With their playoff ticket already punched, the Dodgers have two goals this week:
1. Stay healthy. That means Hanley Ramirez plays two or three of the six games left in the regular season. If he could hit in a batting cage while wearing bubble wrap, the Dodgers would let him do that and keep him off the field entirely.
2. Hope the three playoff teams in the National League Central scratch and claw to the final day.
The week opens with the St. Louis Cardinals leading the NL Central. The Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates are tied for second, two games back. The Dodgers will almost assuredly open the playoffs against one of those teams.
The NL playoff field is basically settled, but the Cardinals, Reds and Pirates have a huge incentive to sprint to the finish. The NL Central champion advances directly into the best-of-five division series; the other two teams face a one-game wild-card playoff.
The Dodgers open the playoffs Oct. 3, with Clayton Kershaw lined up to start Game 1 and Zack Greinke set for Game 2.
If the NL Central champion remains undecided on Sunday -- the final day of the regular season -- any pitcher starting that day would be unable to start Game 1 of the playoffs on regular rest. An even better scenario for the Dodgers: a tie atop the NL Central, forcing a one-game tiebreaker next Monday that would take out two starting pitchers from consideration for Game 1 against the Dodgers.
The Pirates and Reds conclude the regular season with a three-game series next weekend in Cincinnati. The Reds first play three home games against the New York Mets; the Pirates first play three road games against the Chicago Cubs.