Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants Will Make It a Fight to the Finish

Richard LeivenbergContributor IIIJuly 5, 2012

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JUNE 26: Ryan Theriot #5 of the San Francisco Giants is tagged out at home by A.J. Ellis #17 of the Los Angeles Dodgers during the fifth inning at AT&T Park on June 26, 2012 in San Francisco, California. The San Francisco Giants defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers 2-0. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)
Jason O. Watson/Getty Images

As we near the end of the first half of the season, it appears the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will be at it again, engaging in a fight to the finish for first place in the NL Western Division.

It has been anything but a predictable first half for the division and for these two lifelong competitors.

The Dodgers got out of the gate fast and not only took over first place but at one point led the entire major leagues in winning percentage.

To say that was a surprise is an understatement. No one predicted the Dodgers to be anything but mediocre this season.  Experts viewed the team as a two-man show of Cy Young Award-winner Clayton Kershaw and superstar outfielder Matt Kemp.

The rest of the team was a hodgepodge of wayward veterans like Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, Juan Uribe and Adam Kennedy and young hopefuls like Dee Gordon.

They had no power on the corners, a questionable catching crew and a no-name bench. The pitching staff looked comfortable and the bullpen solid as the season began, but would that be enough to create a winning team?

So when Kemp went down with an injury, the critics were primed to tell you, "I told you so."

The Giants, meanwhile, made a slow and steady rise to the top as their pitching kicked into gear and their line-up gelled.

Their success in June perfectly counter-balanced the Dodgers' demise.

The Dodgers were 11-17 in June and lost six of their last eight games in May.

Meanwhile, the Giants were 17-11 in June and won nine of their last 13 games in May.

Eventually, the Giants caught and passed the Dodgers during a winning streak that included an historic three-game series, all of which were shut-outs.

It looked as if the Dodgers would sink into their predicted .500 team record while the Giants would take their natural place in first.

But, hold on one second. Over the past week, the two teams have traded punches and the boys in blue do not want to go so quietly.

Despite the absence of both Kemp and Andre Ethier, now on the DL, they have sucked it up and actually beat the well-rounded Cincinnati Reds.

And, the Dodgers still have some pretty darn good pitching, with a 3.26 ERA. The Reds, by the way, aren't too bad, ranking third behind the Dodgers in ERA at 3.46.

What will happen in the second half?  Will the Dodgers pick up a solid hitter to buoy Kemp and Ethier in the lineup? Will the new management go after a prominent pitcher like Cole Hamels to add further strength to their strong rotation?

Can Manager Don Mattingly continue to work wonders with his make-shift lineup?

Suffice to say, one of the best rivalries in all of sports—the Giants vs. the Dodgers—is gearing up for a great second half.

Who will win the division?