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Nine games left: Dodgers looking for strong finish

The Dodgers have nine games left, all against divisional foes. Will they win enough to make the playoffs?

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The Los Angeles Dodgers had their final off day of the regular season on Monday, and now have nine games left against divisional foes in the next nine days, beginning with a three-game series against the Padres at Petco Park in San Diego.

Facing a 3½-game deficit to the Cardinals in the race for the second wild card, the Dodgers are not in control of their own destiny. All they can control are their games, and they simply need a lot of wins, and possibly some help too.

Since joining the National League in 1890, no Dodgers team has won its final nine games. The 1888 Brooklyn Bridegrooms won their final 10 games (well, with a tie mixed in right in the middle of the streak), but still ended up 6½ games behind St. Louis. The original version of the St. Louis Browns, that is, who would become the Cardinals in 1900.

Three Dodgers teams have finished a season 8-1.

The 1942 Dodgers were basking in the afterglow of reaching the 1941 World Series, Brooklyn's first pennant in 21 years. But the young and talented Dodgers team, with a 23-year old Pee Wee Reese and a 23-year old Pete Reiser, didn't rest on their laurels. They won 104 games, the second most ever by a Dodgers team (the 1953 team won 105) - don't forget, this was a 154-game schedule - but unfortunately the Cardinals won 106 games, and the pennant.

Led by league MVP Mort Cooper on the mound, and Enos Slaughter and a 21-year old rookie named Stan Musial in the outfield, the Cardinals went 20-3 down the stretch to erase a 4½-game deficit, then beat the Yankees in the World Series.

In 1965, the Dodgers found themselves in third place and 4½ games behind the Giants with 16 games remaining. But the Dodgers had the greatest finishing kick in franchise history by winning their next 13 games, and went 15-1 down the stretch to win the pennant.

Sandy Koufax, on his way to winning his second of three Cy Young Awards, started five times in a 15-day stretch including twice on two days rest. He also threw one scoreless inning of relief in between starts once, and over the final 16 games of the season had four complete games, three shutouts, a 1.38 ERA, and the Dodgers won all six games in which he appeared. And this was in the same month of his perfect game.

From his perfect game against the Cubs on Sept. 9 through his three-hit shutout against the Twins in Game 7 of the 1965 World Series, Koufax had a 0.92 ERA in 78 innings over a 36-day span, with 93 strikeouts and 14 walks.

The 2006 Dodgers were the streakiest team that ever streaked. In a year that saw the debuts of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley, James Loney, and Russell Martin, the Dodgers were languishing along at 46-42 when they hit a snag. They lost five straight to drop below .500, then won a game against Arizona to stop the bleeding. But after that, the Dodgers dropped their next eight contests, and their 1-13 stretch dropped them to 47-55, 7½ games behind the Padres in the National League West.

All the Dodgers did after that was win their next 11 games and 17 of their next 18. During the streak Greg Maddux pitched six no-hit innings in his Dodger debut then authored a Madduxian eight scoreless innings against the Giants, needing just 68 pitches to do so.

Those Dodgers, who struck for four consecutive home runs in the ninth inning in "The 4+1 Game" on Sept. 18, found themselves in a dogfight with the Padres and Phillies down the stretch. The 2006 squad won nine of their last 10 games, including a seven-game win streak to end the season, which included a 19-11 win at Coors Field that featured a franchise-record-tying nine RBI by Loney.

The Dodgers ended up tied with the Padres, with San Diego taking the division by virtue of winning their season series against Los Angeles, who settled for the wild card. But it was the Cardinals who had the last laugh, winning the World Series.

To sum up: in the Dodgers' four best nine-game finishes in franchise history, their St. Louis counterpart captured the championship anyway three times. Maybe it just isn't in the cards this year for the Dodgers, after all.