In their final regular-season game, the Dodgers face a strong NL Cy Young Award candidate when they conclude a three-game set with the San Francisco Giants on Sunday.
The NL West champion Dodgers (84-77) have often struggled at the plate this season, ranking near the bottom of the majors with 4.4 runs per game, and they’ll be seeing plenty of quality starters in the playoffs. Cole Hamels of NL East champion Philadelphia will be in the postseason along with the Central-winning Chicago Cubs’ Ryan Dempster.
Meanwhile, the eventual winner of NL wild card will boast its own stopper. Milwaukee and CC Sabathia are tied with the New York Mets and Johan Santana for the wild card. Both of those pitchers are Cy Young Award candidates, as is Lincecum (17-5, 2.66 ERA).
Facing San Francisco’s ace just prior to the postseason ace gives Los Angeles an excellent chance to gear up for what’s ahead. Lincecum is just behind Santana (16-7, 2.53) for the NL ERA lead.
Lincecum may have had a better chance to beat out Santana in that category if not for his last start, which was his worst of the season. He gave up six runs and six hits in 4 1-3 innings as San Francisco (71-90) lost 9-4 to Colorado on Tuesday night.
But the 24-year-old right-hander struck out nine to set the Giants single-season record with 252 strikeouts. The Giants discussed shutting down Lincecum after that start, but he didn’t want to end his spectacular season with a frustrating loss.
Lincecum is 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in one start and one relief appearance versus the Dodgers.
Los Angeles won a pitcher’s duel with San Francisco 2-1 on Saturday night behind an efficient effort from Greg Maddux, who earned his 355th career win.
Los Angeles has won 10 of its last 14 on the road, a good sign heading into the postseason. The Dodgers have posted a 2.81 ERA during that span.
Los Angeles will now turn to Hiroki Kuroda (9-10, 3.84), who will start Game 3 of the NL division series. He labored through four innings against San Francisco on Saturday night, giving up three runs and eight hits as Los Angeles won 10-7.
The rookie right-hander allowed two runs or less in seven of his previous nine starts.
Kuroda is 0-1 with a 6.32 ERA in three starts against the Giants.
All manager visits to the mound will be done by a veteran player of Los Angeles manager Joe Torre’s choosing, as he has done in the past in season finales in New York. All managerial duties will be given to that player, perhaps pinch-hitting specialist Mark Sweeney.
Torre said he’s looking forward to seeing how his appointed manager handles game decisions, and some second-guessing will likely be in order.
“Probably,” he said. “That’s half the fun.”
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