The Dodgers are very nearly at full strength for the first time this season, and it times out perfectly with their first trip to San Francisco. The last time they traveled north, Oracle Park had a different name, the Giants had a different management structure, and their GM hung back in the exec suite to watch Hunter Pence give an emotional speech to the remaining fans after the Dodgers finished off a season-ending sweep in dominant fashion.
Farhan Zaidi being on the other side of things won’t be at the center of the rivalry, although it would’ve been fun if that had been the case. Think of it: in the storied history of the Giants versus the Dodgers, it’s only ever mattered what’s happened on the field. This would be the first time — and perhaps, the first time in professional sports — when a management switch became the driving force.
If Zaidi had been able to find a couple of Max Muncys and a Chris Taylor this offseason, then the marquee for this series might’ve looked like the CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR poster, with Zaidi and Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman going nose to nose. Or, to use the other pop culture jewel of the moment: a real Battle of the Math Nerds in the vain of the Battle of the Bastards.
Instead, it’s just a the first-place Dodgers against the last-place Giants. A Dodgers team in the middle of a perpetual competitive window against a Giants team that’s stuck waiting for its manager to retire and its untradeable contracts to expire before the real work of rebuilding can begin. They’re leagues apart in talent and years apart from competing against each other, even if the schedule demands they match up 19 times a year.
Yeah, in the history of the rivalry, even when the Giants have been at their lowest points, they’ve still managed to play the Dodgers tough. Since 2007, the Giants have won at least seven games in the series. Even in the 100-loss 1985 season, the Giants managed to win seven games. The exception is the 2006 team. The 2019 Giants could be as bad as the 2006 team and win just six of the 19 contests, but even then, the Dodgers would lose to the Giants six times, which seems impossible when you consider —
The Dodgers have hit 12 home runs in the time it took you to read to this point.
No, they’re not MLB’s home run leaders (the Mariners have 59) or even the NL leader (the Brewers have hit 54), but their 49 home runs are more than double the Giants and we know they’re capable of hitting them in bunches, albeit slightly better doing so at Dodger Stadium (30 home runs) versus on the road (19 home runs).
But it’s not all about home runs with them. They have the second-best walk rate in baseball (11.3%) behind the Braves (11.4%), and the fifth-best strikeout rate (21.1%) in MLB, but actually the best rate in the NL. Their team Weighted On Base Average (wOBA) of .346 is second in the NL (behind the Braves’ .350) and fifth in MLB. wOBA weights the value of each offensive event — doubles more valuable than singles, which are more valuable than walks, etc. — and summarizes even better than OPS the true offensive measure of a team or player.
The league average wOBA right now is .319. Of the Dodgers with at least 20 plate appearances this season, seven are above that league average. So, the Dodgers can hit — a lot. Yawwwwn. They can also pitch, too. Yawwwwwn. They’re probably going to win the NL West again. Okay, we get it. They’re also going to get key contributions from virtually every player on the roster and get surprise performances from at least one or two of them that lasts the entire season. This is the Dodgers program now. No flaws or setbacks until the World Series. That’s the fun part. Until then, it’s boring.
We already know how bad the Giants figure to be this season — that’s boring, too. The pitching staff couldn’t hold back the Yankees’ emergency backup lineup and the offense, such as it is, didn’t get going until late in each game and pretty much after they were already out of reach. Given the rivalry, we can assume perhaps a different look to the team a inning here or there, but there’s not much separation between a fully healthy Dodgers team and a C-team Yankees lineup (that’s how good the Yankees have been on the scouting and development fronts), so the easy answer is that we’ll see three more games like what we watched over the weekend.
Yes, I watched all three games over the weekend. Why do you ask?
Hitter to watch
I mean... have you seen the Dodgers? They’re all... you know... they’re all pretty good. Although Buster Posey has been heating up of late, Brandon Belt still leads him by 50 points of wOBA with .350. He’d be the third-best hitter on the Dodgers by that measure, behind Cody Bellinger (.556) and Joc Pederson (.410).
Put it another way: Bellinger and Pederson have combined for 24 home runs, which is exactly as many as the Giants have hit as a team.
But we know who the leads of this show are. What about the interesting character actors, the one whose performance we’ll be talking about long after we’ve stopped watching the game in the fifth inning...
Well, that’s Enriqué Hernández, right? Has to be at this point. Since last season, he’s hitting .391 / .467 / .641 (1.108 OPS) in 75 plate appearances. He’s faced Wednesday night’s starter Madison Bumgarner more than any other pitcher (43 PA) and has a 1.416 OPS. He crushes left-handed pitching, and he’ll enjoy two lefties this series.
We, uh... we will probably not enjoy him. And the Giants should probably figure out a way to avoid letting Madison Bumgarner pitch to him, if they’re to have any hope of salvaging his trade value.
Pitcher to watch
Reliever Dylan Floro has a 0.00 ERA in his first 11 innings of the season. Will he leave San Francisco with that intact? This might be the smallest, pettiest victory we and the Giants can hope for this series, but we should absolutely take it if there’s a chance.
On paper, this is a sweep and the Dodgers are already on a plane bound for their next series against the Padres; but, the Giants are basically at full strength and try to play the Dodgers tough. Between the three starting pitchers — Samardzija, Pomeranz, and Bumgarner — there might be a competitive start and maybe just enough offense with Kevin Pillar and Tyler Austin in the lineup against Hyun-Jin Ryu on Wednesday that it’s possible — as in, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility — that the Giants win a game in this series.