The Giants face their NL West division rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers, at home Friday. I spoke with Aaron Boone, 12-year MLB veteran and current analyst for ESPN's Baseball Tonight, to preview the important three-game series.
Aaron Boone: You know, especially now, I think it's comparable. At the peak of Red Sox-Yankees, and speaking on when I was there [on the Yankees] in 2003, and then when the Red Sox beat them in 2004, it was as big as anything in sports probably. I'm not sure people on the East Coast realize how big a deal Dodgers-Giants is. I think especially when you consider how potentially good those teams are, with recent playoff success, and the two teams now slugging it out in the National League West to win that division, it's a huge deal.
KF: Why have the Giants been successful, winning two World Series championships in four years, while the Dodgers spend, spend, spend and have continually come up short?
AB: You know, I think it's important to separate the two regimes. The Dodgers are really in year two-and-a-half of the new regime. Last year, they went on a historic run to eventually run away with the National League West under this new setup they have where they've become the team that spends the most money, and where they've added whatever they've needed. It's a different situation. I think San Francisco has been one of the model organizations—you know, you think of St. Louis, you think of San Francisco—teams like that that just have a nice balance of homegrown people but also the financial wherewithal to bring in players from the free-agent market. The Giants have had tremendous stability with Brian Sabean as their general manager. He's one of the best in the game. You think about both of their title runs, both times they made really critical trade deadline moves. Sometimes it's been a big splash, sometimes it's been what's seemed like minor moves that ended up really contributing to world championships.
KF: You mentioned making key trades at the right times for the Giants. Where is the biggest positional area of need for them right now and where can they look to fill these needs?
AB: It's going to be fun to watch Brian Sabean, because it seems each year he has a really great handle on what this team needs. It'll be interesting to see if he goes out to try and bolster the bullpen. And with Matt Cain down, this is a team that could use a starting pitcher. I think they'll be more inclined to go the starting pitching route, or even relief pitching for that matter. I would think they're one of the teams in the market to potentially upgrade some pitching. But you know Brian Sabean's out there too trying to upgrade in other areas. It might not be a huge move, but something that maybe strengthens his bench, or gives him some depth. With some of the injuries he's had at second base, and with Brandon Belt—it could be minor, or they could make a splash in the starting pitching rotation and get in on a guy like David Price should he become available.
KF: The Giants have three important players injured right now: Angel Pagan, Matt Cain and Brandon Belt, out with a concussion. All three have had previous stints on the disabled list. Of the three, whose absence has made the biggest impact?
AB: That's tough. Pagan seems to be a stabilizer to the team, for me. Defensively in center field, what he brings to the top of the order—so I would say him. But that's hard to take away from anyone else. Belt was off to a great start, and it looked like he was becoming the player everyone envisioned. And obviously missing Matt Cain is tough. I just think Angel Pagan brings something on both sides of the ball and adds stability at the top of the order and in center field.
KF: What are the keys to this series for the Giants?
AB: They're going to have to pitch well. The Dodgers have [Zack] Greinke, [Clayton] Kershaw and [Hyun-Jin] Ryu. Even if you have a successful series against them, you have to assume one, two or even three of these games to be low-scoring. The Giants are going to have to pitch well. It could come down to that old cliche, who gets the big hit at the right time.
KF: The Dodgers altered their pitching rotation order at the All-Star break to make sure the Giants face Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu. Bruce Bochy and the Giants did not. Neither Tim Hudson or Madison Bumgarner will pitch against the Dodgers. How will this affect the series?
AB: If it works out for the Dodgers, I think it could turn out to be a really good move for them. Right now, the Dodgers are looking up at San Francisco in the standings. But with Bochy, and Cain being down, and Yusmeiro [Petit] moving into the rotation, Bochy's been more one-game-at-a-time in getting his rotation together. And I think especially with [Tim] Lincecum throwing the ball much better, Bochy is trying to keep things as normal for his rotation as possible.
With the Dodgers, you know Kershaw and Greinke are the two aces. Not that the other three guys aren't good pitchers, obviously they are, but with Kershaw and Greinke you absolutely have two bona fide aces.
With the Giants, you've got Bumgarner and Hudson, but you've also got Lincecum, whose track record is unbelievable. If he's throwing at the top of his game, he fits right in with those guys. [Ryan] Vogelsong, we've seen what he can do over the years. So it seems like there's a bigger spread between the Dodgers' one and two, and their three and four, than the Giants.
KF: Who do you think is going to win the National League West?
AB: As far as the division, I still lean Dodgers. Because of their pitching, and because I don't think they've hit their stride at all. Offensively, i still feel like they're a team more so than any other team in Major League Baseball, that has the capability of going 25-5 in a stretch. We really haven't seen them click at all yet. In a lot of ways, they're a team of misfit toys. I also think these next several days, potentially, will tell us a lot. Who makes the move that changes the makeup of their team, or could alter this division race?
Aaron Boone will appear on Baseball Tonight: Sunday Night Countdown this Sunday at 7 p.m. ET. The series finale is on ESPN Sunday Night Baseball on July 27.