The Giants and Dodgers will meet at AT&T Park this weekend in the midst of a neck-and-neck race for first place in the NL West. Here’s a look at their seasons so far:
San Francisco Giants
The Giants started 2014 on a tear, racking up wins behind hot bats and solid pitching. They struggled through the month of June, however, and dropped 19 out of 26 games starting June 9th. The biggest culprit was power hitting. The Giants averaged more than one homerun per game before their slump, but hit only 17 in the 32 games leading up to the all star break. Giants fans, however, can be cautiously optimistic after an offensively solid series in Miami to start the second half.
In addition, despite struggles from starting pitchers, and poorly timed implosions by Sergio Romo, pitching appears to be stable for the moment. Of course, the highlight for the first half of the season remains Tim Lincecum’s no hitter.
If the Giants struggle in the second half, it will likely come from one of two places: injuries, or their grueling schedule. Angel Pagan’s injury troubles have plagued the team’s offensive production for some time, and nagging pain for veteran Marco Scutaro is bad news for SF. Despite his less-than-stellar season, Matt Cain’s recent loss to the DL will also hurt, and the team will miss the production of first baseman Brandon Belt, who will have a short concussion-related stint on the DL this week.
Furthermore, the team plays far more on the road in the second half than they do at home, which is always difficult, particularly when so many of the games take place on the east coast, as they do this year for the Giants. Nonetheless, San Francisco has shown that it can win, and the team still stands a good chance to win the division, or at least pick up a wild card spot.
Los Angeles Dodgers
The story arc of this season for the Dodgers couldn’t be more different. After a two-game sweep in Sydney, Australia to start the season, the Dodgers played mediocre baseball at best throughout April and May. Without their ace, Clayton Kershaw, until mid-May, LA struggled to find its groove. Additionally, despite solid performances from Zack Greinke, Dee Gordon, and Yasiel Puig, several players seemed to be mired in slumps throughout the late spring.
The team struggled particularly in close games, thanks to a particularly thin bullpen, adding greater frustration for the team and its fans. Still, things seemed to fall into place for the Dodgers around early June. Kershaw returned from his back injury, and has been firing on all cylinders since, adding a 41 inning stretch without allowing a run and a no-hitter to his resume. Meanwhile, the team has begun hitting more effectively, though pitching will always be the focus of the 2014 Dodgers.
One challenge for the Dodgers in the coming months will be their schedule. Travel won’t be the problem it is for the Giants, since the Dodgers play half of their games at home. The problem for LA is that they will play teams in the second half of the season than they did in the first: In fact, of their first 29 games of the second half, 26 of them are against teams with winning records.
They dropped 2 out of 3 in their first series against the Cardinals, who are currently tied for 1st in the NL Central, so it remains to be seen whether the Dodgers are a great team among good teams, or just one of the latter. Like the Giants, a lot of their success will depend on their ability to win against their archrivals. The two teams face off 9 more times between now and the end of the year. So far, the Giants have beaten the Dodgers 7 times out of 10 games played in 2014.