The Sunday finale prior to the All Star Game break already has media and fans (and the ball clubs too, though they won’t admit it) looking ahead to the July 25-27 three-game showdown series between the Dodgers and Giants at AT&T Park. The Dodgers looked like the pitching-rich teams of the Koufax-Drysdale era of the 1960s, winning 1-0 against the San Diego Padres for the second straight day to preserve a one-game lead over the Giants. The slumping Giants suddenly went from misdemeanor row to murderers row in one afternoon, as catcher Buster Posey and pitcher Madison Bumgarner slugged grand slams.
It’s not easy to predict what either team will do once play resumes on Friday. Everybody recalls the Dodgers’ off the charts 42-8 run that cemented their division crown a year ago. But that was a freak streak — those things just don’t easily repeat. Both teams have pitching with the potential of keeping them relevant deep into September. There will be no predictions here, but here are some things to consider as the Giants and Dodgers possibly prepare to launch one the rivalry’s great pennant races.
THE SCHEDULE: The three games the Dodgers and Giants play near the end of July will be great theater, but they won’t decide who wins the Tony. Starting Friday, and lasting through Aug. 24, the teams shift play away from the weak bottom-three of the NL West to an out-of- division schedule. The team that fares best against this challenge may be your NL West champion.
The Giants play 31 of 34 games during this period against out-of-division foes, with the three games against the Dodgers the only exception. The Dodgers play 29 of 35 games during this stretch against teams out of the division. The Giants might have a slight advantage in the matchups. The Dodgers have seven against NL East contender Atlanta, six against NL Central contender Milwaukee and four against the red-hot Angels in a home and away series. The Giants have seven against vulnerable Philadelphia, but also must face formidable opponents such as Washington, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and the White Sox. The Dodgers are home for 17 of these 35 games. The Giants are home for just 11 of the 34.
PENNANT RACES: The teams have had 10 strong head-to-head pennant races since coming to California in 1958. The Giants won titles in four of them (1962, 1971, 1997 and 2012). The Dodgers won titles in five of them (1959, 1965, 1966, 1978 and 2004). The teams eliminated each other in 1982.
STATS MATCHUP: The teams are fairly even in hitting and pitching statistics this year. Complicating that analysis is that the Giants built their numbers with a torrid start that led to a 9-1/2 game lead at one point, and have notably fallen since then. The Dodgers are batting .258 to the Giants .243, and have outscored them 403-365. The Giants have a slight lead in homers 84-76. A difference-maker for the Dodgers might be their speed. Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon channels up memories of speedster Maury Wills of 1962, having stole 42 bases so far. The Giants team has 35, and 11 have come from Angel Pagan, who has missed significant time because of injury.
ATTENDANCE: Who will have the biggest support? It looks about even. The Dodgers lead the league in attendance this year with 2,230,760, while the Giants have drawn 2,163,097.
NO-HITTERS: The Dodgers have two this year tossed by Clayton Kershaw and Josh Beckett. The Giants have one thrown by Tim Lincecum. If there is one recorded in the nine games the teams have remaining against each other this year, history says it is unlikely to come from a Giant. The last five no-hitters in the rivalry have been thrown by Dodgers: Kevin Gross (1992), Jerry Reuss (1980), Sandy Koufax (1963), Carl Erskine (1956) and Rex Barney (1948). The last Giant to no-hit the Dodgers was Rube Marquard in 1915. The Giants Tom Lovett, a 23-game winner in 1891, was the first to throw a no-hitter in the rivalry, beating the Dodgers 4-1 that year. Amos Rusie, who was the losing pitcher in that game, countered a month later by no-hitting the Giants 6-0. Rusie’s performance was no fluke. That season, he was 33-20, with 52 complete games and 337 strikeouts in 500 innings.
PUIG VS. POSEY: These are the offensive stars for the two teams. The success of each club may very well rest on which produces the best. So far, Puig has the upper statistical hand, leading Posey in average (.309 to .275), OBP (.393 to .331), RBI (52 to 46) and HR (14 to 12). Of course it’s hard to measure Posey’s value to his team as a catcher with baseball savvy against Puig’s raw play and his sometimes costly decisions in the field and on the bases. But ultimately, the story of the 2014 Giants-Dodgers season may be answered in who delivered the best when it mattered — Puig or Posey.
PITCHING MATCHUPS: Based on each managers’ post-break rotations, it appears the pitching matchups for the July series will be Zack Grienke vs. Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw vs. Ryan Vogelson, Matt Cain vs. Hyn-Jin Ryu. I was hoping for Kershaw vs. Lincecum, and maybe there will be some tweak in the starters that will make that possible. The combination of Lincecum’s recent success, and his charismatic flair, against All-World Kershaw would give today’s younger fans a feeling of what it was like in the 1960s when Sandy Koufax dueled Juan Marichal. The Kershaw-Lincecum matchups in 2011 were classics. Kershaw was a rising star and Lincecum had quickly established himself as one of the best in the game. Kershaw showed greatness was in his future as he won all four matchups against Lincecum. The stats from the four games: Kershaw 30.1 IP, 2 R, 16 H, 36 SO, 5 BB. Lincecum: 29 IP, 5 R, 24 H, 23 SO, 12 BB. C’mon, Don Mattingly and Bruce Bochy, line up your rotation so we get this matchup.
So let’s get that Home Run Derby and All-star exhibition done and gone so we can get to some old country hardball over the next month that will shape the National League post-season picture. I can’t wait.