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3 to Watch: The 'Giant opportunity' edition

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
The Giants, who spent most of May six or seven games behind the Dodgers in the National League West, have made up 4 1/2 games in the last seven days.

Not bad. They might want to think about making up the rest of the gap (three games as of Sunday night) sometime fairly soon.

Why now?

A few reasons:

The Dodgers, with Matt Kemp back on the disabled list and expected to miss a month this time, look particularly vulnerable right now. Their best player is missing, and their schedule looks tougher, with four games in Philadelphia this week and a homestand against the recently revived Angels and White Sox next week.

Meanwhile, the Giants have another game against the Cubs, then three against the Padres.

Including the 2008 and 2009 NLCS, the Dodgers have lost 14 of their last 18 games at Citizens Bank Park, dating back to the start of 2008.

You can say the Phillies aren't the same team right now. But neither are the Dodgers.

While the Dodgers will be without Kemp for a while, the Giants expect to get Pablo Sandoval back from the disabled list soon, possibly this Friday. It's hard to say how much immediate impact he'll have (he may only bat left-handed to begin with), but it's easy to say how important he was to them before he went out with a broken hamate bone (he led the team in home runs, runs scored and RBI).

The Giants have done better than expected without Sandoval, so much better that they're actually averaging more runs a game without him than with him (thanks in large part to general manager Brian Sabean's smart offseason trades for Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan).

Sabean isn't shy about making midseason deals, either, as he proved when he traded Zack Wheeler (now excelling in the Mets' minor-league system) for Carlos Beltran last year.

But with new owners finally in place in Los Angeles, the word in baseball is that the Dodgers will be as aggressive as any team on this summer's trade market (and on next winter's free-agent market).

The Dodgers want to deal for both a starting pitcher and a hitter, and are very willing to take on big contracts if necessary.

It's easy to find people in baseball who aren't convinced by the Dodgers' early record this year (33-21 through Sunday). It's just as easy to find people who believe that the Dodgers will become a power again under their new ownership.

As of now, though, they're just the fading leader in baseball's weakest division.

As of now -- right now -- the Giants have a chance to catch them.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. The baseball draft begins at 7 p.m. Monday, a few minutes before Clayton Kershaw will take the mound in Dodgers at Phillies, Monday night (7:05 ET) at Citizens Bank Park. Kershaw is as good an example as any of why you should believe only a little of what teams tell you after making their first pick. The five players picked ahead of Kershaw in 2006 were Luke Hochevar (Royals), Greg Reynolds (Rockies), Evan Longoria (Rays), Brad Lincoln (Pirates), Brandon Morrow (Mariners) and Andrew Miller (Tigers). Every one of those teams bypassed Kershaw; every one of those players, with the exception of Longoria, isn't close to as valuable as Kershaw today. Vance Worley, who starts for the Phillies, was a third-round pick two years later. Now, as he's available to take the rotation spot vacated when Roy Halladay went on the disabled list, the Phillies are mighty happy they did take him.

2. In his first five seasons in the big leagues, Tim Lincecum had just two months where his ERA was over 5.00 (June 2007 and August 2010). This year, Lincecum's ERA was over 5.00 in each of the first two months (5.74 in April, 5.88 in May). The good news is that he'll begin June with Giants at Padres, Tuesday night (10:05 ET) at Petco Park. Lincecum has won six of his last seven starts against the Padres (including one this April), giving up just seven earned runs in 48 innings for a 1.31 ERA. The Giants have won 13 of their last 17 meetings with the Padres.

3. Through Sunday, the two wild-card spots in the American League belonged to the Orioles and the Yankees, both in the AL East (with the Rays winning the division). It could end up that way, but it won't be easy, because of weeks like this. The Yankees and the Rays will meet 12 more times this year, including three times in the series that ends with Rays at Yankees, Thursday night (7:05 ET) at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees also have 10 games left with the Orioles, and the Orioles have 13 games remaining with the Rays. And each of those teams has plenty of games left with the Red Sox and the Blue Jays (including Orioles-Red Sox this week). Thursday's Rays-Yankees game is another David Price-CC Sabathia matchup. The Rays won the first five Price-Sabathia matchups, with Sabathia and the Yankees finally winning one last month.

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