For years, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers have had the biggest rivalry in baseball that doesn’t include the term “Red Sox vs. Yankees,” with every game just as heated as the one on the east coast.
However, as both teams have struggled and as players have gone from team to team in the National League West, the rivalry has cooled in recent years.
The thing that had the battle going when both teams moved west was that almost all the players on each roster were homegrown and were taught to hate each other.
That may be coming back, with both teams going with a younger nucleus as the 2009 season is set to begin.
Imagine the Giants and the Dodgers competing for the western division crown a few years from now and toeing the slab are two ridiculously talented lefties who are barely old enough to buy a beer in the ballpark.
This could very well be the case when Madison Bumgarner hits the bigs and will be matched up against fellow flame-throwing southpaw Clayton Kershaw.
In recent years, the Giants-Dodgers rivalry has seemed to sputter a little bit. With Dodgers fan not having Barry Bonds to scream at from the left field bleachers at Chavez Ravine, there just doesn't seem to be the same kind of passion as there once was.
When one team has been up recently, the other team has been down. Not since 2004 when both the Giants and the Dodgers won 91 and 93 games, respectively, have both teams been in the race for the NL West crown at the same time.
That may all change with both teams developing some of the best talent in the division.
Instead of landing the big-money free agents not named Manny Ramirez, the Dodgers have built their team with a foundation of players born in the mid-1980s.
The Dodgers' famed farm system that has recently produced Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Chad Billingsley, and Kershaw might be slowing down a little bit, but they remain the biggest players whenever it comes to international signings, as well as finding a gem or two every year in the draft.
Billingsly, Kershaw, and Loney may have been first round picks, but Martin was snagged in the 17th round.
The same couldn't be said about the Dodgers' rivals to the north. It's no secret that general manager Brian Sabean likes to sign a veteran or two every winter. A player in his mid-30s was nothing new to Giants fans as Sabean tried to build a legitimate team while failing to develop young players.
Because of that, the system was considered one of the worst in all of baseball. And when a player who was actually considered a quality prospect reached the show, they never met the expectations that so many had.
But the tides are certainly a changing.
With the Bonds era coming to a close, Sabean's mindset, for the most part, has also changed. The losing seasons after Bonds' departure has seen the Giants move to a spot in the draft where they are ensured to get one of the top players.
Just a year ago the Giants were ranked No. 23 in Baseball America's talent rankings. Now they rank the highest they have ever been in the publication's existence, at No. 5.
That is quite a transformation in a 12-month period for the Giants.
The drafting and subsequent stardom of ace Tim Lincecum just seems to be the tip of the iceberg of what the Giants system will be pumping out in the next couple of years.
However, the difference between the Giants system now and say ten years ago, is that the position players are almost as talked about as their talented pitchers.
Fans have already seen cameos from Pablo Sandoval and Nate Schierholtz in 2008, but the drafting of Nick Noonan and Buster Posey in subsequent drafts, and the signing of Angel Villalona in 2007 has given the Giants the vision that they won’t have to go out and rely on veterans in the free agent market.
San Francisco has one of the best quintets in all of minor league baseball. Led by the battery of Bumgarner and Posey, the Giants run of recent mediocrity is soon to end, as their young studs start making a major league impact.
Add to the fact the Giants hold the No. 6 pick in this year's draft, and the system will only get better.
Billingsley and Lincecum will duel in 2009, but the vision of almost every Giants-Dodgers game being a potential pitcher's duel should just make your mouth water.
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