It's on in Southern California. The Los Angeles Dodgers and the Los Angeles Angels have built themselves up into two of the biggest landmarks on the MLB landscape, and this looks like the year their rivalry could take the next step.
Or, to put it in Michael Bay terms, this could be the year when [bleep] gets real between the Dodgers and Angels.
[Explosions. Guitar solo. Bad reviews. Big box office showing anyway.]
And let's be real here: The Dodgers and Angels have a rivalry, but it's not a real rivalry. Their rivalry is much more Yankees-Mets, White Sox-Cubs or Nationals-Orioles than Yankees-Red Sox or Dodgers-Giants. It's a territorial rivalry and a headline rivalry more than, you know, an actual baseball rivalry.
That's what could very well change this year, and that's what must change in order for Dodgers-Angels to take its place as one of baseball's top true rivalries. The only thing that's going to get the job done, however, is something big.
The biggest thing baseball can conjure, in fact.
For now, the Dodgers and Angels have the off-the-field drama figured out. The rivalry ramped up thanks to the Angels encroaching, at least in spirit, on the Dodgers' turf when they became the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2005. Eight years later, the Angels' name still comes off as an affront to the Dodgers.
In the dollars-and-cents arena, the stakes have been raised by big money spent on players like Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Zack Greinke on the Dodgers' side of the fence and big money spent on Albert Pujols, C.J. Wilson and Josh Hamilton on the Angels' side of the fence.
Combined, the Dodgers and Angels are going to spend close to $400 million on payroll in 2013. Because their local TV deals are worth a combined $10 billion—$3 billion for the Angels and $7 billion for the Dodgers—it's safe to assume we haven't come close to seeing the end of the spending competition between these two clubs.
But alas, it's hard for a real rivalry between two clubs to develop even when they're not in the same division, let alone the same league. Clubs in different leagues like the Dodgers and Angels are always going to have a hard time getting the bad blood to boil properly. They play only a couple times a year, and the fate of the universe is hardly on the line when the players take the field.
There's another thing holding this rivalry back: It may be a rivalry as far as the Angels—particularly team owner Arte Moreno—are concerned, but the Dodgers have a far bigger and far more relevant rival up north in the Bay Area. You can rest assured that the Dodgers care more about beating the Giants than they do about beating the Angels, as well they should.
But as I said, things could change this year. Phase One could come in late May.
That's when the Dodgers and Angels will meet for the only time all year. The teams will play two games at Dodger Stadium on May 27 and 28, and then the battle will shift to Angel Stadium of Anaheim for two more games on May 29 and 30. After that, they'll go their separate ways.
Before they do, the Dodgers and Angels will have to make something of those four games. They'll have to do something to make the rivalry spill out onto the field, for this rivalry only stands a chance of becoming real if the players start treating it like a real thing.
It wouldn't take much. Baseball feuds can be started by relatively petty things, after all. A little too much home run admiration by Matt Kemp or Albert Pujols, perhaps, or maybe a spikes-up slide or a collision at home plate that could have been avoided.
Situations like those are when the beanballs start flying, and that's when faces get red and grudges are put in place for safekeeping. Grudges are exactly what the Dodgers-Angels rivalry needs more of, as grudges have always helped define the really good ones.
Also, grudges don't necessarily have to stay on the field. They can always float up to the front office, and that's where Phase Two of the expansion of the Dodgers-Angels rivalry could go down.
The Dodgers and Angels were both major players at the trade deadline last year. The Angels looked around for starting pitching help and ultimately turned up Greinke in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Dodgers were looking for, well, all sorts of help and ultimately turned up Ramirez, Randy Choate, Brandon League and Shane Victorino. In August, they used the waiver wire to land Joe Blanton (now an Angel) and then pull off their big trade with the Boston Red Sox.
I'd expect the Dodgers and Angels to be major players during deadline and waiver-wire season again this year, as both of them should be in contention by then and both of them should be looking for ways to shore up their World Series chances, just as they were last year.
