Well, well, well. Here we are (again). The Dodgers head to Oracle Park for a 3-game series this weekend against the SF Giants, ie: the only team that has mattered much since the All-Star break. The last time we were “here” was just over a month ago in late July, and things felt, well, different.
The Dodgers have attempted all season to downplay the importance of each series against the Giants. Dave Roberts and many of the players have repeatedly said they’re focused on winning games, and the number of games left in the season is what’s important.
But here we are with *checks calendar* only 28 games left in the regular season. I don’t think anyone is arguing that every single game — and particularly the ones against the Giants — aren’t incredibly important now. The last time the Dodgers were at Oracle Park, they lost 2 out of 3 — and went 2-5 in the total of 7 games played against the Giants in July. To add to the suspense, LA is 8-8 against the Giants overall in 2021.
So what’s different in this series, just a little over a month later? For one, the Dodgers are now tied for first place in the NL West. In agonizing fits and spurts, the Dodgers managed to gain ground in the past month going from 2 games back after that July series with the Giants to tied for first place (they briefly sat alone in first place before the Giants beat out the Brewers today). As Dave Roberts said last night, “It’s a start.”
This is the final time the Giants and Dodgers meet in the regular season. And the Dodgers have looked like a new team since the All-Star break, and particularly the last 3 weeks, getting Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Corey Knebel, Mookie Betts, Joe Kelly (and the list goes on) back after varying stints on the IL. The Giants on the other hand, are having a rough week.
It’s important to point out that the Dodgers lost winnable games to the Rockies and the Angels three times in August on nights the Giants also lost. In a race this tight, a handful of throwaway games don’t feel like nothing.
Another difference between the end of July and now? A little not-very-secret sauce in the form of Trea Turner. While it feels like forever that the late addition has been helping to turn things around, he wasn’t part of the Dodgers organization in the last face-off with the Giants. Baserunning has been one of the ways the Giants have capitalized on close games with the Dodgers (this strategy worked well for the Padres earlier in the season as well), but the Dodgers have seemed more aggressive on the bases since acquiring Trea Turner.
Turner is third in MLB with 26 stolen bases this year. His speed in the leadoff spot is reminiscent of 2020 when Betts was playing the same crucial role: getting Trea Turner to first feels like a very good chance of turning into a run on the scoreboard. Since joining the Dodgers, he’s scored 18 runs, tied for 4th with Max Muncy, Tyler Naquin, and Charlie Blackmon in all of MLB in that time. He clinched the tying run in last night’s game with the Braves off a Justin Turner single, and was ranked both Best and Fastest Baserunner by NL managers and staff.
In July, the Dodgers were down two of their starting pitchers with Kershaw on the IL, and Bauer suspended and both of those are still true in this series. Much to most fans’ chagrin, word came down on Sunday that Max Scherzer will not be pitching against the Giants this weekend. With everyone getting five days of rest, Urías and Buehler will pitch on Saturday and Sunday. Friday will go to David Price, who as a starter is only pitching 3-4 innings on average — so call it a bullpen-ish game. While the last handful of these bullpen games have proved okay on the pitching side, a soggy Dodgers offense meant they weren’t able to pull off wins. The offense will need to get going early, even with the Giants most likely throwing out two bullpen games of their own.
Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a big piece of the heartbreak in July came from Kenley Jansen’s two blown saves against the Giants. It seems like he’s back on track, which could also be a difference-maker. If Jansen is given the save opportunity, those closes will be huge in terms of wins and redemption.
Friday, September 3, 2021 @ 6:45 p.m. (MLB Network, Sportsnet LA): David Price (4-2, 3.88 ERA) vs. Anthony DeSclafani
Saturday, September 4, 2021 @ 6:05 p.m. (MLB Network, Sportsnet LA): Julio Urías (15-3, 3.17 ERA) vs. TBA
Sunday, September 5, 2021 @ 4:08 p.m. (ESPN): Walker Buehler (13-2, 2.05 ERA) vs. TBA