With still a week to go in July, the San Francisco Giants' upcoming three-game weekend series with the Los Angeles Dodgers is by no means a must-win.
Should the Giants falter by the bay, they will still have two more three-game cracks at the Dodgers in September, games that are sure to have a much more of an immediate impact to the standings.
But make no mistake, the Giants would benefit greatly from making a statement this weekend against the Dodgers.
With Los Angeles off to a slow start, San Francisco opened up a 9 1/2-game lead for first place in the NL West on June 8, but came back to Earth by losing nine of 10 to kick off a 10-22 run going into the All-Star break.
The Giants have righted the ship a bit by winning five of seven to begin the second half and are plating just over five runs per game, but their once- envied lead for first place currently sits at just 1 1/2 games going into Friday's opener.
It could be worse seeing the Giants actually went into the All-Star break trailing the Dodgers by a game.
It becomes curious then why it seems San Francisco isn't taking this meeting with Los Angeles as serious as its rivals. While L.A. set up its second-half rotation around this set, throwing Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu in succession, the Giants will counter with Tim Lincecum, Ryan Vogelsong and Yusmeiro Petit (in for an injured Matt Cain).
Manager Bruce Bochy could have moved things around so his two top hurlers -- Tim Hudson and Madison Bumgarner -- were available for this set, but opted against it.
Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly, whose club got back into the division race by winning 16 of its next 22 beginning on June 8, took the opposite approach.
"I think it's important. I don't want to downplay it," Mattingly told MLB.com of the series. "We're set to take on the team we bump heads with and it's nice to have the best guys, but it's not like you win this series and you've got it. Nobody will think it's over. We try to win every series. We want to win the division. Everybody knows you don't want to be the Wild Card. It's Russian Roulette. It's a game where, if everything goes wrong, the season's over."
The pressure being applied by Los Angeles will force San Francisco's hand before next week's trade deadline. With Cain's right elbow a wild card, the Giants will likely attempt to add one, if not two, capable starters.
The Giants also will be in play for some outfield help, but their biggest concern on offense is at second base.
Production just hasn't been there this season for the Giants, with Joaquin Arias buried on the bench thanks to a .191 average. Ehire Adrianza was an option, but he may go on the disabled list for a second time because of a strained hamstring.
Things are so bad at the spot that San Francisco took a flier on former Braves second baseman Dan Uggla and his .162 average through 48 games this year. Adrianza's injury may force Uggla into the lineup sooner rather than later, and that is like picking out the Sylvester Stallone-penned "Homefront" to impress your friends on movie night.
There is still plenty of baseball left, but the Giants can't afford to squander a chance to put the Dodgers on their heels.