Stick ’em up, baseball fans. You’re about to be robbed. But unlike Ryan Lochte in Rio, this holdup won’t be a figment of anyone’s imagination. The best National League West division race in more than a decade is about to be stolen right before your eyes.
Yeah, I know the standings are tighter than Spandex on a sumo wrestler. One day, the Giants are in first place. Next, it’s the Dodgers. Then back again. The two historical rivals swapping the division lead like kids on a teeter-totter.
I also realize the Giants and Dodgers have nine games remaining against each other, beginning with Tuesday’s three-game set at Dodger Stadium. The Giants return for three more in mid-September before the Dodgers visit AT&T Park to close out the regular reason.
You don’t need to be Bill James to determine those nine games likely decide the division title.
Sounds perfect, right? Baseball’s best rivalry (non-Eastern seaboard division) playing out every day in dramatic dollops over the season’s final six weeks and inducing stress, heart palpitations and knots in the pits of stomachs up and down California.
Instead of the six-month season building to a crescendo, we get the theatrical equivalent of a whoopee cushion.
Except it won’t be that way at all. Instead of the six-month season building to a crescendo, we get the theatrical equivalent of a whoopee cushion.
Yes, I’m talking about the wild card, the lamest of all Bud Selig’s contributions to Major League Baseball. (Even lamer than granting homefield advantage in the World Series to whichever league wins a meaningless exhibition.)
One wild card was bad enough, though it became a necessity once MLB split each league into three divisions.
But two? That’s excessive with a dash of unnecessary. For all the excitement the second wild card supposedly creates in cities whose teams are out of contention, it also robs us of baseball’s best facet: an all-consuming pennant race between two great teams.
One glance at the current standings bears that out. No matter who wins the N.L. West between the Giants and Dodgers, it’s probable the second-place finisher gets into the postseason, too.
After 162 games, winning your division really ought to mean something. But it doesn’t – not really. Just ask the 2014 Dodgers, who won the N.L. West by six games only to see the second wild card Giants storm to another World Series triumph.
After 162 games, winning your division really ought to mean something. But it doesn’t – not really.
Certainly, Giants fans weren’t complaining. But it kinda makes you wonder why they even play the regular season.
Despite the history and tradition of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry, there have been very few instances where both have engaged in an honest-to-goodness, loser-go-home pennant race.
The last time was 2004, when a Steve Finley grand slam on the second-to-last day of the season clinched the N.L. West for the Dodgers and knocked the Giants out of the playoffs – despite a Jason Schmidt shutout in Game 162.
Before that, you have to go back to 1997 when Brian Johnson’s 12th-inning walk-off homer broke a 5-5 tie and hoisted the Giants into a first-place tie with nine games remaining.
Before that, you have to go back to the 1960s.
Since the Giants and Dodgers each moved west in 1958, they’ve finished 1-2 in the division just 11 times. So opportunities such as this are rare.
Of course there have been other memorable years when one side knocks the other out of the playoffs on the final weekend.
11 times the Giants and Dodgers have finished 1-2 in the N.L. West since 1958
Giants fans will never forget 1982, when a Joe Morgan home run ensured the Dodgers would finish one game behind the Atlanta Braves in the N.L. West. (Yes, youngins, the Braves used to be a division rival.)
And Dodgers fans won’t forget returning the favor in 1993, winning the final game of the season to ensure a 103-win Giants team finished one game back of the 104-win Braves. (Even three World Series trophies later, Giants fans can’t say the name “Salomon Torres” without gnashing their teeth.)
Because 1993 was the final year before MLB adopted the three-division alignment and added a wild card, some consider that Giants-Braves duel the last great pennant race.
That month of baseball, in September 1993, is probably the best and most memorable I’ve ever witnessed. Every game meant so much and the ramifications (i.e. missing the playoffs) were real.
This year’s Giants-Dodgers race will fall well short. Unless both lose enough over the next few weeks to remove the wild-card crutch from the equation.
Now that I think about it, that might be for the best. Perhaps not for fans who only care about their particular team, but for fans of baseball drama.
Giants vs. Dodgers
San Francisco and Los Angeles square off nine more times this season.
- Aug 23: in Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
- Aug 24: in Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
- Aug 25: in Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
- Sept. 19: in Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
- Sept. 20: in Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
- Sept. 21: in Los Angeles, 7:10 p.m.
- Sept. 30: in San Francisco, 7:15 p.m.
- Oct. 1: in San Francisco, 1:05 p.m.
- Oct. 2: in San Francisco, 12:05 p.m.