The time is right for some new history

BY foxsports • August 19, 2012

LOS ANGELES — Baseball is a game of statistics, history and rivalries; the importance of each a matter of personal preference.

Personally, history and rivalries trump statistics, though they probably fall into the same category. And growing up in the Los Angeles area, the rivalry I followed closest is right there with the best in any sport.

Los Angeles and San Francisco. The Dodgers and the Giants. Heck, the rivalry even predates California, with Bobby Thomson vs. Ralph Branca, Jackie Robinson vs. anyone with GIANTS scripted across his uniform shirt. And when the teams moved west, they brought the hate with them, best epitomized by Giants pitcher Juan Marichal taking a bat to the head of Dodgers catcher John Roseboro in 1965.

And with this being the 21st century, the rivalry’s even got its own website (www.dodgers-giants.com, which lists the team’s head-to-head record as 1,184-1,163 in favor of the Giants, dating back to the 1800s). Littered throughout their history are playoff-clinching wins and playoff-eliminating defeats (none more famous than Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” in 1951 to cap what was then the greatest comeback in baseball history — the Giants were 13-1/2 games back of the Dodgers on Aug. 11).

Of course, it didn’t help matters that the Giants were managed at the time by former Dodger Leo Durocher, perhaps the most hated figure of all in the rivalry’s history.

All of which brings us to Monday, the opener of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, which takes place with the Dodgers leading the Giants by a half-game for first place in the NL West. Monday will feature 2011 Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw (11-6) against Madison Bumgarner (13-7) in a matchup seemingly befitting of such a storied rivalry. So what part does the 128-year old rivalry play in this matchup?

None at all.

Ask any player on either roster, and he'll tell you that the only thing he's concentrating on is winning Monday night. History to these players is just that — history. The pressing matter is a division (or wild card spot) to be won, en route to what they hope will be a pennant and, ultimately, a World Series championship.

The Dodgers had a 7-1/2-game lead over struggling San Francisco as late as May 27, but Injuries and spotty pitching finally caught up with LA. The Giants have also struggled with injuries and spotty pitching (particularly with their bullpen by committee), as well as with their bats and the mysterious and staggering downfall of two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum.

The diminutive right-hander, who will start against Joe Blanton in the second game of the series, has turned into a liability for the Giants, going 6-13 with a 5.45 ERA and a terrible 1.50 WHIP. He was winless in May (0-4) and lost six straight in a six-week period stretching into June. He rarely gets the ball over 91 mph and if the Giants had another option, he'd probably be in the bullpen. Making it worse, they owe him $22 million next season despite not knowing if he will ever return to form.

The Giants made some moves to strengthen the club, acquiring Hunter Pence from Philadelphia at the non-waiver trade deadline, getting Marco Scutaro from Colorado a few days earlier, and picking up reliever Jose Mijares off waivers earlier this month. But with closer Brian Wilson (Tommy John surgery); former NL batting champion Freddy Sanchez out for the year with back surgery and Pablo Sandoval battling various injuries, the 2010 World Champs just haven't been able to stay consistent. Perhaps most symbolic of how drastic a turn to franchise has taken, Buster Posey is the only starter from the World Series team still playing every day for the club. Eleven of the 24 players who played in the series are gone, and Guillermo Mota is suspended (for the second time) for testing positive for PEDs (more on PEDs in a moment). At least Posey has delivered, hitting .424 since the All-Star break.

But the latest blow for the Giants could turn out to be the most severe. All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera will miss the rest of the regular season and five more games (either this postseason or the 2013 regular season) after testing positive for PEDs. The absence of Cabrera shines a brighter light on GM Brian Sabean, whose acquisition of Pence still keeps the Giants’ postseason hopes alive.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have had a ton of problems in 2012 (though none of them from cheating).

Early MVP candidate Matt Kemp missed 51 games with two hamstring injuries, and Andre Ethier also spent time on the DL and has seen his production slow. Chad Billingsley had been a testament to consistent inconsistency until his recent turnaround and six-game winning streak although he'll miss this series with the Giants). But with new ownership in place, the Dodgers have made trades, picked up millions of dollars in contracts and shown they're serious about winning. Those are all a far cry from the previous regime — especially if it took money to make the team better.

The Dodgers’ biggest move has been picking up Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins. Disgruntled in Florida, Ramirez is showing signs of returning to his batting champion form of 2009. He's hit .313 with four homers and 27 RBI in his 24 games as a Dodger. Shane Victorino, acquired at the deadline, has added fire and leadership to the clubhouse while scoring 12 runs and driving in seven in his 17 games for LA. Pitchers Joe Blanton, Randy Choate and Brandon League have solidified — at least on paper — a pitching staff that should be good enough to make a serious run down the stretch.

The Dodgers and Giants have each swept each other in three-game series this season — the Dodgers doing it last month at AT&T Park in San Francisco after the Giants shut the Dodgers out three straight in San Francisco in June. They play each other nine more times in the regular season, beginning with Monday’s opener and ending with the regular-season finale at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 3. That means nine more chances for announcers, talk show hosts and fans to rant about the rivalry. Great to think about, great to talk about.

But the team with the losing record in these remaining rivalry games may find itself watching the other on TV after those first few days in October. And for that team, it would be another ugly chapter in the story of the Dodgers and Giants.


share story