I was planning on doing a piece dedicated to the Giants rotation, mainly focusing on Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain. Obviously I have changed my mind. In light of the Dodgers latest blockbuster maneuvering, I felt it would be prudent of me to get them in this post as well. This has been the best divisional race in all of baseball this year and if you haven't been paying attention, don't worry, you have one last month. It has all the signs of a race coming down to the wire with both teams exchanging the lead and neither one getting a substantial lead. The Giants and Dodgers rivalry dates back for decades and there's plenty of animosity among both fans and players alike. I'll go ahead and take an in-depth look at both teams, providing my answer as to who is going to win it. Whichever team doesn't win the West will be in contention for one of the Wild Cards spots, but that's no guarantee. It's all about winning this division.
Giants - The Giants had a seemingly fatal blow dealt to their team recently with the 50-game suspension handed to their LF Melky Cabrera. Cabrera, who was near the top of the league in batting average, had been the All-Star Game MVP and the Giants best hitter all season long. Since his departure, however, the team has flourished, due in large part to their all-star C Buster Posey. Posey, who is currently hitting .327 with 19 HR and 80 RBI, has stepped up to fill the void left by Melky. Simply put, Buster Posey has been the best hitter in all of baseball since the all-star break. The Giants added OF Hunter Pence near the trade deadline, some people say in an attempt to make up for the impending loss of Melky Cabrera that they already knew was incoming. Pence has not performed all that well since being traded, but he has plenty of hustle and plays very well in RF. You would think batting behind Posey in the lineup would help, but so far he has nothing to show for it. His numbers are dreadfully bad for the Giants and they can only go up at this point. Pablo Sandoval at 3B must stay healthy if the Giants wish to hold on to their divisional lead. He has dealt with a copious amount of injuries this season, but he is finally healthy again. Buster Posey can't do everything himself, with Sandoval hitting ahead of him, the Giants have the ability to give their spectacular pitching staff the amount of run support they need to win games. 2B Marco Scutaro, CF Angel Pagan, 1B Brandon Belt, LF Gregor Blanco, and SS Brandon Crawford round out the rest of this lineup. They're all guys who will provide less impact, but Pagan and Belt in particular have the ability to have breakout games at any point.
Dodgers - One word to describe this lineup. Dynamic. Los Angeles is on the verge of completing a monster trade that will bring in 1B Adrian Gonzalez from the Boston Red Sox. The deal is reportedly awaiting approval from Bud Selig, but I don't think he'll David Stern the deal. As it stands, the Dodgers potential lineup with A-Gon would have him slated right in the middle of the lineup sandwiched around MVP candidate CF Matt Kemp and an RBI machine in RF with Andre Ethier. SS Hanley Ramirez was brought in from the Miami Marlins in July, as well as LF Shane Victorino from the Philadelphia Phillies. Ramirez has flourished in Los Angeles, hitting above .300 and belting out 6 HR thus far - the epitome of a guy who needed a change in scenery. Shane Victorino provides that ever so important World Series experience to a club hoping to be playing in October. C A.J. Ellis has been one of baseball's best kept secrets as he has put up solid numbers all season long. A catcher who can hit well is a God send in today's MLB and the Dodgers have had one of the better ones in 2012. 2B Mark Ellis was a part of those memorable early 2000s Oakland teams that were involved in pennant races, so he knows what it takes to win.
Verdict - The Dodgers have the better lineup 1-8. With or without the addition of Adrian Gonzalez, I'd say their lineup is more dangerous with the bats. Gonzalez just solidifies them as not only better than San Francisco, but possibly one of the best in the National League.
Giants - This is the anchor of the Giants. Their 1-2-3 punch of Ryan Vogelsong, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain may be the best in baseball. Vogelsong is currently sporting a 2.90 ERA with 177 SO. His WHIP is hovering around 1.19 as of right now. Matt Cain, a guy who threw a perfect game this year, has an ERA of 2.83 and 159 SO with an incredible 1.01 WHIP. Teams are lucky to get guys on base against him and I'd say he's their best pitcher. Madison Bumgarner, despite a hilarious name, has put up a 2.83 ERA with 160 SO and a 0.99 WHIP. The three of them put up very similar numbers and they're all great. Imagine having to face these guys in any playoff series - a nightmare for any offense. Their so-called ace Tim Lincecum has been truly brutal this year. An ERA above 5.00 and a season to forget for him. Everyone knows the former 2x Cy Young has the stuff and ability to be a top of the line pitcher - his strikeout numbers are still very high. If he ever found his true form this season or in the playoffs, opposing teams would have little chance to take out San Francisco. Barry Zito is famous for having one of the worst contracts in baseball, but if you look past that, you see a decent end of the rotation starter. He's not relied on heavily, so any decent numbers he puts up are appreciated.
Dodgers - A lot of fanfare goes towards the Dodgers lineup, but the rotation is nothing to sneeze at. Clayton Kershaw was the Cy Young winner last year and he's still putting up spectacular numbers. He is the very definition of an ace. He goes out every single start and has the ability to shut down any lineup. Besides Kershaw, the emergence of Chad Billingsley may be the most important and influential thing to happen to this rotation. Billingsley has been mediocre, at best, all season long but has really turned it on this past month. He had been 6-0 with a miniscule 1.30 ERA since coming off the disabled list a month ago, but may be facing some issues. Billingsley had to leave his last start with elbow soreness on the same elbow that caused his DL stint. Hopefully it isn't anything too bad because he has become vital to this Dodgers pitching staff. Chris Capuano has been quite the surprise in Los Angeles this year as he has put up very good numbers all year long. The Dodgers may have bolstered their rotation with this recent trade. Word is Josh Beckett is on his way to LA and he has been disappointing, to say the least, for Boston this year. People were low on Hanley Ramirez before his move to the west coast and look at him. The Dodgers just need to make the playoffs and the addition of Beckett could be HUGE. His performance in the 2003 playoffs was one of the best playoff performances I have ever seen. His addition could be invaluable come October.
