Dodgers Face Crucial Test In Weekend Series With Giants

July 28, 2011; San Francisco, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Hanley Ramirez (13) walks on the field before the start of the game against the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park. The Dodgers defeated the Giants 10-0. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

The Dodgers play National League division leaders San Francisco, Washington, and Cincinnati in their next 15 games.

The last three times the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have met this season, the result was a series sweep. The Dodgers hope for one in their favor as they battle the first-place Giants for a three-game series beginning Friday night at AT&T Park in San Francisco.

San Francisco has taken control of the division in the last three weeks, despite the loss of All-Star outfielder Melky Cabrera. The left fielder and likely National League batting champion (Cabrera hit .3464 in 501 plate appearances, and with a theoretical 0-for-1 would have a .3457 batting average) was suspended for 50 games for violating the Joint Drug Agreement on August 15.

On that day the Giants lost to the Nationals and the Dodgers beat the Pirates, giving Los Angeles a one-game lead in the National League West. But since then San Francisco is 13-6 and the Dodgers are just 8-12, with the key encounter the Giants' three-game sweep at Dodger Stadium from Aug. 20-22.

Just three days after getting swept, the Dodgers, you may have heard, added Adrian Gonzalez at first base, giving their lineup some semblance of strength, at least on paper. Since his arrival Gonzalez has hit just .260/.321/.380 and the team has averaged just 3.67 runs per game on offense.

This has only been a 12 game sample size, during which time the Dodgers have gone 5-7, but with just 24 games left there isn't much time for anything but small sample sizes.

Matt Kemp has been struggling as well, as his 3-for-25 (.120) homestand would suggest. But he suffered a bone bruise in his right knee while running into the center field wall at Coors Field on Aug. 29 and appeared to still be suffering from that in the week that followed. Kemp narrowly missed a home run on Wednesday, as Cameron Maybin made a superb leaping catch to rob him of a two-run home run.

But Kemp and Gonzalez aren't the only ones struggling, as the team as a whole is hitting just .258/.326/.386 in the dozen games since the blockbuster trade with Boston.

"I know they're trying. I never have any problem with the effort. I know they want to get hits, and all that," said manager Don Mattingly. "We have to get better with our approaches."

The Dodgers will try those approaches against Tim Lincecum in the opener on Friday night. The two-time Cy Young Award winner has struggled this season, but don't tell the Dodgers. Lincecum is 2-1 with a 2.55 ERA in three starts against the Dodgers this season, with 20 strikeouts and five walks in 17 2/3 innings. But against everyone else, Lincecum is 6-13 with a 5.54 ERA.

Josh Beckett, part of the mega-trade with the Red Sox, has impressed in his two starts with the Dodgers, including a nine-strikeouts performance last Saturday against the Diamondbacks. Beckett gets the start in the opener for the Dodgers.

Friday starts a bit of a gauntlet for the Dodgers, as 13 of their next 15 games are against teams currently in playoff position in the National League. The Dodgers battle division leaders San Francisco, Washington, and Cincinnati on the road, and they host the second wild card-leading St. Louis Cardinals next weekend for four games at Dodger Stadium.

With the Dodgers 4½ games back of the Giants in the division, perhaps they should turn to the wild card instead, as their 1½-game deficit to the Cardinals seems much more manageable. But then again, the Dodgers just need wins, no matter their opponents.

"There isn't a whole lot to talk about. Just get ready to play," said Mattingly. "But every game at this point, it doesn't matter who we are playing, we have to win every day."

Pitching Matchups

Friday, 7:15 p.m. PDT (Prime Ticket): Beckett (6-12, 5.03 ERA) vs. Lincecum (8-14, 5.21)

Saturday, 1:05 p.m. PDT (Fox): Chris Capuano (11-10, 3.63) vs. Matt Cain (13-5, 2.98)

Sunday, 5:05 p.m. PDT (ESPN): Clayton Kershaw (12-8, 2.79) vs. Barry Zito (10-8, 4.51)

Matchup To Watch

Since joining the Dodgers, shortstop Hanley Ramirez has faced Giants relief pitcher extraordinaire Sergio Romo twice. Ramirez has taken Romo deep twice, including a game-winning two-run shot in extra innings on July 27 in San Francisco. Romo has a 1.81 ERA this season, and since the beginning of 2011 has a 1.65 ERA in 121 games, with 13 unintentional walks and 121 strikeouts.

Who's Hot

Since choking up on the bat to compensate for a nasty ruptured blister on his right hand, Andre Ethier is hitting .418/.467/.745 with five home runs in 14 games.

Brandon Belt is hitting .500 (10-for-20) with a home run, two doubles, and a triple in his last seven games, though only four have been starts.

For more news and notes on the Dodgers, be sure to read True Blue LA.

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