It should be celebration time this weekend for the Cincinnati Reds, who entered this three-game set with the Dodgers with a magic number of a scant two to win the NL Central crown for the second time in three seasons.
By the time this Sunday night matchup rolls around, the Reds might already have that division crown in their back pocket. But don’t think for a second that Cincinnati is about to shift into cruise control once the playoff berth is secured.
No, the Reds need to keep winning to pressure Washington in hopes of overhauling the Nationals for the best record in the NL. With that comes home-field edge throughout the playoffs and into the World Series, with the NL side also getting the home edge in the Fall Classic due to the winning result in July’s All-Star game. Conversely, a slump could threaten Cincy’s status as the number two NL seed into the postseason with the surging San Francisco Giants (also likely to be crowned NL West champions this weekend) lurking not too far behind.
So, every game remains important in these final two weeks for the Reds, including the Sunday nighter at Great American Ballpark against the visiting Dodgers. We know the Reds will be giving the ball to Homer Bailey...more on him in a moment.
Into the opener of the series on Friday night, however, it was unclear what the Dodgers would be doing for a starting pitcher, with Clayton Kershaw’s sore hip and a midweek rainout at Washington wreaking havoc with Don Mattingly’s rotation. With Kershaw temporarily on ice, and Stephen Fife forced into the start on Saturday, it appears as if L.A. is going to have to scramble for a starter on Sunday.
Either Mattingly gives the ball to Aaron Harang or Josh Beckett (who pitched both ends of Wednesday’s doubleheader at Washington) on three days' rest or he gives the start to John Ely, who won the Pacific Coast League pitching triple crown this year in his time with Triple-A Albuquerque. Ely has a 20.25 ERA in two games in relief since getting promoted, but he might be the Dodgers' only realistic alternative for Sunday. The only other option would be to use mostly relievers in a bullpen game.
Whatever, action will commence at 8:05 p.m. (ET) on Sunday night, with the regular ESPN crew of Dan Shulman, Orel Hershiser, and Terry Francona on hand to describe the action. Make sure to check out the latest MLB odds before the first pitch.
While the Reds prepare for the postseason, the Dodgers entered this weekend clearly in scramble mode as they had fallen three games behind the St. Louis Cardinals for the final NL wild card berth, and as of Friday had even dropped behind the red-hot Milwaukee Brewers in chasing the Cardinals.
It’s all a far cry from the first 2 ½ months of the season when the season was one big parade for the Dodgers, who were on pace to crack 100 wins until well after Memorial Day.
Since mid-June, however, it’s all gone pear-shaped for the Blue, at one point 42-25 but only 35-48 since (entering Friday). And the downturn has certainly not been down to any inactivity by the front office, which wheeled and dealed before and after the trade deadline with a series of blockbuster additions which have yet to translate into sustained success.
Injuries have been another problem for the Dodgers, beginning with Matt Kemp’s recurring hamstring problems after his quick break from the gate hinted at a possible Tripe Crown season. Instead, Kemp’s recurring woes with his hammy resulted in two separate stints on the DL covering almost seven weeks before the All-Star break, by which point the Dodgers were in full retreat.
L.A. has also been hampered lately by injury problems to its pitching staff, with not only Kershaw forced into inactivity the past ten days but also Chad Billingsley forced to the DL last month after providing the Dodgers with lots of hope after he won six straight decisions into mid August before being shut down with elbow problems.
Pitching, however, has not been the bane of L.A. in recent weeks. Rather, it’s been lack of run production from a diva-laden, homerun-happy lineup characterized by free swings from Kemp and SS Hanley Ramirez which have resulted in few sustained rallies. The Dodgers entered this weekend having scored more than three runs just four times in their last nineteen games, helping result in a 14-4-1 ‘under’ mark in those games entering Friday. The Blue had also dropped 15 of its last 23 before Friday’s series opener.
As promised earlier, a word on Reds starter Bailey, whose recent efforts have been outstanding. Bailey has wins in his last two starts but has been pitching lights-out for the past couple of weeks. Indeed, over his last four starts, he’s allowed only five runs total while allowing only 18 hits and striking out 26 in 29 IP. His ERA over that span is a hard-to-detect 1.55. Bailey is also 3-1 in his career vs. the Vin Scullys.
The Dodgers took 2 of 3 from the Reds in early July at Chavez Ravine but didn’t face Bailey in that series. And like a lot of other things, much is different in L.A. than it was earlier in the season.