Yasiel Puig was a force Monday, knocking in 2 RBIs, including a homer. (USA Today Sports)
LOS ANGELES – So far, the born-again rivalry, bound by baseball's Manifest Destiny, today's Pacific Coast Highway and two crowded disabled lists, has little time for the actual rivalry. By now, the San Francisco Giants were to be measuring the weight of their hearts against that of the Los Angeles Dodgers' Brinks truck, for a summer-long duel between the forces of organic growth and Guggenheimian gluttony. The designations of good and evil generally depend on the individual, and where he or she resides on the PCH continuum, and then whether one personally believes Johnny Roseboro had it coming or not.
Coming up on halfway into the season that might bring it all back to life, the defending world champion Giants are lingering at mediocre and the regenerated Dodgers are at least two superb weeks from mediocre. The Giants could hit and then they couldn't, and they couldn't pitch and then they could, so each time they solve something, a little something else goes wrong. The Dodgers don't have it even that good, to the point where Buster Posey falling down while rounding third (as he did Monday night at Dodger Stadium) counts as deft run prevention.
Monday found Giants manager Bruce Bochy delivering the news that center fielder Angel Pagan would require surgery on his hamstring, so they'd be down one Crazy Horse for 12 weeks or so, and just as third baseman Pablo Sandoval completed his two-plus weeks on the disabled list. Across the infield, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was timing up the recoveries of hamstrings belonging to Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, and assuring everyone that Yasiel Puig would be in the lineup even when both returned, and growing weary over the nightly rationalizations.
"We are healthy now," he said, even if they aren't, so much. "We really don't have any excuses."
The Giants and Dodgers opened a three-game series with far more concerns about themselves than any sort of fight – figuratively speaking – across the way. Besides, the Dodgers have fought nearly everyone in the NL West other than the Giants. Literally speaking. And in spite of all the posturing and tussling and dumping of Diamondbacks coaches into the photo well, they remain barely competitive in the division, because they haven't been very good at playing the game.
[Related: Yasiel Puig puts heat on Andre Ethier]
Now, with Kemp getting closer to game-ready and Puig bringing a dynamic Kemp once did, only better, the Dodgers come to a critical place. All but four of their games leading into the All-Star break are in the NL West, and then they don't play in the division again until Aug. 30. On Monday night, they would win, 3-1, and it would mean their first three-game winning streak since the first week of April.
Meantime, the Giants arrived in Southern California having lost six of their past nine games, including three of four to the Miami Marlins over a very long weekend at AT&T Park. They have eight home runs in June, two fewer than Jay Bruce and one fewer than Pedro Alvarez. Only the Washington Nationals have scored fewer runs in June. Even the Dodgers have been better in June, and their offense consists basically of waiting for Puig to hit. And while the Giants' starting pitchers are having their best month, their bullpen is having its worst.
The trading deadline is less than six weeks away. The Giants could use a starting pitcher and, given the Pagan news, a left fielder. Until then, if Bochy could simply narrow the problem area to one, he could get to fixing that. As it is, it's a bit of a moving target.
"That makes it a little tougher to get on a roll," he said.
This is how the other half lives, of course, the half that hasn't had some of the most reliable pitching in baseball for a half-decade. Outside of San Francisco, there lies a sense the Giants overachieved in both championship seasons. The opinion is intended as a compliment. The parades and ring ceremonies and hoisting of banners seemed larger than a sum of those rosters, that being a credit to the many shady areas where the Giants won those games. They were smarter, played harder, and were impressively equal to those occasions.
It's hard to do twice. It's very hard to do consecutively, though Bochy – 75 games into another defense of another championship – saw it different.
"Um, I don't think so, I don't," he said. "If you had the type of players you think you have who aren't content with doing it once … I don't think it's that hard.
"It's not the case with these guys. I just don't believe it."
Where that left everyone – the Giants and the Dodgers – in a late June game was in a ballpark with a good number of empty seats, the Giants failing to score enough runs, the Dodgers clinging to Puig (and Hyun-Jin Ryu) and winning, and neither with much time to consider an otherwise decent rivalry. Maybe there'll be time for that later. For the moment, the real battles are within themselves, inside the clubhouses of two teams trying to make more of themselves and with a long stretch of road ahead.
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