Revived and reloaded, Dodgers renew Giants rivalry with an eye on NL West crown
For more than four months, the Dodgers did not budge, at least not publicly.
Stars bounced on and off the injured list. Trevor Bauer, their marquee free-agent acquisition, was accused of sexual assault and put on paid administrative leave. The bullpen’s composition changed seemingly every day. Instability was constant for the club with Major League Baseball’s highest payroll.
But the Dodgers remained confident they would catch the San Francisco Giants in the National League West. Their key position players, led by Mookie Betts and Corey Seager, got healthy. They reloaded at the trade deadline, acquiring Max Scherzer to replace Bauer and Trea Turner to bolster an already stacked lineup. It soon started clicking. The Dodgers went 21-6 in August, have won 16 of 19 games, and resemble the juggernaut they were supposed to be all along.
And on Wednesday, after 126 days outside of first place, they finally surpassed their rivals, beating the Atlanta Braves to complete a three-game sweep while the Giants lost to the Milwaukee Brewers. The combination catapulted the Dodgers half a game ahead of San Francisco in the standings for the first time since April 28, giving them the best record in the majors.
The Yankees and Red Sox have been touted as baseball’s best rivalry. The Dodgers and Giants could reclaim that title, starting with this weekend’s series.
“We knew if we took care of business that we’d be at the top,” Dodgers outfielder AJ Pollock said Wednesday.
The Giants beat the Brewers on Thursday to end a losing streak at four games and match the Dodgers’ 85-49 record with 28 games remaining, just in time for a three-game clash starting Friday at Oracle Park. It’s the first time the Dodgers and Giants are tied for first place in the division in September since Sept. 18, 1997.
“We know going into the Giants series that it’s going to be a big series,” Scherzer said Wednesday. “Obviously, they’re a great team. You want to go out there and play your best against them.”
The three-game set will be the biggest September series between the franchises since 2014. That year, the teams played two three-game series in September. The first, in San Francisco, began with the Dodgers two games above the Giants. The Dodgers dropped the first game before winning the next two. They also won two of three later in the month in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, the Dodgers won the division for the second straight season by six games. The Giants finished 88-74, secured the second wild-card spot, and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the win-or-go-home wild-card game en route to their third World Series title of the decade.
This season, the loser in this two-team race could finish with the second-best record in the majors and still be subjected to the precarious one-game playoff.
The Dodgers have listed David Price, Julio Urias and Walker Buehler as their starters for the series. The Giants’ plans aren’t as concrete after Alex Wood tested positive for COVID-19 and Johnny Cueto was put on the injured list because of a right elbow strain this week.
“I don’t anticipate a rotation per se,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler told reporters Thursday.
Kapler has said he expects to deploy only three traditional starters for the time being and use bullpen games for the other two spots in the rotation. But the Giants don’t have any listed starters for this weekend.
Discarded by the Milwaukee Brewers, Oaks Christian High product Phil Bickford has carved out a prominent role in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
It’s a rare roadblock for a club that has benefitted from its starting rotation staying intact for most of the season. The Giants have had 11 pitchers start games in 2021. The Dodgers have had 19 because absences have pushed them to opt for more bullpen games than ever envisioned for a club that boasted perhaps the best starting pitching depth in the majors at the start of the season.
But Bauer isn’t around, Dustin May underwent Tommy John surgery in May, and Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin are on the injured list. The Dodgers still managed to own the best earned-run average in the majors, but, with October in mind, the attrition prompted Andrew Friedman to outbid the San Diego Padres for Scherzer, who pitched through a tight hamstring to log six scoreless innings Wednesday against the Braves at Dodger Stadium.
By the end of the night, after a comeback win, the Dodgers were in first place again. For them, it was just a matter of time. Now it’s about staying there.
The Dodgers added left-hander Andrew Vasquez to the active roster and optioned right-hander Ryan Meisinger to triple-A Oklahoma City on Thursday. Scott Alexander was transferred to the 60-day injured list to make room on the 40-man roster for Vazquez, who was acquired from the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday. A 27-year-old Rancho Cucamonga native, Vasquez posted a 3.61 ERA in 33 games for the Twins’ triple-A affiliate this season. He is eligible to play in the postseason because the Dodgers acquired him before Sept. 1.
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