3 to Watch: The 'Dodgers need a sweep' edition

With four weeks to go in the season, no team is going to say it needs to sweep a series.

That's OK. I'll say it.

If the Dodgers want to stay in the National League West race, they need to sweep the Giants this weekend in San Francisco.

They begin the series with a 4 1/2-game deficit. They begin it with the knowledge that Chad Billingsley won't pitch again this year, and with some uncertainty about what they can expect from closer Kenley Jansen (who has an irregular heartbeat and in hoping to return in the middle of September).

And they begin it realizing that the remaining schedule doesn't favor them. And that's putting it mildly.

After this weekend, the Giants won't play another playoff contender until the final three days of the season -- when they face the Dodgers in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers have a trip where they'll face the teams with the two best records in the National League -- the Nationals and the Reds. They also have a four-game home series against the Cardinals.

Including this weekend's three games against the Giants, the Dodgers will play 16 of their final 24 games against teams that as of now would be in the NL playoffs.

The Giants will play none.

The Dodgers begin this weekend just 1 1/2 games behind the Cardinals for the last wild-card spot, but even there, the schedule works strongly against them. The Cardinals still have two series remaining against the Astros and one against the Cubs.

"We have to go out and play every game like it's our last game," Matt Kemp told reporters this week.

And if they want to have any chance at winning the division, this weekend they need a sweep.

On to 3 to Watch:

1. Jered Weaver's sore right shoulder robbed us of what would have been a Weaver-Justin Verlander matchup Saturday night. But Thursday's off-day allowed the Angels to still line up Ervin Santana, C.J. Wilson and Zack Greinke for a series that could end up being important in the wild-card race. Santana, who is 3-1 with a 2.96 ERA in his last four starts, opens it up by facing Max Scherzer in Tigers at Angels, Friday night (10:05 ET) at Angel Stadium. Scherzer is having maybe the most under-the-radar fine season in the league, with 15 wins and 204 strikeouts. He's been brilliant lately, going 5-0 with a 1.03 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 35 innings in his last five starts.

2. Three years ago, when Tim Lincecum was on his way to a second straight Cy Young and Josh Beckett was on his way to 17 wins, a Lincecum-Beckett matchup might have been the game of the year. Of course, three weeks ago, this Dodgers-Giants series looked like it might be the series of the year. It still holds interest, as does the Beckett-Lincecum matchup in Dodgers at Giants, Friday night (10:15 ET) at AT&T Park. Beckett is coming off one of his best starts of the year. Lincecum, whose 6.42 ERA 133rd out of 134 regular major-league starters at the All-Star break (only the Twins' Nick Blackburn was worse), ranks 27th with a 3.26 ERA since then.

3. As colleague Jon Heyman likes to point out, it's a little funny that the guy the Red Sox seem to prefer as Bobby Valentine's eventual replacement is the one guy who trails Valentine's Red Sox in the American League East. John Farrell's Blue Jays have a better excuse, because of injuries that destroyed the pitching staff and then cost them Jose Bautista, their best hitter. The Farrell-to-the-Red Sox talk is sure to heat up this weekend, especially with Clay Buchholz on the mound for Blue Jays at Red Sox, Sunday afternoon (1:35 ET) at Fenway Park. David Waldstein of the New York Times reported last November that the Blue Jays asked for Buchholz when the Red Sox wanted Farrell to replace Terry Francona. That's worth remembering, since Farrell is under contract with the Jays for 2013. The only way the Red Sox could get him this winter would be to agree with the Blue Jays on compensation.

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