NL West to be won old-fashioned way But Padres need sweep to surpass Dodgers

Stretch drive

September 27, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

This is what baseball used to be all about. The San Diego Padres and Los Angeles Dodgers will go head-to-head this weekend with the National League West title hanging in the balance.

It is the only divisional showdown on the final weekend of the regular season, and -- unfortunately for the Padres -- the pressure won't be distributed evenly on both teams. But that's the price Major League Baseball had to pay for a three-tiered playoff format.

The Dodgers already are guaranteed at least a tie for the wild-card berth and need to win one game this weekend to assure themselves of the NL West title. The Padres have had an excellent season. They have led the division for most of the year. They probably will be in the playoffs regardless of what happens in this series, but they may have blown their opportunity to win their first division title since 1984 when they dropped a two-game series to the Colorado Rockies this week.

It wasn't fair, really. The Rockies came to San Diego with all their big hitters still eager to pad their stats and put their mark on the division race. The Dodgers drew the San Francisco Giants, basically a collection of guys who will be able to tell their grandchildren that they played one September in the same lineup with Barry Bonds.

The Giants have the second worst record in the National League, and are playing without Matt Williams and Robby Thompson, both of whom are injured. It's no wonder the Dodgers took the first two games and were able to diminish the significance of their series with the Padres.

Dodgers fans certainly didn't mind. They arose with a tremendous cheer when the scoreboard flashed the Padres' result Wednesday night and they would come to their feet again just moments later when first baseman Eric Karros hit the tie-breaking home run that would give the club plenty of breathing room this weekend.

San Diego must sweep to win the division, which is a tall order for a team that has a combined 8-15 record at Dodger Stadium the past four years. If not, the Padres likely will go home to play the pitching-rich Atlanta Braves in the first two games of the divisional series, though the Montreal Expos still have not checked out of the wild-card race.

Tough call

If the Dodgers don't wrap up the division title before Sunday, manager Bill Russell will be faced with a decision that only could arise under the new playoff format.

Once the Dodgers have a guaranteed wild-card berth, Russell will have to decide whether to put the emphasis on closing out the division race or saving pitcher Ramon Martinez for an early start in the divisional series.

Chances are, Russell will go with Martinez on Sunday -- if that game is meaningful -- because the Dodgers would much rather face the St. Louis Cardinals than the Braves in the first round of the playoffs.

Mariners checking out?

Pressure. The Seattle Mariners could have put a lot of it on the Orioles with a victory over the Oakland Athletics yesterday, and appeared ready to do so when they took a two-run lead late in the game. Instead, the A's scored four times in the bottom of the eighth inning to make life a little more comfortable in Baltimore.

The situation: Seattle now trails the Orioles by 2 1/2 games with four left on the Mariners' schedule and three left for the Orioles. If Seattle wins all four and the Orioles lose two of their last three, they would end up in a tie. Not a likely scenario.

The loss also put the Texas Rangers in a position to clinch their first AL West title tonight.

Don't count out Expos

jTC

The Expos will need a lot to go right in order for them to win the NL wild-card berth, but it is far from out of the question. If they can find a way to win two of three at home against the Braves, they could slip into the postseason on the coattails of a big Dodgers weekend.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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