Buehrle, to the mound in Anaheim, while the Angels will counter with Joe Saunders, Ervin Santana and Scott Kazmir.

For the rest of Friday's schedule, click here. To see what's on tap for Saturday, click here. And for Sunday's full slate of games, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: FRIDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney,
Eric Young, Orestes Destrade
12 a.m. ET
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Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney,
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BBTN ON THE AIR: SATURDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney,
Eric Young, Orestes Destrade
12:30 a.m. ET
ESPN2
Host: Steve Berthiaume
Analysts: Buster Olney,
Eric Young, Orestes Destrade

BBTN ON THE AIR: SUNDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
6 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk,
Peter Gammons, Dave Winfield

BBTN MINUTE: DODGERS-GIANTS PREVIEW

THURSDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
John Lackey is starting to peak at the right time for the Angels. The right-hander pitched a complete-game, five-hit shutout, beating the Mariners 3-0. Lackey, who struck out seven and walked one, has allowed only one earned run in his past three starts (26 innings pitched).
WORST
• Typically reliable Roy Oswalt wasn't so dependable against the Braves, a team that had been slumping at the plate. The Astros' right-hander was down 3-0 after only 12 pitches and left the game after two innings, giving up six runs on 10 hits in a 9-7 loss.

WEB GEMS: REDS' STUBBS ROBS GIAMBI

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Kevin MillwoodKevin Millwood will take the mound for the Rangers on Friday, and if he can regain his early-season form, it would be a big boost to the Rangers' playoff hopes. During the first three months of the season, Millwood went 8-5 with a sparkling 2.64 ERA. However, since then, Millwood has only two wins with a 5.92 ERA and hasn't made it out of the seventh inning.

Since June ended, Millwood has struggled against right-handed batters, allowing a .387 average versus .250 in the first three months. A major reason has been his inability to get righties out with his fastball.

Kevin Millwood
Fastball vs. Right-Handed Hitters, 2009
April-June July-Sept.
BA .245 .407
Slug pct. .384 .644
Miss pct. 13.3 9.2

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF FRIDAY'S GAMES

Fantasy Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Friday's slate.

Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Friday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races, plus the NL West:

AL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Red Sox 81-58 -- 78.1%
Rangers 79-60 2.0 36.2%
NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 81-60 -- 87.4%
Giants 76-64 4.5 10.2%
Marlins 75-65 5.5 9.4%
NL WEST
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Dodgers 83-58 -- 98.0%
Rockies 81-60 2 87.4%
Giants 76-64 6.5 10.2%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October.