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Thursday, September 6, 2012
Is gauntlet time go time?

By Mark Saxon

LOS ANGELES -- It's their greatest challenge yet, and just maybe their greatest salvation.

Seven of the Dodgers' next nine games come against the two teams they're chasing, starting with this weekend's series in San Francisco. Thirteen of their next 15 games are against teams with better records. Of all of the contending teams, the Dodgers have the roughest road to the postseason.

And they had better embrace it, because this is a perilous time to feel sorry for themselves.

For the past two weeks, the Dodgers have played below the level of teams with worse records. Now, they have no choice but to rise above the level of the National League's best, mostly on the road. Can they do it? Predicting this team's fortunes has been a worthless endeavor all season, so why not?

"We always play well against these teams. We can do it again," Matt Kemp said.

Not entirely accurate, but also not wildly inaccurate. The Dodgers are 5-7 against San Francisco in what has been a bizarre, feast-or-famine rivalry. They are 4-3 against St. Louis and, given the fact they're three games closer to a wild-card spot than to their division lead, those four games at home Sept. 13-16 vs. the Cards could be more pivotal than this weekend's tilts by the Bay.

The Dodgers swept the Washington Nationals in their only series so far, but that was back in April. They took two out of three from the Cincinnati Reds.

You would think they’d probably rather play the Chicago Cubs or Houston Astros this time of year. However, you might as well play the teams ahead of you. It's more efficient that way.

Manager Don Mattingly said he likes his team's upcoming schedule, and maybe he actually does. After all, playing teams behind them wasn't working out too well. The Dodgers have losing records against Colorado and Arizona.

"It's really just a chance for us to play head up and not worry about anything going on," Mattingly said. "It looks tough on paper, but it's really better for us."

The schedule tends to even out, and the Dodgers weren't complaining about it when they were fattening their record in April against the worst teams in the league. Now, they're getting taxed on the back end. The Giants and Cardinals both play more home games between now and Oct. 3 and against weaker teams.

The winning percentage of the Dodgers' remaining opponents is .532. The winning percentage of the Giants' remaining opponents is .475, and the Cardinals' is .462. That makes those ending head-to-head meetings the crux of this entire season for the Dodgers, who have lost 10 of their past 16 games.

"You've got to just keep staying after it," Shane Victorino said.

The Dodgers have a great opportunity to make their move in the next couple of weeks. To rely on other teams to do their bidding seems like an untenable position.