LOS ANGELES -- I thought before the season the National League West would be a two-team race, and here we are with six weeks left in the season and the Dodgers and Giants separated by one game in the division. But both teams have taken very odd paths to get to this point.
The Dodgers have placed a National-League-record 26 players on the disabled list this season, and haven’t had the services of ace Clayton Kershaw since June 26.
An offense that underwhelmed for most of the first two months has been a huge strength for the Dodgers since Kershaw last pitched, averaging 5.28 runs per game in the last 47 games. Since the All-Star break the Dodgers have averaged 5.61 runs per game, more than every team in baseball except Colorado.
The Giants owned an eight-game division lead after that last Kershaw start, and at the All-Star break the lead was 6½ games, when San Francisco owned the best record in baseball at 57-33 (.633).
Since the All-Star break, the Giants have the worst record in baseball, at 11-23 (.324).
On quick glance, the biggest culprit in San Francisco’s slide has been their offense, averaging just 3.88 runs per game since the break, 26th in MLB, after scoring 4.71 runs per game before the break, 12th in MLB.
Hunter Pence missed 48 games with a completely torn hamstring, but since his return on July 30 has hit just .229/.281/.313 in 21 games, though he started to heat up with three multi-hit games over the weekend against New York.
The additions of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija have been as advertised, especially Cueto. Madison Bumgarner and Cueto are second and fourth, respectively, in the majors in innings pitched, and are second and 13th in MLB in ERA. They pitch the first two games of this series against the Dodgers.
Samardzija has been average or close to it, but most importantly has been an innings horse for San Francisco, averaging 6.39 innings per start.
The Giants bullpen has pitched the third-fewest innings (363⅔) in the National League in 2016, while the Dodgers (441⅔) have the second-most.
Los Angeles has done its best to help spread out the relief innings, using an eight-man bullpen most of the year and at times a nine-man pen, and so far it has worked. The Dodgers bullpen is second in the NL in ERA (3.30) and FIP (3.59), first in WHIP (1.125), strikeouts (454) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.03).
The question is just how long the Dodgers can keep it up, especially with a starting staff averaging 4.40 innings in August with a 6.45 ERA.
Part of the cavalry arrives in the form of Rich Hill on Wednesday, and the hope is that Clayton Kershaw will be ready some time soon, with another bullpen session set for Tuesday at Dodger Stadium.
With just 38 games remaining in the regular season, 23.7 percent of the schedule will be Dodgers-Giants games. These nine matchups — including Sept. 19-21 in LA, and Sept. 30-Oct. 2 in San Francisco to end the regular season — will go a long way in determining the division winner.
And that’s how it should be.