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SoCal showdown (cont.)

Posted: Friday September 15, 2006 12:03PM; Updated: Saturday September 16, 2006 1:10AM
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Rafael Furcal is batting .340 and slugging .563 since the All-Star break.
Rafael Furcal is batting .340 and slugging .563 since the All-Star break.
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The storylines keep changing for Los Angeles -- first it was infielder Nomar Garciaparra carrying the offense and then outfielder Andre Ethier, but now it's shortstop Rafael Furcal, who has reached base in nearly half his September at-bats with an OPS of 1.206.

Brad Penny and Derek Lowe have taken turns anchoring the pitching staff -- never in the same week, it seems -- but the guy with the best ERA since the All-Star break is rookie Chad Billingsley (1.87), who has sat out more than two weeks with an oblique injury but is scheduled to return for Saturday's game against yet another ancient Padre, Woody Williams. (Lowe and Chris Young will face each other Sunday, with a showdown between Peavy and Penny slated for the unusual Monday finale.)

As always in Southern California, real estate is a hot topic, never more heated than when it comes to talk of San Diego owning Los Angeles. The Padres have won 11 of their past 12 games against the Dodgers, outscoring them 73-37 in the process. If it were any other time of year, all Los Angeles would have to worry about would be ending the eminent domination of San Diego. But it's a nervous time in the NL for everyone outside the Shea lounges, and even though the Dodgers and the Padres are currently both in playoff position as division champion and wild card, there are no shortage of rivals looking to leapfrog one or both of them. The San Francisco Giants and the Philadelphia Phillies are both 2½ games behind San Diego and three behind Los Angeles.

This is the last time San Diego and Los Angeles will face each other this season. Should the Dodgers lose even two of the four games, they will have dropped a single-season club-record 13 to San Diego, something that will require the world's greatest craw surgeon to remove should Los Angeles miss the playoffs. San Diego would seem to have less to worry about, except for the fact that the Dodgers have a nifty .620 home winning percentage this year and a combined 35-13 record (.729) against their four remaining opponents after the Padres.

If the Padres let this opportunity to pass Los Angeles slip away, they might not get another. One can rightfully scoff at the quality of the National League this year, but the Dodgers or the Padres enter tonight as leading candidates to make baseball's Final Four. In the past six seasons, only once has a team with a league's best record won a World Series. So as vulnerable as Los Angeles and San Diego have been at times this season, this isn't a little sandlot game for the kids. The stakes are real.

A sportswriter with the Los Angeles Daily News and Los Angeles Times, Jon Weisman writes about the Dodgers and baseball at Dodger Thoughts. His book, The Best of Dodger Thoughts, is on sale now.