Sports

California dreaming about October baseball

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Four of the five California teams in Major League Baseball could reach the playoffs
The Angels, Dodgers, Athletics and Giants might be bound for the playoffs

The state of baseball is strong.

The state of baseball is California.

Never have four of the state's five major league teams qualified for the playoffs in the same year. But this could be the most golden of Octobers in the Golden State.

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FOR THE RECORD:
Baseball postseason: A column in the July 6 Sports section about potential California playoff teams included a caption that misidentified San Francisco Giants player Buster Posey as teammate Michael Morse. —

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If the season ended today, the Dodgers would be in. So would the Angels, and the San Francisco Giants, and, with the best record in the majors, the Oakland Athletics.

This would drive the East Coast crazy, reason enough to root for the home teams. The season is just past the halfway point, but as of now, the playoffs would go on without a team from New York, Boston or Philadelphia for the first time since 1992.

"From a marketing standpoint, you would almost need to have an East Coast team alive and at least showing up," Dodgers pitcher Brian Wilson said.

And then Wilson smiled.

"I don't care about that facet of the game," he said.

We should not care, either, about the subculture obsessed with television ratings. The cultural pendulum swings slowly, and traditions built over generations do not easily crumble.

"There's so much history and rivalry in the East," Angels pitcher Jered Weaver said. "It's hard to turn away from that.

"For me, I like being under the radar, and not having all the hype and publicity. But now there's a lot going on on the West Coast. Fans want to see some West Coast baseball."

Mike Trout plays in California. So does Clayton Kershaw, and Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes, and Buster Posey.

The Athletics have long been caricatured as the laboratory product of mad scientist Billy Beane, the general manager better known than any of his players. But, when the All-Star teams are announced Sunday, the Athletics might have as many starters as the teams from New York, Boston and Philadelphia — combined.

Derek Jeter is 40, on a farewell tour. Chase Utley, the other probable All-Star starter from the high-publicity corridor, is 35. California is the future.

Consider this All-Cal team, with no player older than 28:

2B Dee Gordon, Dodgers (26)

CF Mike Trout, Angels (22)

RF Yasiel Puig, Dodgers (23)

LF Cespedes, A's (28)

C Posey, Giants (27)

1B Brandon Belt, Giants (26)

3B Josh Donaldson, A's (28)

SS Brandon Crawford, Giants (27)

P Kershaw, Dodgers (26)

For these four California teams, this is an all-in summer. The Dodgers have a world-record payroll, with the Angels and Giants in the top seven among major league teams this season.

The Athletics' lightning strike late Friday, acquiring pitchers Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel from the Chicago Cubs, took two of the best available starters off the trade market and positioned the A's as favorites to reach their first World Series since 1990. And good for the A's for recognizing the object of the game is to win the World Series, not win some mythical bang-for-the-buck standings or control the most players for the greatest number of years.

The Angels responded Saturday, adding a reliever for their troubled bullpen for the third time in eight days, this time by acquiring left-hander Joe Thatcher from the Arizona Diamondbacks.

It would be nice to set up playoff headquarters by a beach.

California teams have met in the World Series four times, each one memorable. In 2002, the Angels beat the Giants and Barry Bonds in seven games. In 1989, the A's swept the Giants in an earthquake-interrupted Bay Bridge Series.

In 1988, Kirk Gibson and the Dodgers. In 1974, the A's won the last of three consecutive World Series championships, but Dodgers fans still chortle over how reliever Mike Marshall picked off Herb Washington, the track star Oakland owner Charlie Finley employed as a designated runner.

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly, who played his entire career in New York, said a California-dominated October would not play well on the East Coast.

"They're going to want their own teams in there, that's for sure," Mattingly said.

And they won't be shy about letting us know how no one will care about the playoffs without their own teams in there. They'll be wrong, but they'll be loud about it.

"It's a different intensity there," Mattingly said. "It's more like they take it home with them. You see 'em on the street and it's like, 'Aagh!'

"Here, I don't know what it is. Maybe the weather is so good. They don't seem to take it home with them as much."

The eyes of a baseball nation could turn to California for the postseason. Weaver, who grew up in Simi Valley and attended Long Beach State, is all for staying in his home state for October.

"I wouldn't mind that," he said. "I like the California weather. It's nice to get back home and put shorts on instead of dealing with tornadoes and thunderstorms."

Wilson said the playoffs are a treat anywhere, but he would love to take a one-hour flight up north, rather than a six-hour flight across the country. We might even have a better idea, the only way to get all the California teams involved this year: A neutral-site World Series at Petco Park.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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