Giants putting the ‘old’ in the old Dodgers rivalry
The grand old rivalry is born again Friday, with a surprising emphasis on “old.”
The San Francisco Giants won three World Series championships in five years, the last one in 2014, but nostalgia wins no pennants. Three years ago, tired of looking up at the Dodgers in the standings, the Giants hired a Dodgers executive and directed him to build a better, younger team, with a new generation of heroes.
On Friday, as the Giants and Dodgers meet for the first time this season at Oracle Park, the Giants boast the best record in the major leagues. The Dodgers have spent 25 days in first place, but so have the Giants.
The Giants are a better team than they were three years ago, but they are older. The pitchers are older. The hitters are older — the oldest lineup in the major leagues, in fact. Of the nine men in the Giants’ starting lineup Thursday, two were younger than 30.
When the Giants hired Farhan Zaidi, formerly Andrew Friedman’s chief lieutenant with the Dodgers, the mission appeared clear: rebuild the player development and acquisition pipelines while the contracts of the old guys ran out.
In San Francisco, as it turns out, every day is Old Timer’s Day.
The Giants’ top three offensive performers entering play Thursday, based on OPS, all were veterans of the championship teams: catcher Buster Posey, 34; shortstop Brandon Crawford, 34; and first baseman Brandon Belt, 33. The contracts of all three players expire this year.
The leader in at-bats is the oldest player on the team: third baseman Evan Longoria, 35, whose contract expires next year.
Six no-hitters have been thrown already this season, but the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is not sure such mound dominance is what baseball needs right now.
No National League player has more three-hit games this year than Posey. Crawford got to 10 home runs faster than any Giants player since Barry Bonds. Longoria homered and drove in three runs Thursday; Crawford homered and drove in six.
In the Giants’ glory days, and for a few years beyond, the team sold out 530 consecutive games.
“It’s a fan base that has seen its share of parades over the last decade,” said Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations.
Tank? No way.
“We’re in the business of trying to sell a compelling product today, not three years from now, or five years from now,” Zaidi said. “Between the business aspect of it, and the competitive nature that a lot of us share in the front office and in the clubhouse, competing has always been a priority for us.”
So running out a starting rotation with Johnny Cueto and three or four prospects was out of the question. Beyond Cueto, 35, the Giants filled out a rotation with veterans on one-year contracts: Anthony DeSclafani, 31; Kevin Gausman, 30; Alex Wood, 30; and Aaron Sanchez, 28.
“They’re all guys who have been really good — if not All-Star caliber — starting pitchers at the major league level,” Zaidi said.
In 32 combined seasons in the major leagues, the quartet has two All-Star appearances. The flood of veteran free agents, however, drives prices down, so the Giants extended a qualifying offer to Gausman and signed DeSclafani for $6 million, Sanchez for $4 million and Wood for $3 million.
In Anaheim, where winter shopping for stopgap starters is an annual ritual, the Angels’ rotation has the highest earned-run average in the majors: 5.43, entering play Thursday. The Giants’ rotation has the lowest ERA in the majors: 2.56.
“Every day, you have a chance to win, which is all you can ask,” Bobby Evans said.
Evans is the Giants’ former general manager, the one who signed Cueto for $130 million and Jeff Samardzija for $90 million, with the plan that Cueto, Samardzija and Madison Bumgarner would form an imposing top three, and especially so for a team that plays in a pitcher‘s park.
Injuries foiled that plan, but the idea then was to do what the Giants are doing now. In 10 games this season, a starting pitcher has completed seven innings for the Giants. No pitcher this season has completed seven innings against the Giants.
Kenley Jansen may not be back to his 2017 level, but he is close enough for the Dodgers to feel secure again with a narrow ninth-inning lead.
Evans still lives in the Bay Area, rooting on the Giants and in particular the old guys he signed, the ones with the contracts running out.
“I couldn’t be more proud of them,” Evans said.
There is one old guy who will not be on the field for the Giants this weekend. Hunter Pence, the longtime outfielder, played a farewell season in San Francisco last year.
He and his wife, Lexi, are setting up a pop-up coffee stand across the street from Oracle Park, selling their “Rise and Grind” and “Good as Hell” blends to fans in the two hours before game time Saturday and Sunday.
The rivalry, excessively caffeinated.
“Get hyped before you get hype,” Pence told the San Francisco Chronicle.
Also for sale: a non-caffeinated beverage called “Summer Yum,” which Pence said tastes “like a pineapple lemonade.”
A little different, refreshing and unexpected. Just like the first-place Giants.
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