Dodgers Experiencing Flashbacks To 1996

Entering the final weekend of the 1996 season, the Dodgers hosted the Padres with a two-game lead in the National League West.  The wild card was also in play, as Montreal was still three games behind with three to play.

Montreal lost to the Braves Friday night to clinch a playoff spot for the Dodgers, who lost game one to San Diego.  On Saturday, the Padres won again, which clinched a playoff spot for them as well.  The two teams came to Dodger Stadium on Sunday in a tie for the division, but it was really just a battle of seeding.  The Padres of course did end up completing the sweep, thanks in part to former Dodger Chris Gwynn's two-run double in the 11th inning.

The Dodgers were deflated, sure.  But they also made the playoffs, so the pain of that loss was mitigated.  The Dodgers were swept in the first round by the Braves, so the easy thing to do is blame that playoff loss on how the Dodgers ended the season.  However, the hard-charging Padres, fresh off their sweep of the Dodgers, went into the first round with all the momentum, and...also got swept, by the Cardinals.

Say it with me again:  It's not how you play this week, it's how you play next week and beyond that determine playoff success.

This weekend feels like 1996 all over again, only the playoff spots were decided long before the final Sunday.  The Dodgers punched their ticket to the postseason way back on Saturday in Pittsburgh, and the Rockies sealed the deal by beating the Brewers at home yesterday.  In terms of playoff seeding and home field advantage, however, there are still a lot of things in play.

Team W-L GB
Dodgers 93-66 ---
Phillies 92-67 1
Cardinals 91-68 2
Rockies 91-68 2

Any of the four NL playoff teams can still clinch the number one seed.  The Dodgers are in the driver's seat for this.  Their magic number with each team is two.  Yes, that's right:  the Dodgers are in such a funk right now, their magic number for the division actually went up!*  Two wins this weekend secures the Dodgers as the number one seed, with home field advantage in the first two rounds.

*The magic number has been two over the Rockies since last Saturday night, but for intents and purposes it was one because any tie between the two teams gave the division to the Dodgers.  However, the Rockies and Dodgers can't tie anymore, and any win is worth two in the world of magic numbers, since the other team is also losing.

Tonight's game features the best pitching match-up of the series, with Randy Wolf facing off with Ubaldo Jimenez.  Wolf had what he called a terrible start on June 24 against the White Sox, giving up five runs and three home runs in 3.1 innings.  However, since then he has been great, pitching at least six innings in 17 straight starts, and is 8-3 with a 2.87 ERA and 3.49 FIP during that stretch.  If Wolf, who has thrown 209.1 innings this year, gets more than four outs this evening, he will set a new career high in innings pitched.

NL IP Since May 1
Pitcher IP
Adam Wainwright   
197.2
Bronson Arroyo
195.1
Dan Haren
194.1
Tim Lincecum
194.0
Ubaldo Jimenez
193.0

The Dodgers knocked around Ubaldo Jimenez twice in successive starts in April, but he has blossomed quite nicely into a genuine ace.  Since the beginning of May, Jimenez has pitched six innings or longer in 27 of 28 starts, and has thrown seven innings or more in 18 of those starts.  Over that span, he is 13-9 with a 3.12 ERA and a 3.32 FIP, and has averaged 6.89 innings per start.

Since May 1, Jimenez is fifth in the National League with 193 innings, but he's likely to pass three of the four ahead of him since Adam Wainwright is the only one besides Jimenez scheduled to pitch this weekend.

So when you see a stat tonight that says Jimenez is 0-3 with a 7.77 ERA in four starts against the Dodgers this season don't be fooled.  In his third start against them, May 27 in Colorado, Jimenez had allowed just two runs entering the seventh inning before giving up three more.  In his last start, June 29 at Dodger Stadium, Jimenez was even better, allowing just two runs over seven innings, in a game the Dodgers won late because they have Andre Ethier and the Rockies don't.  The Dodgers will have their hands full with Jimenez tonight.

Most HR at Dodger Stadium
Player Year HR
Gary Sheffield   
2000 23
Adrian Beltre
2004 23
Andre Ethier
2009 22
Mike Piazza
1997 22

Andre Ethier has hit 22 home runs at home this season, which is one shy of the Dodger Stadium record, jointly held by Gary Sheffield (in 2000) and Adrian Beltre (in 2004).

The first 50,000 fans at the game tonight will receive a replica of Tommy Lasorda's Hall of Fame plaque, as part of a celebration of his 60 years in the Dodger organization.  You know, Vin Scully also has 60 years with the organization...

The Dodgers will honor their second-round draft pick, Garrett Gould, on the field before the game tonight.

This weekend is filled with True Blue LA at Dodger Stadium.  Tonight, Phil Gurnee will be in the press box, followed by True Blue LA night tomorrow as 32 close friends and family convene at the greatest place on Earth, and I will be in the press box for Sunday's regular season finale.  There will be celebrating this weekend at Dodger Stadium, and True Blue LA will be heavily involved.

**********

Be sure to check out Xeifrank's simulation of tonight's game here.

Game Time:  7:10pm

TV:  Prime Ticket

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