What We've Learned from the Giants and Dodgers

Hello, friends, consider this my cursory response to what lessons should be taken from the result of the Giants-Dodgers season series so far, especially in light of last night's 8-0 blowout. I'll try to separate emotion from the analytics of the season series, though forgive me if I fail, because humans are inherently not totally logical creatures, and getting dusted by the Dodgers kind of sucks.

On the year, the Giants have posted a 7-8 record against LA, with the opportunity to even that record tomorrow, or drop two games below .500 depending on the result. While the result of a game against the division rival you're competing for the division title against is objectively more important than the result of a game against anyone else, in the wider scope, the outcome of tomorrow's game really doesn't matter. The Giants and Dodgers will play three more times in early September, so unless that series features a sweep, it's not likely that those remaining 4 games will significantly alter the balance of power in the NL West. It's not likely that either team will decimate the other in the same way that it would be if we were talking about the Giants-Diamondbacks, and while a retrospective might end up painfully elucidating the difference one win or loss would have made, the difference between a 10-9 and an 8-11 finish against the Dodgers doesn't significantly alter the trajectory this franchise is on.

Now, all of that hedging aside, the outcomes of the 15 games between these two NL West rivals has been extremely useful in informing the status of both organizations, but particularly that of the Giants. When they first met, the Dodgers rolled off four straight wins (3 at Oracle!!), which certainly stung. But look at the box score for the Giants, and you'll see outings such as José Álvarez giving up a couple runs, Alex Wood following up a good start with a bad one, and DeSclafani getting rocked for 10 runs.

*Checks current 26-man roster*

Uh. Well, crap. Alright, so despite there being a significant amount of roster turnover...those games were largely played by guys we know, and not churned-up relievers giving up gobs and gobs of runs. Which is not good. But we know that those rosters, tweaked around a little, still have the Giants holding baseball's best record. Which is good!

See? All smiles.

Especially because after that 0-4 hole, the Giants turned around to take 3 games in a row in LA, and despite losing the next two games they played against LA, the season deficit has continually gotten smaller, to the point where it was all tied up before last night. So it's not that the Giants can't win against LA, which is good, because if that was the case then we'd all be rinsing off with very long, very sad Bud Light showers. So what's the deal?

What concerns me about the Giants and Dodgers is how they've won. Specifically, the Giants have been unusually good in come-from-behind situations against LA, to the point where a significant amount of luck has to be attributed to those wins. If Tauchman doesn't catch that fly ball, the Dodgers go up 0-5 on the Giants in a very convincing fashion. If Kanley Jansen doesn't lose his cutter for two specific days, if Ruf's check is ruled a swing, if Neuse stretches out a little more at second, if Bellinger doesn't airmail the ball, etc. There have been a lot of very close games in which the Giants snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That's the mark of a good baseball team, to be sure. That also doesn't have to keep happening.

This isn't a purely pessimistic examination, though. Flores' home run against Jansen was no cheapie, for example, and the Giants handled the Dodgers a few times, paying back DeSclafani's blowout with an 11-6 victory later on. The Giants and Dodgers have both been vulnerable, and they've both executed extremely well, so again, it's not like the Giants can only ever sweep the rug out from under the Dodgers. But Jansen losing his command enough to blow a save on Flores' HR and let the Giants back into the game the next day is mirrored by Rogers losing his command enough to serve up a walk-off to Will Smith, and barely keep his team in the game because of Tauchman's grab. Meanwhile, there haven't been any other examples of games that the Giants seemingly had all the way, only to get crushed when it slipped out of their grasp in the way it has for the Dodgers recently.

And that's where the analysis becomes somewhat concerning, not in an "emergency cataclysm the sky is falling" kind of way, but in a way where the Giants absolutely need to play their best baseball to beat the Dodgers, when that's not always true the other way around. In late May, the Giants took a 5-0 lead into the 8th inning, only to watch Max Muncy and Albert Pujols put 4 runs on the board in the last two innings to make things way closer than they needed to be. On July 28th, the Dodgers hung 8 runs on the Giants without any credible threat to that lead ever emerging. That, to me, is representative of the power levels of these two teams. The Dodgers, on a good day, can roll over the Giants. The Giants, on a good day, can slow down the Dodgers enough to win.

Now, maybe I'm overthinking this, and the Giants 11-6 victory earlier in the year is directly analogous to the Dodgers' 11-5 victory, and the teams are about as square as you can get. I'd certainly hope so. But combine the thought that if you play out these 15 games over again, you'll probably have the Giants winning a game or two fewer than they have so far, with the thought that the Dodgers have a really weirdly high number of statistical outliers when facing the Giants. Muncy hits a home run every 30 seconds when he plays SF. The Dodgers stole DeSclafani's credit card and are going to buy Kia Sorentos with it every inning he doesn't give up a run against them. Tyler Rogers is an All-Star unless the opposing hitter is wearing blue and making oceanographically incorrect taunts at him. It's weird, and the Giants are a very good team, but the Dodgers seem to have their number, and the Giants seem to be getting by more than outpacing the Dodgers in direct competition.

For a 1200 word article about the dawning realization that the Dodgers are still probably better than the Giants, the conclusion is thankfully that there's not that much to worry about. As I mentioned at the beginning, the remaining games against LA are unlikely to define the Giants' season, and the trade deadline and Injured List for each team will likely be the best barometers for who comes out on top in the West. But if there's anything I'm sure of, it's that I'm really, really hoping the Padres and the Dodgers go to a Wild Card with San Diego coming out on top. Any alternative is probably going to shave some years off my life that I'd really rather hold onto.

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