SAN FRANCISCO The Los Angeles Dodgers, you may remember, limped out of AT&T Park on June 28 with their division lead gone, top hitters Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier injured, and carrying the ignominious distinction of having not scored a run in three games.
They return tonight a more intact bunch, with Kemp and Ethier in tow and now backed by big-name trade acquisition Hanley Ramirez, and as the ebb and flow of a long season would have it, they are catching the Giants a little shorthanded without injured Pablo Sandoval.
"Yeah, they're healthier (than the last series)," said Giants manager Bruce Bochy after his team's 6-3 loss to San Diego on Wednesday. "They were missing a couple key players, and they've gotten some help, (but) we're going to play our best ball.
"But nothing changes. It doesn't matter who you're playing, injuries, whatever, you've still got to go out there and find a way to win."
After this weekend, the Giants and Dodgers will meet three more times before the season ends, and Bochy was careful to put this three-game series in perspective, saying it's one that "people are looking forward to both clubs are," but little about its significance.
Still, the Giants carry a three-game lead over their rivals into the series, just as the Dodgers did in June. And as that sweep propelled the Giants out of second place for the first time in months, the results of this weekend could be felt into August.
"From a momentum standpoint, you always want to get the upper hand, as far as that goes," said Giants second baseman Ryan Theriot. "And they're good games, there's no way around that.
"Yeah, we do play them a couple more times, but, yeah, it's important. To win in your division is important. Especially if it's a team that's been on your heels, and you've been trading first and second place with them all year."
The Giants are 9-3 since the All-Star break, and the three-game division lead matches their season high. It has helped that even with the return of Kemp and Ethier since the break, the Dodgers have gone 6-7, including losses in both games since they acquired Ramirez from the Miami Marlins.
News of the Dodgers adding Ramirez, the 2009 National League batting champion, came the same day that the Giants confirmed Sandoval had strained his hamstring and then were stymied by Padres pitcher Jason Marquis.
Afterward, right-hander Tim Lincecum was asked if players were waiting to see whether the Giants would counter the Dodgers' move.
"Maybe a little bit just to see what we're going to do," Lincecum said. "That's just been our M.O. In 2010, making the moves, that made the difference in our season, so we're probably wondering what we're going to do here.
"But I feel like we've got all the right pieces. Obviously if Pablo comes back healthy and fast, maybe we won't need to make a move, so we're hoping for that. But whatever changes are made, that'll be up to them."
The Giants are expected to decide today on whether to place Sandoval on the disabled list or play shorthanded if they believe he might be able to return in a week. Either way, they will in all likelihood face the Dodgers this weekend without one of their primary RBI hitters.
"He's a bat in the lineup that you have to have, on a team that's offensively kind of sneakily done some really good things this year," Theriot said. "To have Pablo here, I think, is definitely important, and I think he'll be OK. But Hanley definitely gives them a big push, and I think we'll see what happens in the end.
"Hanley's a great player, and he's done some wonderful things in this game, and obviously he's going to help them out, so it just makes these games that much more important."
BIG SERIES GIANTS VS. DODGERS
Today: Matt Cain (10-3), S.F. vs. Stephen Fife (0-0), L.A.; 7:15 p.m., CSNBA
Saturday: Barry Zito (8-6) vs. Chad Billingsley (5-9); 1:05 p.m., FOX40
Sunday: Ryan Vogelsong (8-4) vs. Clayton Kershaw (7-6); 1:05 p.m., CSNBA