Verdict - The Giants have this one. The Dodgers with Bllingsley have a fighting chance, but without him, the Giants pull ahead. I rave about Bumgarner, Cain, and Vogelsong for a reason. They have the ability to shorten any playoff series. I am a firm believer in great pitching overcoming great hitting and the Giants can do that to you.
Giants - The Giants are a team that show just how valuable a deep pitching staff can be. They lost their closer Brian Wilson in April but never missed a step. Santiago Casilla stepped up for much of the season, but once he began to falter, guys like Sergio Romo and Jeremy Affeldt filled the gap. Javier Lopez has stepped up to close some games as well. They have four guys who they can trust to close it out and a great bullpen can shorten any playoff game. It's tough to string together a series of runs against a great rotation and bullpen.
Dodgers - The Dodgers entrusted their closing duties to Javy Guerra early in the season, but when he couldn't handle it, Kenley Jansen was put into the role. He has taken the job and run with it since then, becoming one of the most underrated arms in baseball. Ronald Belisario is a very good set-up man, but after him, the bullpen stops impressing me. Brandon League was brought in from Seattle, but he has really struggled in Los Angeles. I like him and I believe he can put it back together. He's gone from the American to the National League, so you would think his numbers would improve. He'll have plenty of opportunities to prove his worth as he'll be relied on heavily due in large part to Randy Choate being the only other late game reliever they have who would be considered a veteran
Verdict - The Dodgers just don't have the veteran leadership in their bullpen to overcome the Giants special arms. They have multiple closer-worthy pitchers in their bullpen and they're really head and shoulders above the Dodgers in this aspect.
Giants - In a year where a surprising number of backup catchers have put up good offensive numbers, it's no surprise one of the Giants prospects, Hector Sanchez, has put up solid numbers behind Posey. Joaquin Arias has had some big hits sprinkled throughout the season and Ryan Theriot is that typical hustle guy any manager loves to have on his roster.
Dodgers - With the addition of Adrian Gonzalez, it looks like James Loney will be sent to Boston. He's been a major disappointment in Los Angeles and God knows the fans don't like him. This is a prime example of addition by subtraction. Nick Punto seems to be on his way to the Dodgers as well and his defense he provides as a utility man will definitely be a welcomed addition to the team. Should Dee Gordon return from injury, he'll provide some great speed off the bench. Dave Roberts proved in 2004 just how valuable a speedster can be off the bench. Don't forget about Adam Kennedy and Juan Uribe. Both guys have World Series rings and moments in the playoffs where they showed up and made a huge difference.
Verdict - Some may argue that a bench doesn't really matter, but I disagree. When you have a bench as deep and experienced as the Dodgers, it makes a difference. They are vastly deeper than the Giants.
Giants - The Giants outfield is going to cut down a lot of balls in the quirky dimensions of AT&T Park. Gregor Blanco had the perfect game saving catch earlier this season and Hunter Pence has a cannon in RF. Angel Pagan is no slouch as well - there are few guys who have his range in open space. What Brandon Crawford lacks with the bat, he makes up for with his glove. He's one of the most reliable SS in the majors when it comes to making plays in the infield. It's not a team that is going to get to every ball, but they're definitely formidable.
Dodgers - 10. That's the number of Gold Glover awards this defense has. Adrian Gonzalez has three at 1B, Shane Victorino has three in the OF, Matt Kemp has two and Andre Ethier got his first last year. This is one of the better defensive teams in baseball and the outfield is impeccable.
Verdict - The Dodgers win this one by a large margin. They're athletic and talented with enough ability to steal plenty of hits away from their opponents.
Giants - Bruce Bochy was a fixture in San Diego. He led his Padres to the playoffs as a manager four times and a World Series appearance. His efforts were rewarded when he won the Manager of the year award in 1996 - he has the experience and then some. He finally reached the pinnacle when he managed the Giants to their World Series in 2010. He absolutely has the ability to prepare anyone on his roster for the pressure filled situations that come with September and October baseball.
Dodgers - Don Mattingly was a hitting machine during his playing career in New York. He was named the Dodgers manager in 2011 and has led them to the top of the league here in 2012. He demands (and gets) respect from all of his players and seems to have a grasp on controlling the MANY personalities in Los Angeles. Give him another few years and I'm sure he'll be considered one of the best coaches in all of baseball.
Verdict - I like both guys. This simply comes down to a matter of experience and that means Bochy gets the nod. He's been to multiple World Series while Mattingly has yet to make the playoffs as a manager.
Final Verdict - As fate would have it, the final verdict comes down to a tie. I'm pleasantly surprised it happened this way (not remotely preconceived) and it comes down to those mysterious intangibles we all hear so much about. On paper, both teams are great, but what's going to cause one team to propel themselves above the other? The Giants currently control the division, but for how long? I believe the Dodgers have made the necessary steps to insure a playoff berth. If it sounds like I'm leaning towards Los Angeles, it's because I am. The momentum they have built for themselves with the additions of Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett (and Carl Crawford for next year) can (and I think will) give them the spark they need to overtake the division. It's so rare to see stud players get moved in late August and this happening means Magic Johnson and friends mean business in LA. I believe it's going to work.
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