Why a Dodgers-Giants Race in NL West Would Be Great for Baseball
Major League Baseball is at its best when the old rivalries are alive and well. When the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees are at each other's throats, and the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants are doing battle for control of the Western Seaboard, life is good.
By my reckoning, this means that life hasn't been good for some time now.
The last year that the Red Sox-Yankees and Dodgers-Giants rivalries both really meant something at the same time was 2004, which was a damn good year for Major League Baseball. One of the best in the league's history.
As I'm sure you well remember, that was the year the Sox and Yanks came to blows during the regular season, and then played one of the greatest playoff series in baseball history. And perhaps for the first time in the rivalry's history, it felt like an actual rivalry because the Red Sox actually beat those damn Yankees.
The Dodgers and Giants also fought a good fight in 2004, one that went down to the wire. It wasn't until the penultimate day of the season that the Dodgers clinched the NL West title, and they did it on a walk-off grand slam from Steve Finley.
That was eight years ago. Nearly a decade.
Believe it or not, 2004 was the last time the Dodgers and Giants finished as the top two teams in the NL West. In the years that followed, the old Dodgers-Giants rivalry saw its intensity slowly wither away due to a variety of circumstances.
That same problem has afflicted the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry. In fact, it's clear now, eight years later, that the Red Sox winning in 2004 was the worst thing that could have possibly happened to the rivalry. It's still a great rivalry, but now the Red Sox are too much like them.
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Games between the Sox and Yanks used to be mini-reenactments of the first battle scene from Braveheart, sans the bagpipes and bare behinds. Now, Sox-Yankees games more closely resemble hushed arguments between two billionaires over a piece of expensive cheese. And these arguments all too often last five freakin' hours.
Baseball fans have had just about enough of Red Sox-Yankees. Their games still draw plenty of eyes, and are good for business, but the rivalry has grown stale. Only Red Sox and Yankees fans give a damn.
There's little hope of that changing this season. The Yankees have won six of nine against the Red Sox, and they currently hold an eight-game lead over them in the AL East. The odds of the rivalry amounting to anything more than just hype in the final two months of the 2012 season are somewhere between slim and none.
So that means it's up to the Dodgers and Giants to make sure that at least one of baseball's old rivalries is alive and well this season. It's up to them to do battle over a shared goal, thus inspiring fans to remember all the old sepia-toned battles that took place many moons ago.
Major League Baseball does not have to hope for the Dodgers-Giants rivalry to provide some high drama in the final two months of the season. All the league has to do is watch. Same goes for the fans.
Don't worry. The Dodgers and the Giants have got this.
There's no need to point this out to the people on the West Coast, but those of you on the East Coast should take note that the Dodgers and Giants are locked in a full-on war for the NL West crown this season. It's clear now that they are two evenly matched teams, and in recent days the ante has been upped and the stakes have been raised.
The Dodgers and Giants have played nine games this season. The Dodgers have won five, the Giants four. That's as close as it gets, yet each team has gotten the chance the show the other what's what.
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The Giants got their turn when they swept the Dodgers in three games in late June, outscoring them 13-0 in the process. Per the Elias Sports Bureau, via ESPN.com, it was the first time in the club's history that the Dodgers had been shut out in each game of a three-game series.
The Giants sent a message with that sweep: "You better get better."
The Dodgers accepted that challenge.
It took a couple weeks for things to come together, but Dodgers' general manager Ned Colletti eventually added Hanley Ramirez to an offense that already included Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. He also added lefty-specialist Randy Choate to a bullpen that already ranked among the best of the best in Major League Baseball.
The Dodgers took their improved team back to San Francisco this past weekend, and got revenge on the Giants with a three-game sweep of their own. Ramirez hit a game-winning home run in the first game of the series, and the Dodgers finished it off with consecutive shutouts.
The message they sent with this sweep sounded awfully familiar: "You better get better."
The Giants did just that at the trade deadline, dealing for a much-needed power hitter in Hunter Pence.
Let there be no doubt about it: The Dodgers are the clear winners of the 2012 trade deadline. They added four very good pieces to their roster, and are a significantly better team now than they were as recently as a week ago. All it took was some aggressiveness on Colletti's part, and in the case of Ramirez, a little bit of cash.
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It's amazing how things can change in a year. Colletti didn't have any cash to play with last season, as then-owner Frank McCourt was plum out of funds and squabbling with MLB over money. As such, Colletti couldn't be aggressive at the trade deadline, no matter how badly he wanted to.
If the Dodgers were still owned by McCourt, they likely would not have done anything at the deadline. Because of that, the Giants probably would not have done anything either. Brian Sabean would not have felt the turning of the screw and made a deal for Pence at the last minute.
This just goes to show how much the NL West has changed over the last few months. The Giants had the run of the place for a while there, but that was only because the Dodgers were down and out over the ongoing financial crisis at the top of the pyramid.
That's over now. The Dodgers have cash, and more importantly they have the desire to win.
The Giants also have cash. Their nearly $120 million payroll says so. They have the desire to win as well, and would very much like to get back on top of the baseball world after winning it all in 2010. And of course, it's in their interest to please a fanbase that fills AT&T Park night after night after night.
There will be no rebuilding in Los Angeles or San Francisco for some time. Instead, there will be a perpetual arms race, one that will last for at least a few years. Indeed, this arms race has already begun.
But an arms race in and of itself does not make a rivalry. Shoot, the Red Sox and Yankees have been mired in a perpetual arms race for a decade, and the reason it's growing stale has more to do with the action (or lack thereof) out on the field than the action in each club's respective front office. In the end, baseball comes down to, you know, actual baseball.
Who's winning the NL West?
The Dodgers and Giants rivalry has not disappointed to that end yet, and the recent flurry of activity on the part of both clubs at the trade deadline makes one excited for what's to come. The Dodgers and Giants are clearly speeding towards a climax that would put The Dark Knight Rises to shame.
Or, at least we hope so. Things have gotten too good to start sucking now. The Dodgers and Giants need to finish this season in style.
That would be good for everyone, especially Major League Baseball. People now react to the league's premier rivalry by yawning. The league needs its other premier rivalry to take center stage, and remind the sports-loving public that baseball's roots go deep, and bad blood is forever.
So don't stand on ceremony, Dodgers and Giants. The board is set, and you know the rules.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.
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