When the dust settles on this four-game series, the Giants will have played the Dodgers 10 times in their first 28 games. And we’ll still have one day left in April. This weekend’s outcome cements the accomplishments of the month, and if April serves as any indicator for September/October success, then if either team sweeps, it’s a disaster for the other. 11 wins isn’t exactly the Point of No Return for playoff hopeful teams, and with the Dodgers resources and propensity for stringing together long winning streaks, it seems unlikely that a bad April would do them in, BUT it would feel like a huge deal in the division.
For the Giants, they’re more or less expected to lose these days. They haven’t had a full winning month (1st of the month until the 30th/31st) since June 2016. They’d need to sweep and win Monday night to make this April break that 9-month losing month streak. If there’s a split, then both teams will be able to tread water another week and wonder what needs to happen to move the needle. A series win creates separation, though, between the top 3 teams in the division and the bottom two, which is a position the Dodgers seem able to avoid.
But the Giants don’t have to face Clayton Kershaw this series. That is quite remarkable. I would have stronger words, but I’m almost too stunned for words. As Alex Pavlovic puts it:
... just once since 2010 has Kershaw failed to face the Giants at least five times.
The Giants saw Kershaw five times in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017 and four times in 2014. Even the injuries that Kershaw has suffered the past few years have not limited his ability to swing the National League West standings. When healthy, Kershaw has missed the Giants just once over the last 13 series in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
The Dodgers’ recent willingness to slow play a season has paid off for them and I don’t think that process hurts them here. Kershaw games usually don’t wind up going the Giants’ way, that’s certainly one competitive advantage they lose, but the Giants also tend to play to the peak of their abilities when it’s a Kershaw game, too, so that potential sharpness is lacking this series, too.
But between missing Kershaw and Rich Hill (who’s on the DL and definitely not on a book tour) the Giants have caught a huge break: two pitchers who absolutely frustrate them won’t be around to frustrate them, which means they’ll have to frustrate themselves. The lack of timely hitting and everything being left to Belt and Williamson certainly sets the stage for exactly that kind of frustration.
We’ll also get to see the Dodgers’ latest pitching ingenue, Walker Buehler, and find ourselves in the position of having to come up with new plays on his name that he and others haven’t already discovered. I’m confident we can do it. And we’ll need these Ferris Buller and Walker, Texas Ranger jokes to comfort ourselves after watching Buehler’s devastating curveball devastate Giants hitters and his 99-100 mph fastball scare everyone in the stadium.
Hitter to watch: Matt Kemp has a .910 OPS in 69 plate appearances. What year is it?
Pitcher to watch: Doubleheader days usually have some sort of shagginess to them that has a halo effect on the sandwiching days. A Holland-Ryu matchup to kick off the long weekend suggests a lot of bullpenning will happen and, very likely, more lopsided contests. Holland has looked serviceable, but knowing that he can be inconsistent and that he’s going to face the Dodgers’ lineup 3-4 times no matter what doesn’t instill confidence.
Hyun-Jin Ryu didn’t make it out of the 4th inning in his first start of the season, but in his three since then, he’s pitched 19 innings, allowed 6 hits (1 double, 1 HR) struck out 25 and walked 4. Tonight’s a big test and not just because of the rivalry.
Prediction: No split and the Giants avoid the sweep.