If so, it wouldn't be very surprising if some gamesmanship developed between the two front offices as a result of the grudges forged back in May.
It could be that the Angels will find themselves on the verge of acquiring a big-time player, at which point the Dodgers could swoop in and crash the party.
Hey, why not? The Dodgers have a much stronger farm system at their disposal than the Angels, according to ESPN's Keith Law, and they also have more money to spend. Come deadline season, there's going to be no player the Angels can acquire whom the Dodgers can't acquire more easily. If they're willing, they'll be able to flex their muscles and put the Angels in their place with an emphatic "And stay there!"
If that scenario unfolds, the Angels may be able to get their revenge in the August waiver season.
If they happen to have a worse record than the Dodgers, the rules will allow the Angels to put in a claim on any player the Dodgers are looking to acquire and be granted priority. If the Dodgers find themselves trying to claim Cliff Lee again, the Angels could conceivably step in and end up with him instead.
Some front office gamesmanship would serve to heighten the Dodgers-Angels rivalry. Players on one side could welcome new additions and taunt the other club accordingly, and all that team's players could do is shake their fists until their general manager finds a way to exact revenge. In the meantime, the local columnists would surely be getting into the spirit of it all.
But if the Dodgers-Angels rivalry is really going to explode this year, it's going to explode at the end. We'll know when this rivalry is on the edge of greatness when the Dodgers and Angels make the postseason, plow through the competition and then meet at the top.
Thus, Phase Three: the World Series. Both of these organizations have made great efforts to get to the Fall Classic in 2013. It would be all too perfect if they both got there.
A World Series between the Dodgers and Angels would have all the fixings. There would be two aces ready to go at each other in Jered Weaver and Clayton Kershaw, as well as high-paid stars all over the field in guys like Pujols, Hamilton, Kemp, Crawford and Gonzalez. Meanwhile, there would be Mike Trout looking to give the Angels yet another reason to make him filthy rich when his time comes.
Depending on what (theoretically) happened in May, the stars could be champing at the bit to get at each other in the World Series. The situation could be intense enough to require some Kill Bill stare down music.
There would be some personal storylines flying around as well. Mike Scioscia would be managing to beat the team he starred on as a player. Greinke would be pitching against a club that figured Hamilton was more worth a big contract than he was. Magic Johnson would be looking to add a baseball championship to his collection of basketball titles. Moreno would be looking to vanquish his mightiest foe.
Add it all up, and you've got an epic showdown that Southern California would sure as hell be interested in. The rest of America may be just as interested as well.
America didn't really go for the World Series showdown between the Yankees and Mets in 2000, which was the lowest-rated Fall Classic in history at the time. There must have been something too New Yorky about it. Either that, or people were just sick of the Yankees and/or were "meh" on the Mets (a more plausible theory, most likely).
Which team is more likely to end up in the World Series this year?
But based on the sheer amount of star power the Dodgers and Angels would be packing in a World Series matchup, I'd bet good money that a World Series matchup between the two of them would be a more successful television bonanza. A World Series between them would be a World Series fit for television, a rare occurrence these days (alas).
The stage would thus be set for the ultimate battle for Los Angeles. There would be two mega-rich, mega-talented and mega-motivated teams on the field, and the greater Southern California area and the world at large would be watching.
Then the bell would ring, battle would be joined, and four-to-seven games later a champion would be crowned. That champion would own SoCal...at least until the next round.
If Dodgers-Angels is going to become a real rivalry up there with Dodgers-Giants and Yankees-Red Sox, this is how it's going to have to happen. The off-the-field stuff only carries so much weight, and there are barely enough regular-season matchups between these two teams to even get the rivalry brewing.
No, it has to be a World Series. It's the only thing big enough for the Dodgers and Angels, and it's the only thing big enough to make their rivalry something special.
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