From 1997 through 2003, the Giants finished ahead of the Dodgers in every season. It wasn’t always true that the Giants had the better team -- 1997, I’m looking at you -- but the standings remained the same. It was glorious.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when everything changed. It takes several moves and non-moves over a few years to go from a contender to a bad team, so it’s hard to point to a single moment. But somewhere between Cody Ransom’s boot and Wayne Franklin’s pitch to Steve Finley, whatever remaining talent and mojo the Giants organization still had left decided to get the heck out of there. Angrily. Slammed the door behind it, cursing quite a bit. Left Jason Ellison behind in its locker.
And so the Giants were bad for a spell. The Dodgers, generally, were not. From 2005 through at least 2009, the Dodgers were expected to finish ahead of the Giants. The Curse of Steve Finley, Man-Buzzard. Last year some folks saw good things coming for the Giants, but the Dodgers were coming off an NLCS appearance, so they were a trendier pick for the NL West.
This season, then, is the first since the Bonds-led good teams of the mid-aughts in which the Giants should beat the Dodgers. This is the first time that the Giants can compare lineup cards and feel pretty good about things -- Casey Blake makes a pretty sweet comparison to a 2005 Edgardo Alfonzo, if you want to be optimistically pessimistic. The Dodgers rotation has been underrated because of all the talk about the Phillies rotation (that rode a chariot of flames down from Valhalla to save humanity) and the Giants rotation (that won the World Series), but it’s not so good that they can keep Jamey Carroll, Tony Gwynn, and Rod Barajas in the lineup and not worry about it. It isn’t misguided hubris to suggest that the Giants have the better team on paper.
If you are such a pessimist that you can’t enjoy this turnaround, it’s probably because you’re worried about the Gary Coleman Made-For-TV Movie Scenario. There was a movie with Coleman in which his character was being bullied. A crowd formed. The bully was about the size of three Gary Colemans, so the diminutive protagonist loudly explained that if the bully was successful with a beatdown, he’d lose respect from his schoolmates for picking on someone so small. But if Coleman’s character actually won the fight, the bully would never live it down. It was lose-lose for the bully. So if you’re twisted enough, you might settle into a "Yeah, but they’re supposed to" mentality when the Giants beat the Dodgers, and a "Gary Coleman just bludgeoned us" mentality when the Giants lose.
The rest of us, though, aren’t quite worried what our schoolmates will think if we beat the Dodgers. The wins will be even better. They’ll have strong flavors of arrogance, subtle hints of smugness, and a trophy-scented finish. In the new paradigm, wins over the Dodgers could be as beautiful as ever. Whenever the Giants would win against Los Angeles in 2008, Dodgers fans could respond with, "Yes, but Jose Castillo" every single time if they wanted to, and that would win the debate. No more.
The flip side, though, is that losses will be even more depressing. There’s no avoiding it. When Carroll eventually hits a seeing-eye single through an open hole to win a game, you’ll probably just pace around your living room, incredulously muttering Jamey Carroll’s name. This goes for Aaron Miles, Xavier Paul, and one of the two backup catchers also. It’s a bad consequence of a good thing.
My solution, then, is that the Giants should win their games against the Dodgers. I have put this suggestion in a notarized letter and mailed it "To Whom It May Concern" at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. It’ll find its way into the right hands. Hopefully, the letter is taken seriously.
Hitter to watch
Watch Rod Barajas closely. See if you can spot a tattoo of a shark on his shoulder. That would prove that he’s actually Rodrigo Molina, the fourth Molina brother, who has been on the lam for a decade for various squatting-related offenses. No one wants to talk about it, but I think it’s obvious that the Dodgers know. Until there’s proof, enjoy his hacking and his ability to annoy the crap out of you when he gets a well-timed RBI.
Pitcher to watch
Dang it. Clayton Kershaw again? Really? You might be surprised to know that his career ERA against the Giants is 1.23. I’m not sure where that "1" came from -- I would have guess 0.23, but I guess the Giants were able to rough him up for two runs at one point.
Naughty words in the left-field bleachers; stressful games all around.