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For the Dodgers, Division Title or Bust?
2004-09-13 17:17
by Jon Weisman

The Chicago Cubs can really take charge of the National League wild card race over the next 2 1/2 weeks. In fact, even with a six-game lead over the Cubs, the Dodgers are no lock to finish with a better record than Chicago.

A September 20 doubleheader at Florida marks the Cubs' only two games against a playoff contender out of their next 19. The Wrigleyites do wrap up their season with three against Atlanta - but what better time to play the Braves than the final weekend, when Atlanta has its division clinched and is making sure its best pitchers have plenty of rest?

Should the Dodgers stumble and fall into second place in the NL West, they can't count on the wild card consolation prize being there for them.

As for the other playoff contenders:

San Francisco is idle today, then plays three games in Milwaukee - the Giants' final three games against sub-.500 competition.

Florida has a similarly rough finish: after this week's Montreal series, the Marlins have six games with Atlanta, seven with Philadelphia and two with the Cubs among their final 18.

Houston has six games against St. Louis and three with the Giants.

Though Philadelphia probably has too much ground to make up, the Phillies have won nine of their last 10 and are positioned to continue their run with 12 games against sub-.500 teams to go with seven against Florida.

And then there's the current Dodger opponent, the Padres. San Diego has six games left with Arizona, an advantage over all other contenders. Every other remaining Padre game is against the Giants or Dodgers. The Padres also have two off days to mitigate their own No. 5 starter problems. A 13-6 finish is achievable for San Diego, which could be enough to get Southern California another playoff team.

Like every other player in the wild card game, however, they need the Cubs to fall down in the open field.

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