It's tough to claim that May baseball is vital, but let's get real here: Giants vs. Dodgers for the first time this season? With LA somehow leading the division? Yeah, this is a monster deal.
Both teams are scuffling lately (10-10 combined over their last 10 games) and both teams have a injury to their best hitter: Pablo Sandoval is out and Matt Kemp could end up missing some of the series.
So, yeah, #BEATLA is important for the Giants, and it could potentially hinge on -- gulp -- the performance of Barry Zito in the first game Monday.
Game 1, Monday May 7, 7:10 p.m. PT: Barry Zito (1-0, 1.76 ERA) vs. Ted Lilly (3-0, 1.38)
This game might well come down to Kemp decided to play or not. He said "hopefully" he'll play Monday, but it seems silly for the Dodgers to force him out there; he's already basically packed a half season of stats in the first month of 2012 anyway. Kemp's numbers against Zito are terrifying for Giants fans too: in 54 at-bats, he's sporting a .426/.500/.617 line with two homers, a double, a triple, seven walks and seven RBI.
The only other current Dodgers player with an average above .300 against Zito is Jerry Hairston, so if Kemp's out, it's possible Zito can have a bounceback start. Look for a big game from Buster Posey -- in 10 plate appearances, he's hitting .375/.500/1.250 with two homers, a double and three RBI.
EDGE: Giants (If Kemp's out)
Game 2, Tuesday May 8, 7:10 p.m. PT: Ryan Vogelsong (0-2, 3.42) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2-0, 2.63)
Before the season, I noted that Kershaw and Tim Lincecum pitched against each other a lot. Those games went poorly for the Giants and great for Kershaw, so maybe Vogey can just be the sacrificial lamb because, real talk you guys, Kershaw owns the Giants.
He's 6-1 lifetime against San Francisco with a 1.25 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 79 innings (11 starts, 12 games total) and a 0.886 WHIP. If the Giants can score two runs against him, it has to be considered a mild moral victory.
Game 3, Wednesday May 9, 7:10 p.m. PT: Tim Lincecum (2-2, 5.68) vs. Chad Billingsley (2-2, 3.19)
This is going to be a game the Giants have to get, otherwise this series could be a disaster. Lincecum's moving in the right direction with his pitching and Billingsley, who started out the season white hot, is moving in the wrong direction (if you're a Dodgers fan anyway).
Timmy's gone at least five innings without giving up more than three runs in his last three starts and has lowered his ERA in each start. (All the way "down" to 5.68!) He's also been pretty good lifetime against the Dodgers: despite a 5-4 record, Lincecum's got a 2.85 ERA (1.25 WHIP) and 93 strikeouts in 94.2 innings.
Billingsley's not too shabby against the Giants, going 7-5 with 3.24 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 102 K's in 125 innings over 19 starts (24 total appearances). But he's been scuffling a bit lately, at least compared to his white-hot start to the season.
The long and short of it is this: the Giants really need this series, especially if they want to limit the distance that the Dodgers can create in the NL West early in the season. And considering that San Francisco doesn't get to trot out Matt Cain or Madison Bumgarner, they're not set up too terribly to win two games.
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