06 February 2009

April Investigation

The Dodgers open on the road, with 4 games against the Padres. I think opening against the Padres is a good way to ease out of exhibition games into the regular season. It's sort of like a major conference college football team scheduling a Division I-AA marshmallow team for an easy win to begin the season. I suppose the Padres could shock the Dodgers like Appalachian State rising up to beat Michigan, but that seems unlikely, especially if Peavy is gone by the start of the regular season.

Three road games against the Snakes follow the opening series. This is the moment Snakes fans have been waiting for. The time when they can avenge the shocking sweep near the end of last season that decisively put the Dodgers in charge of the NL West. Both Haren and Webb should be going in that series, unless the Snakes do something weird with their rotation. This should be the toughest series the Dodgers have in April, unless the Giants take a huge step forward.

After a week on the road, a week of drifting around the American southwest trying to find themselves, the Dodger arrive home to face the Giants in a three game series. Now the schedule for this series is an abomination, because there is a day off right in the middle of it after the home opener on Monday. Previous to this season I had only seen these split series during the opening week of the season when there were shenanigans with having opening day on a Monday or even a Sunday. What is so important about having opening day on a Monday? And if it is so important, why not just move the series up to Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday? Perhaps the Dodgers anticipate needing a full day to clean up the mess after fans riot opening day because it took forever to park and because they were enraged by the sight of Manny was in a Giants uniform.

If the Giants go with Lincecum on opening day the Dodgers should miss him for this series. The Giants may well be the third contender in the NL West along with the Dodgers and Snakes, so this could be an important early season series.

The Dodgers' first homestand concludes with three weekend games against the Rockies. In theory these are among the easiest games the Dodgers should have all year. After this series the Dodgers will have played every other team in the NL West. If they split with the contenders and dominate the bad teams they should have a record of at least 8-5. That's a winning percentage of 0.615, and realistically I think the Dodgers should finish the season with a winning percentage of +0.600 against their own division if they seriously want to contend.

After a day off the Dodgers go back on the road for a 9 game trip. The Dodgers' early schedule is road heavy, with road games outnumbering home games 16-7 in April. So even though the Dodgers don't face too many tough teams in April it may still be a tricky month. For this trip they have three in Houston, followed by three in Colorado, followed by three in San Francisco. Houston ended last year well and the Rockies always put up a decent fight at home, so those games will be tough even if the teams don't seem very intimidating. But it's the last series of the road trip ( and last of the month ) that looms as the most important of the trip and maybe even of the early season.

By the time this series comes we'll know better if the Giants are contenders or not. It's not so much about the Giant's record at that point, but about how good their offense looks. If the Giants are 11-6 on the strength of a lot of one-run wins and great pitching but the offense still stinks, then they will probably fall back to earth later. But if they are 9-8 with an offense that is clearly better than last year, then they are probably legit contenders. This is the kind of series that could easily turn a good April bad for the Dodgers if they get swept. This is the series that defines the early season as much as any one series can --- a battle on hostile ground against the arch-enemies, the up-and-comers, the Manny-rivals --- the hated Giants.

The final day of the month is a home game against the Padres, but that game belongs to May. April ends with the Giants. May it end well.

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