The Giants-Dodgers Rivalry Ready To Add Another Chapter

The Giants-Dodgers rivalry has always been the West Coast version of Red Sox-Yankees, two ancient foes with an abiding dislike for each other that have several great pennant race moments in their history. This year it’s even more so.

The Yankees are being more restrained with their money while the Dodgers freely flex their financial muscle. The Red Sox are a last-place team for the third time in four years while the Giants are the game’s gold standard when it comes to clutch performance.

Now the Giants and Dodgers come down the stretch in what looks to be baseball’s best division race in the final month-plus. Los Angeles holds a 1 ½ game lead. The wild-card is a longshot, with the Chicago Cubs seven games up on San Francisco. It looks like winner-take-all in the NL West.

To set the stage for the closing month, TheSportsNotebook is going to preview these teams with the same sort of comparison/contrast that this site uses for a postseason series preview. Let’s lay out how each team looks in the four areas that win or lose baseball games—hitting for power, getting men on base, starting pitching and the bullpen. Then close it out with a look at how Las Vegas views each team.

GETTING MEN ON BASE: Both teams have several players who excel at consistently keeping the basepaths full. For the Dodgers, it’s catcher Yasmani Grandal, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, leftfielder Andre Ethier and third baseman Justin Turner, all of whom have OBPs over .360.

Other contributors include second baseman Howie Kendrick—currently injured, but expected back in September. Rookie centerfielder Joc Pederson’s year-long numbers are good, but he’s slowed considerably since an electric first half of the season and has begun to lose playing time to Enrique Hernandez. Either way, manager Don Mattingly has someone who can get the job done.

The middle infield is what’s intriguing, as the Dodgers have re-united the veterans of the excellent Philadelphia Phillies teams from 2007-11, with Jimmy Rollins and the newly acquired Chase Utley, who will stand in for Kendrick at second base. Neither player is doing anything this year, but accomplished veterans in September fighting for perhaps one last October moment aren’t to be dismissed.

San Francisco’s lineup has a similar profile. Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Nori Aoki and Gregor Blanco all have OBPs ranging from .351 to .377. Second baseman Joe Panik sits at .374, one of the toughest outs in the game, although he’s injured right now.

The Giants, like the Dodgers, except their second baseman back in the first part of September. San Francisco is also missing Hunter Pence, whose .327 OBP isn’t great, but is above the league average.

Kelby Tomlinson has been plugged into Panik’s spot and in a very short sample size, has a .341 OBP. And third baseman Matt Duffy has been the precise opposite of the Dodgers’ Peterson—a rookie who has come on in the second half rather than the first half. Duffy sits with a .345 OBP.

San Francisco’s biggest strength, when compared to Los Angeles, is that there are no obvious weak points in this lineup. The only current starter with an OBP under .300 is newly acquired Marlon Byrd, and he’ll take a seat when Pence comes back, hopefully early September.

HITTING FOR POWER: Here again, there’s consistency up and down the lineup for both teams. The Dodgers have seven starters (if you assume Kendrick rather than Utley at second base) whose slugging percentage exceeds the league average and in every case except Kendrick, it’s substantially above that line. The Giants have six starters (assuming Pence and Panik in the lineup) who do, with Blanco right on the line. When you consider that both teams play in pitcher’s parks, it’s obvious that these are teams really built on power, in spite of their pitching reputations that we’ll get to in a moment.

The impact power hitters—defined by slugging percentage rather than home runs—for the Dodgers would Gonzalez, Grandal, Turner, Ethier and Pederson. But the post-All Star break struggles of the latter have been mentioned. Pederson hasn’t been the same player since he entertained the nation at the Home Run Derby, making the finals and nearly derailing hometown favorite Todd Frazier in Cincinnati.

You might be surprised to learn that San Francisco’s best slugging percentage is owned by shortstop Brandon Crawford, who’s quietly transformed from a pure defensive SS to perhaps the game’s best all-around player at the position. That grand slam he hit in last year’s wild-card game at Pittsburgh was apparently his coming out party as a power guy. Crawford is joined by Buster Posey, Duffy and Pence, whom this team really needs back in the lineup.

STARTING PITCHING: The biggest names in baseball are right here in this rivalry. Continue reading “The Giants-Dodgers Rivalry Ready To Add Another Chapter” »