"It's all about this weekend and the 12 games that follow that."
One of these teams will finish Monday at the front of the National League West, and the other at or near the top of a tight Wild Card race. The series pits two teams in their most comfortable places, with their best arms facing off.
The Padres love being away from San Diego, as shown by their 38-32 record on the road through Thursday. In the midst of a 10-game road swing, the Padres have split the first six games against San Francisco and Cincinatti. At PETCO Park, the Padres are 38-37, that number climbing above .500 after their last homestand.
Los Angeles, on the other hand, feels much more comfortable at home, going 44-27 at Dodger Stadium entering Friday. The series features two marquee pitching matchups, including Friday night's game, featuring Greg Maddux against David Wells. Staff aces Brad Penny and Jake Peavy will face off in the series finale.
"This time of year separates the men from the boys," Little said.
Party like it's 1981:
Saturday will be a day of celebration for the Dodgers franchise, as it will take time to commemorate the 1981 World Series Championship.
Many team members from the Dodgers' fifth championship will be attending the festivities, including Fernando Valenzuela, who won the National League Cy Young and Rookie of the Year Awards in 1981. Three members of the Dodgers' infield that stayed together for 8 1/2 seasons will be there -- Steve Garvey, Ron Cey and Bill Russell. Cey will throw out the first pitch.
There will be a pregame ceremony on Saturday starting approximately at 6:30 p.m. PT, and also a press conference at 2:30 p.m. PT. Fans in attendance will receive a commemorative poster, but for those fans who can't make it to the game, they can view both the press conference and the pregame ceremony live at dodgers.com
Ethier back on Saturday:
Rookie of the Year candidate Andre Ethier has been given three straight days off, outside of a pinch-hit appearance in the ninth inning of Thursday's game in Chicago.
Little decided not to start him in Friday's series opener with San Diego, but he plans to put him in the lineup on Saturday.
This is the time of year when rookies tend to go through struggles, having had limited experience playing over the course of such a long season. Either is 114 games in through Thursday, and Little said he could tell the 24-year-old needed some time off. Despite his .138 average over the last 10 games, Ethier still has a healthy .320 average on the season.
"He really needed a break. Not only physical, but mostly mental," Little said.
"He's helped us get to where we are, but he kind of wore down a little bit and he needed a breather, so we gave it to him."
Little on Tomko:
Reliever Brett Tomko has had his struggles lately, posting an 11.57 ERA over six appearances in September.
He took the loss on Thursday after allowing four runs in the seventh inning, including a three-run homer to Aramis Ramirez. Little re-emphasized Tomko's importance in the Dodgers' 26-7 run from July 28-Sept. 2.
"Without him pitching that seventh inning during that stretch," said Little, "that streak would never have happened."
Dodger Dream Foundation opens seventh field:
On Saturday at 11 a.m. PT, closer Takashi Saito and starter Hong-Chih Kuo will be on hand to celebrate the grand opening of the seventh Dodgers Dream Field.
The field is located in San Marino at the Seoul International Recreation Center. The Dodgers Dream Foundation seeks to help disadvantaged youth, and Dodgers Dream Fields is the signature program.
The second game of this four-game National League West showdown takes place Saturday at 7:10 p.m. PT, with rookie right-hander Chad Billingsley (5-3, 3.02) facing San Diego right-hander Woody Williams (8-5, 3.79).