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Dodgers all-in, but NL West still in Giants' mitts

Dodgers all-in, but NL West still in Giants' mitts

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Dodgers all-in, but NL West still in Giants' mitts
There really can be no question that the megadeal the Dodgers worked out this weekend significantly alters the course of the franchise, and by extension the National League West, for several years to come.

The issue in question, for the moment, is what the jaw-dropping load of talent and salary the Dodgers acquired from the Red Sox will do for them this year -- more precisely, in the 40 days that remain in the 2012 regular season.

Serving notice to the rest of the NL West in mind-boggling fashion, the Dodgers certainly have gone all-in to make the 2012 title their own.

But that outcome really remains up to the Giants at this point. They're the ones leading. They're the ones holding their destiny in their own hands, three games ahead of the Dodgers at the time of the deal.

Of course, the Dodgers have a Wild Card race to think about as well, back by just 1 1/2 games with the deal done, and they look quite a bit more dangerous as a postseason participant.

But they still have to make it. As much as they're all-in, they're not in yet.

For now, there's a simple question made long by the list of names involved: Will the influx of first baseman extraordinaire Adrian Gonzalez, scuffling but accomplished starter Josh Beckett, veteran utilitarian Nick Punto and injured outfielder Carl Crawford cheering them on from the sideline be enough to push the Dodgers over the top in the NL West this year?

It's surely no slam dunk -- or even a Magic Johnson junior-junior sky hook across the lane. Things happen down the stretch, and there are no guarantees for the Dodgers. But after what now might be seen as a mini-boost at the Trade Deadline and now this, boy, are they re-reloaded?

However, the Giants -- staggered but apparently undaunted by their devastating loss of Melky Cabrera to a drug suspension -- are a substantial obstacle, and they might be playing their best ball of the season as we count the days toward September.

Again, this deal is much bigger and will have much deeper roots than whatever happens in the next 40 days. If all goes well for the Dodgers, and especially if Crawford returns and plays somewhere near his pre-Boston form, they're instantly one of the best teams in the league, not just the division. The Dodgers' new ownership is making a statement of commitment, and putting some major dollar signs behind it.

But as 2012 draws to a thrilling close, the Giants still have the biggest say in their own destiny and how they play their last 36 games following their rival's big doings. That includes six Giants-Dodgers matchups that have a little more oomph to them now, to be sure, but the Giants say they're determined not to look ahead to those, or look in the rear-view mirror in the standings.

"We just have to worry about us," Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong said when hearing of the deal. "We can't worry about what teams have what players. At the end of the day, the guys in this room will have to win the game and play the way we have to play. That's all you can do."

As for the prospect of facing a deeper Dodgers lineup, Vogelsong said, "I'll worry about it when I have to pitch against them."

Indeed, there's more for opposing pitchers to worry about when facing the Dodgers, who quickly become more of a force with Gonzalez joining Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier in the middle of the lineup.

Chiefly, what the Dodgers got for now and for five more years after this one is one of the game's premier first basemen with the arrival of A-Gone, creating an intriguing lefty-righty combo with Kemp. Switching Gonzalez in for the James Loney/Juan Rivera platoon will in every way be an upgrade for the stretch run and beyond. A-Gone is an all-around star player, even if his 2012 performance thus far is a down-tick on his career chart.

The Dodgers also could get a boost if Beckett enjoys a return to the National League brand of pitching, in one of the game's more pitcher-friendly parks, and if Punto provides a spark with his veteran professionalism in any role.

When it comes to Beckett, a lot depends on what he has to offer in his last seven or eight starts. With talk of his postseason experience being a factor in the deal, the Dodgers still have the matter of getting there. And he'll have to come through in key games to make that happen.

This year, Beckett wears the label of underachieving, highly paid veteran, albeit one pitching through some injury problems that couldn't have helped his performance. Fact is, it's been nearly a decade since his ascension as the kind of horse who can carry a team to glory (see: Game 6, 2003 World Series) and a good handful of years since he was a big part of the 2007 Red Sox World Series title.

Ultimately, this deal reinforces the idea that the Giants will have to win their division on the backs of their pitchers -- and do it without a set closer, by the way. Even with Cabrera gone, the Giants' offense is deeper and more dangerous than it was in 2010, but it's not the team's strength, not by a long shot. Pitching and just enough offense was the championship formula in 2010, and it'll have to be the formula now.

The problem for the Giants is that the Dodgers have been the stronger team on the mound, statistically at least. Now that they've made themselves even stronger offensively, the Dodgers are making their move, and the Giants' best defense from the top will be to hold down opponents, most notably the re-reloaded Dodgers.

How it all shakes out largely depends on how the Giants handle themselves down the stretch, not necessarily just the Dodgers.

John Schlegel is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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