Despite having led the NL West three weeks ago and recently adding some big names, the Los Angeles Dodgers won't be able to escape second place this weekend.
The San Francisco Giants have overcome losing a marquee player to jump well past them.
This pivotal three-game set in the Bay Area starts Friday night with one of the Dodgers' star acquisitions getting his first taste of this rivalry, as Josh Beckett goes up against Tim Lincecum in a matchup of former aces having mediocre seasons.
"It is a big series," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "This is September baseball. You're watching the scoreboard and it's going to be intense. This is why you play the game."
San Francisco (77-60) has a 4 1/2-game division lead over second-place Los Angeles. The Dodgers (73-65) were alone atop the West as recently as Aug. 19 but have since lost 10 of 16, including a 5-7 record following the blockbuster trade with Boston for Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford .
While Crawford is out for the year and Gonzalez is plenty familiar with the Giants from his time with San Diego, Beckett (1-1, 2.92 ERA) hasn't pitched against them since 2005 as a member of the Marlins.
As Lincecum (8-14, 5.21) has matched his career high for losses, Beckett has surpassed his due to a 5-11 record and 5.23 ERA with Boston. He's been solid in two starts with the Dodgers and won the last one, striking out nine in 6 2-3 innings of a 2-1 victory over Arizona on Saturday.
"We got to figure out some way to win some series. We got some tough ones coming up against the Giants," Beckett said. "I kind of need to read up on where everybody is at."
The Giants player he's faced the most is Melky Cabrera , the All-Star outfielder who won't return any sooner than the playoffs due to his 50-game suspension for performance enhancing drugs.
One of the left field fill-ins for Cabrera has been Xavier Nady , but his status is uncertain after straining a hamstring Wednesday. Nady is 4 for 12 with two doubles and three RBIs in five games since having his contract purchased from the minors Saturday.
"This is a big blow for us because he was swinging the bat well," Bochy said. "We'll have to get creative out there."
San Francisco is 13-7 since losing Cabrera, sweeping three games at Los Angeles from Aug. 20-22 when the teams last met.
Lincecum won the second game as he went 5 2-3 innings in a 4-1 victory, an example of how he's pitched better since the All-Star break but not like a two-time Cy Young Award winner. He's 5-4 in 10 starts with a 3.26 ERA - about half what it was before the break - though he's averaged less than six innings and five strikeouts over the past six.
"That's not the same guy we saw winning Cy Youngs," Cubs manager Dale Sveum said Saturday after Lincecum beat his team with 6 1-3 strong innings in a 5-2 win. "The command, the velocity with the fastball, that's completely different than it was a few years ago."
Lincecum, though, has a 2.08 ERA over his past eight starts against the Dodgers. Gonzalez and Matt Kemp have hit a combined .218 (17 for 78) with no homers against him.
Gonzalez has not gone deep in 11 games since homering in his Dodgers debut Aug. 25, but he's 7 for 17 with four RBIs over the last four games. Kemp is in a 3-for-25 slump and has one homer in his last 24 games.
Los Angeles pulled off a three-game sweep July 27-29 when it last visited San Francisco, which has lost 14 of 21 at home.
"We've got to turn the page because we've got a big series coming up," Kemp said. "And every series is a must-win, so we've got to go out there and play every game like it's our last one."
|Tony Gwynn Jr.||18||.222||4||0||1||1||3||.263||.485||.222|
|Jerry Hairston Jr.||1||.000||0||0||0||1||1||.500||.500||.000|
|Los Angeles Dodgers|
|September 03, 2012||Javy Guerra||15-Day DL||Left oblique strain|
|September 01, 2012||Chris Withrow||60-Day DL||Recovery from torn pectoral muscle|
|August 31, 2012||Alfredo Silverio||60-Day DL||Recovery from auto accident, concussion|
|August 28, 2012||Matt Kemp||Day-to-Day||Left game - right knee contusion|
|August 28, 2012||Scott Elbert||15-Day DL||Left elbow inflammation|
|August 25, 2012||Shane Victorino||Day-to-Day||Strained hip and back|
|San Francisco Giants|
|August 27, 2012||Clay Hensley||15-Day DL||Strained right groin|
|August 23, 2012||Justin Christian||15-Day DL||Sprained left wrist|
|August 22, 2012||Buster Posey||Day-to-Day||Hamstring tightness|
|August 14, 2012||Brad Penny||15-Day DL||Right shoulder impingement|
|August 14, 2012||Brad Penny||15-Day DL||Right shoulder impingement|
|August 07, 2012||Shane Loux||15-Day DL||Recurring neck strain|
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Tim Lincecum never liked facing Marco Scutaro . From a two-time NL Cy Young Award winner, Scutaro considers that quite a compliment.
He sure is generating his share of them these days.
