Look, let’s just try to have an open mind about this one. The Giants will play their next three games in Los Angeles and... you know, it’s the Giants and the Dodgers. On paper, that’s a rivalry with some juice. There’s a chance for tough, hard-nosed baseball.
By now, though, you’ve heard the news that the Dodgers offensive mashed a bunch of dingers in their opening series against the Arizona Diamondbacks. They hit eight home runs on Opening Day and a total of 14 over the weekend. For reference, the Giants hit 17 last September. It wasn’t all just the home runs, though:
Weekend isn’t over but so far the Dodgers have had…— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) March 31, 2019
three 2-run innings
two 3-run innings
two 4-run innings
a 5-run inning
a 7-run inning
They also lost the longest game in the team’s regular season history:
Friday night’s Dodgers game was 6 hours, 5 minutes, and took 13 innings. The other 4 regular season Dodgers games that lasted 6 hours were all 20+ innings pic.twitter.com/OtXKeVHd1h— Eric Stephen (@ericstephen) March 30, 2019
So, the Giants have a very, very slim chance of not getting swept. It’s not exactly zero — they can be beaten — it’s just very, very close to zero. Oh sure, you want to believe that the Giants will step up their game against their arch rivals. We all want to believe that, but let’s go back to last September. The Dodgers fielded a version of their current lineup and demolished the Giants 28-7 over the final three games of the season.
Bruce Bochy and company could only play for the opportunity to keep the Dodgers out of the playoffs or at the very least from winning the division — it did not work out. Spectacularly so.
Yes, the Giants fielded a really, really bad roster that final weekend. In the 15-0 loss that ended the season, five players started who aren’t on this year’s team. So, there’s that. That’s the slim chance they have of not getting absolutely demolished again. Can the returns of Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, and Steven Duggar and a well-rested batch of starters in Drew Pomeranz, Madison Bumgarner, and Derek Holland be enough to overcome a lineup that has already scored 42 runs against the likes of Zack Greinke and Zack Goldey?
No reasonable baseball fan could use the opening series to form a conclusion about the state of their team and the entire season. At the same time, let’s consider the season opening series in 2017 and 2018:
2017: The Giants blew their Opening Day that saw Madison Bumgarner hit two home runs. That more or less served as portent of the season to come — lots of failure and Madison Bumgarner making the loudest news of the season.
2018: Somehow, they split the opening 4-game series in Los Angeles thanks to strong pitching, but absolutely no offense. It was Joe Panik the first two games, and then basically nothing the rest of the time. That .500 record with a sputtering, tears-inducing offense was the theme of the season... until that fateful September.
Does that mean this season figures to be all about solid pitching that keeps the team in the game and then an absolutely discombobulated offense getting the Giants into jams but never fixing any of their problems? Maybe. But even if everybody’s playing well, there’s very little margin for error, especially against the Dodgers.
Hitter to watch
I haven’t even mentioned the Farhan Factor, so here we go: the Giants hired the Dodgers’ GM to run their baseball operations department, but it should be pretty clear by now that he was a cog in a larger machine. Dodgers’ team president Andrew Friedman is working without a GM right now, but a bunch of assistants, and all they’ve done is hand over the hitting coach duties to a hitting guru.
Robert Van Scoyoc started the launch angle revolution. He was the hitting instructor who helped J.D. Martinez become a fearsome power threat. He aided Chris Taylor in reaching his hitting potential. From this ESPN piece:
Van Scoyoc preached keeping swing paths through the strike zone as long as possible and lifting the ball in the air, concepts the Dodgers -- and most of Major League Baseball -- ardently adhered to this past season.
Farhan Zaidi was quoted in the Chronicle talking about swing efficiency — basically, finding players who do the most damage on pitches in their personal hot zones. That’s a corollary of the swing path focus.
The Dodgers have continued innovating after his departure, and at least in the short term, the returns are very promising. On the other hand, Van Scoyoc was the Diamondbacks’ “hitting strategist” last season, and they wound up ranking 19th in MLB in runs scored. Oh, but this is the section where I name a specific hitter.
Let’s go with Cody Bellinger. He led the Dodgers with 4 home runs this weekend, but 18 of his 21 plate appearances came against right-handed pitching. He did have a hit in three PAs against left-handed pitching, but the Pomeranz-Bumgarner-Bergen-Watson-Smith dynamic will be worth keeping an eye on. Truthfully, the Dodgers have a bunch of hitters, so it was tough to pick just one.
Pitcher to watch
Tonight’s starter Julio Urias had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and is looking to return to form as the Dodgers’ top pitching prospect. He had a dominant spring (15 strikeouts in 15 innings, 3 walks, 1.52 ERA) and he’ll be facing a Giants lineup that really struggles against left-handed pitching. He started three games against them in 2016, and has a career 1.89 ERA in 19 innings. He’s also just 22 years old... or 10 years younger than the Dodgers’ new hitting coach.
No, but seriously, the Dodgers will win two out of three.