10:00 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Los Angeles -255
After splitting the first two games of this final three-game series, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers look to settle matters tonight in the rubber match at Chavez Ravine. After taking the opener in this series, the Giants (85-72) failed to clinch the National League’s final Wild Card birth last night, as they continue to trail the Pittsburgh Pirates by one game in the the standings. Granted, Bruce Bochy and Co. appear to be a lock at this point to return to the postseason for the first time since 2012, but getting ahead of the Buckos would grant he and his club the luxury of at least hosting the one-game playoff. Remember, this is an experienced club that feels that all they need to do is simply make it to the Playoffs; after that anything can happen, which was precisely the case back in 2010 and 2012 when they won the World Series. With all that said, there is something to be mentioned about momentum at this time of year, or lack thereof; after jumping out to a 43-21 record, San Francisco has been largely mediocre, going 42-51 since June 8th.
After needing thirteen innings to earn a 5-2 victory in the series’ opener, the Giants’ Magic Number in the NL Wild Card chase was down to one, but they would come up short the following night as they fell 4-2 to the Dodgers. With the exception of a three-run First Inning, Tuesday’s contest was largely a pitching duel, with Bochy riding ace left-hander Madison Bumgarner (18-10, 2.98 ERA) for 7.1 innings. The young lefty quickly settled down after allowing a pair of home runs in the First, yielding no runs and six hits over the following six innings, while striking out five and walking none. Despite taking the loss, Bumgarner also provided the majority of the offense for San Francisco, flashing his prowess at the plate with his fourth home run of the campaign, driving both of his team’s runs. However, the rest of the offense netted very little; outside of the pitcher, the rest of the Giants lineup was a paltry 5-of-29 from the plate, with no extra-base hits. Heading to the bump tonight is Tim Hudson (9-12, 3.52 ERA), who will need to break out of a series of poor performances if he and his club hope to finally clinch a postseason birth. The 38-year old veteran has been hammered in each of his last two starts, of which included a six-run, eight-hit outing in which he was yanked after one inning of a 17-0 debacle. Hudson wasn’t much better the following start against the Padres, who tagged him for five runs in 4.1 innings of last Friday’s 5-0 loss. Perhaps he can rely a bit more on his sinker to finish off the Dodgers’ lineup; opponents have batted just .234 with a .305 Slugging Percentage against the right-hander when he has ended the count with a sinker down in the strike zone, which represent the second-lowest figures in the Majors.
Meanwhile, it’s fairly simple for the Dodgers (90-68), who need just one win to clinch the National League West crown for the second consecutive season.And as fate would have it, Don Mattingly will be sending the best pitcher on the planet to the mound to do so: Clayton Kershaw (20-3, 1.80 ERA). The dominant left-hander appears to be a stone cold lock to win his third consecutive Cy Young award, as he heads to the hill in search of his 21st victory of the season. In truth, Los Angeles couldn’t really be in a better situation, for Kershaw has owned the Giants throughout his career; the 26-year old is 13-5 with a 1.45 ERA in 24 starts versus San Francisco, including 2-0 in three meetings this season with a 1.88 ERA. On July 6th, he allowed just three-hits in a 5-0 shutout, followed by another victory (4-2) on September 14th.
However, in his last start he wasn’t dominant, but at that point this kid is still pretty special. In his last start, a 14-5 victory over the Cubs, Kershaw gave up three runs early in the First Inning, before exiting after the 5th. He still extended his career-best winnings streak to six games, striking out nine batters despite allowing seven hits. Look for the lefty to utilize his curveball down in the strike zone, for he hasn’t relinquished an extra-base hit in 55 consecutive plate appearances when doing so. That would set up his wicked slider, which opponents have chased out of the strike zone on a league 50.1% of the time, and the Giants just so happen to chase that pitch 36.7% of the time in which they have faced it, well above the league average. Though he likely won’t need it, Kershaw would welcome some run support, which really hasn’t been a problem for the Dodgers of late. Despite being largely inconsistent over the course of the campaign, Los Angeles’ offense has caught fire over the last month; Mattingly’s lineup has scored a whopping 124 runs in September, crossing home plate 5.9 times per game. Matt Kemp has embodied their torrid pace this month, batting .309 with 25 hits in September, racking up five doubles, eight home runs, and 22 RBIs. The Left Fielder jacked a two-run shot (his 24th) off of Bumgarner last night, part of a three run 1st, which would ultimately prove top be enough to seal the victory.