Scutaro hit a tiebreaking, two-run single in the seventh inning that broke his bat, and the San Francisco Giants beat the rival Dodgers 5-2 on Friday night to extend their NL West lead to 5 1/2 games over Los Angeles.
"I didn't really make good contact," he said. "Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good."
After Angel Pagan drew an intentional walk from Josh Beckett (1-2) to load the bases, Scutaro followed with a bloop single to shallow right. He came through yet again for his new team - and in a key series opener in early September this time.
"I pretty much know what my game is. I'm not a power hitter, I'm not an RBI guy," he said. "My game is to try to get on base. I stay with my plan. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
San Francisco (78-60) won its fourth straight against Los Angeles after a sweep at Dodger Stadium from Aug. 20-22. The Giants lead the division by 5 1/2 games for the first time since ending the 2003 season with a 15 1/2-game cushion. They have two more chances with a sellout home crowd this weekend to create further distance from the Dodgers.
Santiago Casilla (7-5) relieved Lincecum and recorded the final two outs of the seventh for the win.
The Giants answered after Adam Kennedy hit a go-ahead solo home run in the top of the sixth to make it 2-1.
Hunter Pence , another recent addition for the playoff push, tied it on an infield single down the third-base line in the bottom half. Kennedy tried to barehand the high bouncer, which got under his glove and allowed Pagan to score.
Hector Sanchez singled to start the seventh and Gregor Blanco entered to pinch-run, then stole second. Brandon Crawford walked and pinch-hitter Emmanuel Burriss sacrificed. Pagan was intentionally walked to load the bases for Scutaro, who delivered another clutch hit in a career full of them. It was his second one this homestand after a game-winning single in the 10th inning of Monday's 9-8 win against Arizona.
Since Scutaro was acquired from the Colorado Rockies on July 27, he is batting .331 (53 for 160) with 26 RBIs.
"We needed somebody to come through for us and he has done that since he came over here, and really his whole career," manager Bruce Bochy said.
Beckett, facing the Giants for the first time since 2005 while with the Marlins, outlasted Lincecum in the right-hander's third start since being acquired from the Red Sox on Aug. 25.
He was in control until the seventh. Last time out, Beckett had matched his season high with nine strikeouts against Arizona, snapping a three-start skid and seven-start winless stretch in which he was 0-5.
The Dodgers failed to capitalize in the top of the seventh. Mark Ellis hit a leadoff single and Adrian Gonzalez walked one out later to chase Lincecum, who walked a career-high seven and missed a chance to win back-to-back starts for just the third time this year. Casilla entered and got Matt Kemp on a groundout to put runners on second and third before striking out Hanley Ramirez looking.
"Ultimately we want to win the division but sometimes it is necessary to look outside the bubble," Los Angeles left fielder Shane Victorino said. "The goal? It's about getting there. The first is to win the division."
Lincecum walked a batter in each of his six-plus innings but got through with minimal damage.
He retired Kemp on a 90 mph called third strike to end the fifth with the go-ahead run on second. Lincecum then struck out Ramirez looking to start the sixth and got Andre Ethier swinging. Kennedy fell behind in the count 0-2 before hitting a drive into the elevated right-field arcade for his second home run of the year and first of his career in San Francisco.
Joaquin Arias added an RBI infield single in the eighth for San Francisco. Sergio Romo got the final four outs for his 10th save in 11 chances.
"Right now, we just want to win games any way we can," Lincecum said. "It's not about who gets the decision or how it happens. We're just pulling that string to win."
The Giants have the momentum of late since Los Angeles took all three at AT&T Park from July 27-29. But from June 25-27 in the Dodgers' first trip, San Francisco swept without allowing a single run - 8-0, 2-0, 3-0.
The rivalry returns to Chavez Ravine for the season's final three games from Oct. 1-3.
"We don't want to go back to their house the final three games and cut it close," Scutaro said.
Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson showed up for the weekend "to watch some playoff baseball" in what should be a great atmosphere the rest of the weekend.
"This is probably the rowdiest place on the West Coast," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "It's a fun place and there's a lot of energy here. I like this series a lot. This is a place you want to play."
NOTES: San Francisco's Brandon Belt played LF for the first time. ... Lincecum is 3-8 in 15 home starts this year. ... Kennedy's clout - his first since July 6 at Arizona - also was his first in 23 career at-bats against Lincecum. ... Victorino stole his 33rd base in the fifth, his ninth since joining the Dodgers from the Phillies at the trade deadline. ... Giants OF Xavier Nady underwent an MRI exam on the left hamstring he injured going for a ball in the gap Wednesday night and manager Bruce Bochy said, "It's hard to say how long" until he will return. ... LHP Luis Capuano (11-10) pitches for the Dodgers in the middle game against RHP Matt Cain (13-5).