Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The LA-SF rivalry -- Chapter 11

-- by Josh Suchon

The Giants and Dodgers wrap up their first three-game series of the 2012 season tonight in Los Angeles. Fittingly, the series is tied after two games, because as we look into the future, this rivalry has never been more even.

Chapter Eleven – A magical new era (2012-current)

Chapter 11 of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry starts when Frank McCourt’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy ends. Guggenheim Baseball paid $2.15 billion to buy the Dodgers from McCourt, and the group still must pay $14 million annually in rent for the parking lots.

From a Dodgers fan standpoint, all that matters is McCourt is gone. The face of the new ownership group, and a small minority partner, is LA icon Magic Johnson. The excitement for fans and players was evident from the time Guggenheim bought the team and palpable in their first home games this week.

The first thing the new ownership group did was lower parking from $15 to $10. The second thing (and third and fourth and so on) will be fascinating. They’ve talked a big game about improving Dodger Stadium, re-building the farm system, making the Dodgers an international force again, and going after the best free agent talent available.

A few days after Guggenheim bought the team, the Giants re-signed pitcher Matt Cain to a six-year contract extension. The Giants insisted it had nothing to do with deep pocketed owners taking over their biggest rival, and potentially signing Cain when he became a free agent this winter, but the timing sure was interesting.

It appears the Dodgers will spend plenty of money, and thereby force the Giants to spend more money to keep up.

As we’ve reviewed this rivalry’s history this week, one team usually enjoyed the advantage. Other than a few years, like 1962 and 1971, the Dodgers dominated this rivalry from the time these teams arrived in California until the late 1980s.

The Giants took over the lead from 1993 to 2004 with the signing of Barry Bonds, the selling of the Dodgers from the O’Malley family to NewsCorp, the opening of a downtown ballpark in San Francisco, and the Giants consistent playoff appearances.

The Dodgers regained the advantage from 2004-2009, but lost it in a costly divorce. The Giants ruled the last two years and won their first World Series. Now, the rivalry is about as even as it’s ever been.

Some key injuries have the Giants hurting right now. But through the historical big-picture lens, all the signs are pointed for this rivalry to be better than it’s ever been.

Both teams have stability with ownership. The Giants are on a third managing partner in the last half dozen years in Larry Baer, but he’s been with the team since 1993, and the overall ownership group is solid. The Dodgers new owners will enjoy their honeymoon period with fans.

The new Dodgers owners will upgrade Chavez Ravine, but even though it's showing its age at 50, it's hard to beat those views of the San Gabriel Mountains. AT&T Park remains arguably the best ballpark in America.

Both teams have talented young pitching. The Giants locked up Cain and Madison Bumgarner to long-term contracts, although Tim Lincecum’s struggles make a decision on him more difficult. Clayton Kershaw has two more years before hitting free agency, and it’s unfathomable the new owners won’t re-sign him. The Dodgers need to keep developing others behind Kershaw.

Both teams have position player stars. McCourt’s parting gift to Dodgers fans was signing Matt Kemp to an eight-year contract. Signing Andre Ethier should be the new owners’ first priority. The Giants have catcher Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval to anchor the middle of their lineup, but their overall lack of offense will continue to drive their fans crazy.

Right now, the Giants are hurting with injuries to key players like Sandoval and closer Brian Wilson. But when looking historically at a rivalry, it’s all about the bigger picture.

The next step for this rivalry is meeting in the playoffs. The chances increase since Baseball added a second wild card team.

Whether it’s a winner-take-all, one-game playoff between these teams as wild card entries, or better yet, a best-of-7 series in the playoffs, the possibility is strong that it will happen.

In fact, don’t be surprised if it happens this October.

Chapters 9 and 10 are here.

Chapters 7 and 8 are here.

Chapters 5 and 6 are here.

Chapters 1-2-3-4 are here.

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