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Mounds of Tension
2003-09-17 09:02
by Jon Weisman

Playing close games in a close race, every pitching matchup matters for the Dodgers. Here's a look at what they face the rest of this week, as they fight increasingly long odds that Florida, Philadelphia, Houston and Chicago will lose enough games to leave the wild card in the deck.

Tonight: With a spellbinding performance for the Dodgers last week, Edwin Jackson showed us last week how valuable a weapon unfamiliarity can be for a pitcher. Jackson will have to show he can be just as good the second time around, when he makes another emergency start against Arizona, this time in place of Odalis Perez.

Jackson will face Rookie-of-the-Year candidate Brandon Webb, who stood to be the losing pitcher in his first career game against the Dodgers last week, before the Diamondbacks posted their five-run eighth-inning rally.

Stakes are high - so high, in fact, that it's my opinion that if Jackson pitches well this very evening, he will ensure that Dan Evans returns as Dodger general manager in 2004. Amid all the speculation that Evans needed to transact the Dodgers into the playoffs this season, if Jackson can serve as evidence that Evans has a long-term plan, both the media and ownership will concede that Evans deserves more time to fruitionize that plan.

Of course, it won't hurt that a winning performance by Jackson will kindle Dodger playoff hopes.

Thursday: Wilson Alvarez faces Miguel Batista. Batista is the pitcher who effectively ended the Dodgers' hopes for the playoffs in 2001 by allowing only one earned run over 14 innings in consecutive late-September starts. Since 2000, Batista
has an ERA of 3.21 at Dodger Stadium.

Alvarez leads the National League in ERA since the All-Star Break (1.30 ERA in 55 1/3 innings). We're all waiting for the other shoe to drop on Alvarez, but unless his complete game Friday depleted Alvarez's tank, odds point to that Nike thumping his head on the road next week, if at all.

After facing a verifiable nemesis in Curt Schilling on Tuesday, those are two more tough pitching matchups for the Dodgers. When San Francisco comes to town, though, it could be a different story.

The Dodgers couldn't duck Schilling this week, but they will catch a break this weekend. Jason Schmidt of the Giants won't face the Dodgers, because his turn in the San Francisco rotation is tonight against San Diego. Schmidt is 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA against Los Angeles this year.

Friday: The Giants series is scheduled to kick off with Kevin Correia - a rookie, admittedly one who has a 2.43 ERA in 29 2/3 innings. Correia is set to face Kevin Brown.

Saturday: An injury-plagued Kirk Reuter follows - he has a 4.83 ERA and has not completed seven innings since June 1 - against Hideo Nomo.

Sunday: Jerome Williams, another rookie having a fine season with a 3.30 ERA, probably will face Kazuhisa Ishii. Like Correia, Williams has not yet faced the Dodgers in his career.

The final week: For many reasons, it doesn't make sense to look beyond this week at the pitching matchups. But one can't resist wondering whether the Dodgers might catch a break in its season-ending series with San Francisco, if the Giants decide that Schmidt should only get a few innings of work at most so that he is fresh for the playoffs.

Meanwhile, everyone's talking about Florida and Philadelphia, but take a look at the remaining NL schedule and tell me if you don't think the wild card won't be Houston or Chicago.

* * *

Update: Dodger postseason chances, from Baseball Prospectus
Today: 5.2 percent
September 16: 8.7 percent
September 15: 8.9 percent
September 14: 6.1 percent
September 12: 3.8 percent
September 11: 7.1 percent
September 10: 9.7 percent
September 9: 9.4 percent
September 8: 5.4 percent
September 7: 5.3 percent
September 6: 4.8 percent
September 5: 3.5 percent
September 4: 4.3 percent
September 3: 7.9 percent
September 2: 4.8 percent
September 1: 7.9 percent
August 31: 6.9 percent
August 30: 5.5 percent
August 29: 4.8 percent
August 28: 2.6 percent
August 26: 3.6 percent
August 25: 3.1 percent
August 24: 4.4 percent
August 23: 6.5 percent
August 22: 5.8 percent
August 21: 4.2 percent
August 20: 2.3 percent

Projected NL Wild-Card Standings as of September 17
Wins ... Team ... Chance of winning wild card
89 ... Philadelphia (49.0 percent)
89 ... Florida (40.2 percent)
88 ... Chicago (3.6 percent)
87 ... Los Angeles (5.2 percent)
84 ... Arizona (0.1 percent)
83 ... St. Louis (0.0 percent)
82 ... Montreal (0.0 percent)

(Division leaders account for the remaining wild card possibilities.)

Baseball Prospectus has added a disappointing disclaimer: "Because this analysis does not take into account head-to-head matchups, it may be less reliable from this point in the season onward."

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