Separated by 1 1/2 games in the NL West standings, the Dodgers and Giants will meet six times between now and the end of the regular season, starting with this weekend’s critical three-game set at SBC Park.
Ever since the New York Giants beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in a three-game playoff for the 1951 National League pennant, a series that ended with Bobby Thomson’s historic home run off Ralph Branca, these teams have finished first and second in a division nine times.
In 1982 and 1991, the Giants beat the Dodgers the final weekend of the regular season to keep Los Angeles out of the playoffs. The Dodgers returned the favor in 1993 and again in 2002.
Something similar could happen this time as the Giants have made things interesting in the West by winning 10 of 13 games. Meanwhile, the first-place Dodgers had a six-game lead in the division on Sept. 11, only to lose seven of their last 11.
However, the Dodgers added a game to their lead Thursday as they rebounded from losing the first two games of their series in San Diego with a 9-6 win over the Padres. Cesar Izturis homered and Adrian Beltre had three hits for Los Angeles.
The Giants blew a three-run lead after six innings in a 7-3 loss at home to Houston on Thursday.
The six games between Los Angeles and San Francisco should also play a major role in the wild-card race. The Giants trail the Chicago Cubs by a half-game for the spot, and lead Houston by two with nine to play.
San Francisco manager Felipe Alou said he prefers a tight division race to a runaway finish. The Giants coasted into the playoffs last season after clinching the NL West early, only to get knocked off by Florida in four games in the division series.
“The last two weeks, there was no real incentive to come to the ballpark,” Alou said. “That might be one of the reasons that we lost in the first round.”
Clearly the Dodgers will have to be wary of Barry Bonds. The odds-on favorite to win his seventh NL MVP Award, Bonds came into this season a career .265 hitter with 52 home runs and 127 RBIs against Los Angeles. However, he’s been even better this year, ripping the Dodgers for a .483 average (14-for-29) with six homers and 13 RBIs.
The Giants will get a partial break Saturday because Dodgers slugger Shawn Green has decided not to play. There was much speculation that Green, who is hitting .269 with 27 homers and 82 RBIs this year, would miss the first two games in observance of Yom Kippur.
However, Green announced Thursday that he would play the series opener, then sit out Saturday’s contest in respect of the Jewish holy day.
Green said he agonized over his decision, but believes he did the right thing.
“I learned that you’ve got to do what you believe is right, and I feel real good about my decision,” he said. “It comes from within. You can’t try to please people. This is what I feel I need to do.”