Giants beware: Dodgers pose fresh challenge this time

Giants beware: Dodgers pose fresh challenge this time

There’s no turning back for the Giants now. The 162-game marathon has been reduced to a five-week sprint.

What you see is what you get. Either the Giants are good enough or they aren’t good enough. There’s no time for excuses. Whether the Giants or Los Angeles Dodgers are West Division winners or wild card qualifiers or neither could very well be decided by their last nine head-to-head matchups — the three this week and six more to come.

Balls doesn’t like the feel of this right now.

Since the All-Star break, when the Giants owned a 6.5-game lead if not the National League, they haven’t been sharp in any phase of the game. Too often manager Bruce Bochy’s team has looked to be a tired bunch, one that has begun to feel the effects of so many postseason challenges in recent years.

Not the dreaded Dodgers, though. They’re a confident, energized bunch. That’s what happens when you play with house money. They have absolutely no business to be in first place, not with ace Clayton Kershaw on the disabled list. They have a good excuse to roll over and play dead. Isn’t that what Dodger Blew did so many times in the stretch drive before?

But with Kershaw out of the rotation, the Dodgers won 29 of 48 games to overtake the Giants and claim the West Division lead. Whether it’s the presence of new manager Dave Roberts or the demotion of enigmatic Yasiel Puig or the emergence of star Corey Seager or a combination of factors, this is a different Dodgers team than the one we saw in recent years.

And Dodgers could get even better before they get worse.

The Dodgers will handle the Kershaw matter very carefully — after all, they have $215 million invested in him — and there’s no guarantee he’ll pitch again this season. But he reported no complications after a 60-pitch bullpen session last Friday and planned to ramp it up this week.

Certainly, Kershaw won’t lack motivation to return in the near future. For all his individual accomplishments, he has yet to win a postseason game. With his team on the brink of a playoff berth, chances are we haven’t seen the last of him this season.

There’s still time for the Giants to get straight and pull this out, but the countdown has started.

FUTURE IS NOW: Matt Moore will get his first real taste of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry today, and although the Dodgers have struggled against lefties this season, this doesn’t appear to be a good time for him to take the ball in a crucial game.

Since his arrival, Moore is winless in four starts and has struggled with control. He has a worse WHIP (walks plus hits per inning) than predecessor Jake Peavy, if that’s possible. Worse yet, he seems to pitch scared at times.

It’s one thing to perform in the privacy of Tampa Bay, as Moore had done with the Rays for his entire major league career. But it’s quite another to step up in big games with a major-market team, something that he’s expected to do here.

Not everyone can raise the bar, and soon we’ll begin to see where Moore stands in that regard.

JUST SAYIN’: The Athletics have eyes on a new ballpark near Jack London Square, which could cost Oakland upward of $100 million. But if Balls was The Town, it wouldn’t agree to any deal unless the A’s made a written promise to bring more than bad baseball and an occasional clubhouse fight to the party.

JUST ASKIN’: Remember those Croix de Candlestick pins, the ones that Giants fans received when they survived extra innings on Hunters Point?

Would A’s fans receive commemorative mugs in the warehouse district on their way to the nearest Bart stop?

THOU SHALT PASS: Niners coach Chip Kelly won’t reveal his quarterback for the game against the Green Bay until later this week, but if Colin Kapernick is as healthy as he claims, expect him to play one quarter at least.

Regardless of whether Kaepernick or Plain Blaine Gabbert takes the majority of snaps, it would be nice to see the forward pass make its debut. The offense completed 39 balls in two games, only 17 to wide receivers.

HEAVEN CAN WAIT: Los Angeles Rams rookie Jared Goff took an itty-bitty step forward last weekend, when the Cal product threw his first touchdown pass, but clearly, the kid isn’t ready to start yet.

It seems that almost everyone in SoCal wants Goff to become a star, nobody moreso than HBO on Hard Knocks. It’s a small wonder then that he has that deer-in-the-headlights look about him at times. Worse yet, he inherited an average line and a bunch of scissor-hands at wide receiver, not to mention Jeff Fisher, a defense-minded head coach with a bad mustache.

If the Rams are smart, they’ll announce veteran Case Keenum as their starter for the opener against the Niners and allow Goff to learn from the safety of the sidelines.

COLD REALITY: If the World Series goes the distance, the final game will be played on Nov. 2, the MLB announced. Because nothing beats a showcase event played by hooded men with hands in their pants in Arctic conditions.

When Balls becomes MLB dictator, here’s how we’ll do it:

The regular season will be shortened to 154 games and commence one week earlier. Each team will play one split doubleheader every month. Games will be played primarily in domes and warm-weather sites in the first month of the season.

Now that almost three weeks have been trimmed from the regular season, that ridiculous one-game wild card playoff will be extended to a best-of-three affair. The World Series will conclude in mid-October at the latest. And weekend games will be played in the afternoon so kids can watch it.

Really, was that so difficult?

DUMB TO DUMBER: Speaking of stupid, next month nearly 200 NHL players will take part in a cockamamie two-week tournament called the World Cup, also known as the Gary Bettman Pretend Olympics.

The competition serves no purpose except to make money and put the best players at increased risk for fatigue and health problems. It also means a starless, out-of-sync NHL preseason for any knucklehead who pays full price to watch it.

Here’s more stupid: Team North America is comprised of players 23 and younger who will compete against others from their own countries.

The idea stinks especially for a team like the Sharks, who have six players on World Cup rosters. After 106 regular season and postseason games last season, they were left with less recovery time than any Western Conference team.

Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, Tomas Hertl, Roman Polak, Joe Pavelski or Marc-Edouard Vlasic went down for no good reason?

WHERE HAVE YOU GONE … Lord Stanley’s Cup?

Got an opinion? A gripe? A compliment? A compliment?! Send them to pladd@aol.com, and who knows, you may get your name in the paper before long.

aul ladewskiChip KellyClayton KershawLos Angeles DodgersMatt MooreOakland AthleticsSan Francisco 49ersSan Francisco Giants

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