Who Ya Got? Making the Case for Both the Giants and Dodgers to Win the NL WestAugust 25, 2021
The Los Angeles Dodgers looked like they had a clear path to the 2021 World Series.
The Dodgers were loaded coming into the season. Historically good. The pitching staff boasted three Cy Young Award winners and an MVP. The lineup had a former AL MVP in Mookie Betts and a few preseason favorites to win the NL award this season.
This was a team built to win championships and contend for them each year. Sure, the upstart San Diego Padres posed a test to the defending champs, but it looked like nothing more than a burgeoning regional rivalry.
But then the San Francisco Giants seemingly came out of nowhere. The dynasty days were long gone, but the Dodgers' Bay Area rivals were ahead of schedule on their rebuild. Well ahead of schedule.
The Giants have occupied the top spot in the NL West nearly all season, but how firm is that grasp as the playoff race intensifies?
Here are the reasons the Giants will hang on to win the NL West and all of the reasons the Dodgers might overtake them. Any prediction I make will likely be wrong because that's how it goes when you try to predict races this close (the Dodgers are 2.5 games behind the Giants), so let's just lay out all of the arguments.
Why the Giants will win the NL West
If I had told you before the season began the Giants would lead the league in home runs, would you have believed me? I'm not sure I would have believed it. But San Francisco's 191 homers are the most in the league despite no one in the lineup having even hit 20 until Tuesday night when Mike Yastrzemski hit his 20th in the Giants' 8-0 thrashing of the New York Mets on the road. The Brandons—Crawford and Belt—are both sitting at 19, with Belt hitting two against the Mets hours after learning his grandmother had died.
Kris Bryant has 22 on the season, but 18 of them came with the Chicago Cubs.
Last season, the rebuilding Giants hit 81, which tied the Boston Red Sox for 12th in the league.
San Francisco took strides in the rebuild last year and nearly ended up in the NL Wild Card series, but the team's offensive production didn't inspire a ton of confidence. This season, however, the balance and depth of the lineup is obvious.
Bryant has also been a boost to the middle of the order. He hasn't missed a beat since coming over from Chicago to replace the injured Evan Longoria, slashing .274/.329/.507 with an .836 OPS in 19 games.
The lineup has proved it can do damage regardless of which pitcher is staring them down from the mound. Which is good, considering they could end up facing Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler in the postseason.
But the Giants can go pitch-for-pitch with the Dodgers. Los Angeles owns the best ERA and joint-best WHIP in the major leagues. San Francisco owns the second-best ERA and joint-best WHIP. The Giants lack star power on the mound, but the way they've been able to turn Kevin Gausman (12-5, 2.47 ERA) into an ace and Jake McGee (28 saves, tied for third in MLB) into a stalwart closer has been remarkable.
Advanced metrics don't buy into the Giants defense (FanGraphs lists them as No. 18, though their 40 runs saved are the ninth-most in MLB), but San Francisco plays clean baseball and rarely makes errors.
This is an experienced team that knows how to win, however, they also doesn't make a whole lot of sense on paper. Both things can be true. President of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and general manager Scott Harris should be commended for mining underrated talent and manager Gabe Kapler for knowing how and when to use that talent.
Wilmer Flores has always played well against left-handed pitching, but his good numbers against right-handers this season have made him an excellent bench piece. Tommy La Stella has hit .316 with runners in scoring position this season. Left-handed reliever Jarlin Garcia has turned into a key bullpen piece.
The whole is greater than the sum with this Giants squad, which is why they may be able to stave off the Dodgers and win the NL East.
Why they won't win the NL West
It's a bunch of old guys who make little sense on paper. The average age of the Giants is 30.7 years old. Can these veterans hold up in September?
La Stella, who is hitting all of .250, is their best bench piece? McGee only throws one pitch, come on! This roster just isn't as strong as the Dodgers' roster. The Giants still have to face the Atlanta Braves twice, Milwaukee once and have one last series with the Dodgers, so it's an uphill climb to finish the season.
Sometimes baseball makes no sense, but sometimes it does and the team that is built to win overtakes the scrappy underdogs.
Why the Dodgers will win the NL West
FanGraphs gives the Dodgers a 62.3 percent chance of winning the division. They reeled off nine straight wins in August and made it look easy. Six of those victories were against the rapidly falling Mets, but they were important wins against a team that refuses to go down without a fight.
The Dodgers have All-Stars at nearly every position. They have Albert Pujols in his twilight years still contributing in a reserve role. But it's not about the name recognition of the team, it's how those names are performing that really matters.
The biggest win by the Dodgers came at the trade deadline, when the front office acquired Scherzer and shortstop Trea Turner in a blockbuster deadline deal, effectively preventing the Padres from acquiring the two.
The Dodgers are 12-2 in games when Turner starts in the infield, as MLB reporter Molly Knight pointed out. Since being traded from the Washington Nationals, he's slashed .323/.358/.484 with a .842 OPS. Even if the career shortstop's defense has been questionable at second base, he gets on base, runs the bases well and produces runs.
Corey Seager missed time with a fractured hand. Cody Bellinger missed significant time with a broken leg and a hamstring strain. Kershaw and Betts are on the injured list. It doesn't matter as much as it would with other franchises—this team has overwhelming depth at positions 1-9, which is how they've been able to keep the race with the Giants tight.
The bullpen is full of versatile pieces such as David Price and Phil Bickford. Bullpen games can help take some pressure off the starters during this crucial stretch, showing just one of the ways this team can win.
The defense might be the only weakness, if you want to call it that. FanGraphs ranks Los Angeles at 27th. Seager and Turner have made some mistakes up the middle, but the outfield took away two runs from the Padres on Tuesday night in a crucial series-opening win.
The Dodgers could find another gear and overtake the Giants to win the division.
Why they won't win the NL West
Kenley Jansen may have locked it down against the Padres Tuesday night, but he has been somewhat unreliable this season. Reliever Blake Treinen has been used in several different high-leverage spots this season, and he appears to be the favorite over Jansen. A lack of stability in the bullpen might not be a huge flaw, but in a tight race like this, every flaw gets exposed.
These two teams play over Labor Day weekend at Oracle Park. This will be an intense series. Great teams find ways to win when it matters the most, so whoever wins this series will probably win the division. The Giants may not have the household names, but they might get a little more recognition when they stave off the Dodgers to win the division.