Matt Adams isn’t walking through that door. Matt Carpenter is still around, but is almost an afterthought nowadays. Clayton Kershaw won’t be pitching. But it still feels a lot like 2014, with the St. Louis Cardinals the only roadblock in between the highly-anticipated playoff series between the Dodgers and Giants.
The Dodgers and Giants have been National League rivals since 1890, on two different coasts. Before the advent of divisional play, they met in two incredibly memorable National League tiebreakers, both best-of-three series (1951 and 1962) that the Giants won with stunning ninth-inning comebacks. Those were technically regular season games.
In the first 25 years of divisional play, it was technically impossible for the Dodgers and Giants to meet in the postseason, with only one from each division advancing to the NLCS each year. The exception was the strike-bifurcated 1981 campaign, but the Dodgers’ opponent in that year’s divisional series was the Astros, not the Giants.
In the wild card era, the Dodgers and Giants made the playoffs in the same year only twice, in 2014 and 2016. The latter saw San Francisco up against the juggernaut 103-win Cubs, while the Dodgers were paired with the Nationals in a matchup in the other division series, starting and ending on the road. That was a treacherous path for both, one navigated only by the Dodgers, and just barely.
But in 2014, a Dodgers-Giants NLCS was almost expected.
It was still early in LA’s divisional dominance, with just their second straight NL West crown. But the Giants, who were in the race until the penultimate series, were one of two wild card teams, and had the bulk of the same teams that won titles in 2010 and 2012.
Perhaps it’s because I worked with Grant Brisbee on the SB Nation MLB desk at the time, but the thought of a Dodgers-Giants NLCS was both thrilling and something that very well could have killed us all.
But it didn’t happen.
The Giants upheld their end of the bargain, riding Madison Bumgarner’s magical postseason run to a third championship in five years. But to get there, they didn’t face the Dodgers in the NLCS.
Adam Wainwright, who starts this year’s wild card game on Wednesday, was chased by the fifth inning of Game 1 of the NLDS. On a 96-degree day at Dodger Stadium, the Dodgers were sitting pretty with a 6-1 lead and peak Kershaw during his MVP season on the mound.
A Carpenter home run in the sixth inning was almost an afterthought, but in the fateful seventh, Kershaw allowed four straight hits to open the frame, and after a strikeout a fifth single cut the lead to 6-4. Up stepped Carpenter, who worked an eight-pitch at-bat before slamming a double to right field to clear the bases, giving the Cardinals the lead and rendering all those “Kershaw is undefeated with a 4-run lead” stats moot.
Carpenter these days is hitting just .169/.305/.275, and has started just four of the last 46 games. He’s relegated to pinch-hitting duty, leading the majors with 76 such plate appearances, though he’s just 9-for-60 in that role. But keep an eye on him, just in case.
Those 2014 Dodgers weren’t nearly as deep as more recent seasons, and they rode Kershaw hard, starting him on three days rest in Game 4 for the second of four straight years in the NLDS. Up 2-0 through six innings, allowing only one hit, Kershaw was cruising. But after a pair of infield singles, Adams became the first left-handed batter to hit a home run of Kershaw’s curveball.
The timing for the Dodgers couldn’t have been worse, as that fueled the series-clinching win for St. Louis, denying a Dodgers-Giants NLCS matchup.
This year, the Dodgers and Giants are as good as they’ve ever been. They have the two best records in MLB, combining for a stunning 213 wins. San Francisco as the No. 1 seed in the NL will get the wild card winner in the NLDS, meaning a Dodgers-Giants playoff matchup could happen earlier than in would have in previous years.
The Dodgers just have to deal with the pesky Cardinals first.