Finally, it's time for Giants-Dodgers in the playoffs

October 8, 2021

Given the San Francisco Giants’ recent run of success, I’m not sure the general baseball public realizes how rarely the team has made the playoffs since moving west in 1958. They only played in one World Series before the divisional era, losing to the Yankees in 1962, and in the five decades since have reached the postseason only 11 more times.

Consider the Barry Bonds Era in San Francisco. Whatever you think of him — that he was a cheater, a prima donna, or whatever — for the 15 seasons he played for the Giants, Bonds was either clearly the best player or one of the two or three best players in all of baseball for nearly the entire run. Yet the Giants only reached the playoffs four times in those 15 seasons, and aside from 2002, when they came agonizingly close to winning the World Series, they went 2-9 in three NLDS appearances.

Even their run since 2010 is odd. They won the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014, with surprisingly different roster constructions each time out. However, they’ve only made the playoffs one other time in the past decade, losing in the NLDS in 2016.

Compare that record to the Los Angeles Dodgers’ record over the same time period. The Dodgers have now made the playoffs nine straight seasons, and in that stretch have played in three World Series, finally winning a championship last year. Narrowing it down to just the past five seasons, the Dodgers have won at least 104 games three times, and in the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season they won 43 games, which is a 115-win pace in a 162-game season. All that’s to say this five-year run ought to be in the conversation to be considered among the greatest half-decades any team has put together, right there with the 1949-53 Yankees, the 1935-39 Yankees, and 1906-10 Cubs, especially given these Dodgers are doing it in the time of free agency.

The Dodgers have wildly likeable players* like Max Muncy, Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Chris Taylor. They traded for Max Scherzer and Trea Turner because they realized they had a chance to be a historically great team with those guys, which every baseball fan should want teams to do, no matter what our rooting interests. And the Dodgers are a historically great team! It’s just they happen play in the same division as another club that put up a historically great record this year. (*The Dodgers also signed Trevor Bauer even though anyone with Google could find his unsavory dickweed behavior long before he was accused of sexual assault.)

I don’t want to fall into the “which team is more likeable” trap — Kapler has apologized for and tried to explain previous grievous mistakes which also involved Farhan Zaidi — because it’s okay to like the players on a team that, nevertheless, you desperately wish to lose and suffer. At the end of the day, I believe that in most instances, just like in this 2021 NLDS matchup between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, fans don’t root against opposing teams’ players as much as they root against opposing teams’ fans.

To dramatically oversimplify... Yankees-Red Sox was long a proxy for New Englanders to describe how they felt arrogant New Yorkers didn’t appreciate what the lands north of New Haven had to offer, while New Yorkers, perhaps reinforcing the argument, didn’t concern themselves with those people’s feelings. Now that the Red Sox keep winning World Series, too, it’s a more conventional pissing match between spoiled fanbases. Cubs-Cardinals is about identifying with a megalopolis or smaller communities. The argument, no matter where you actually live, is about which lens makes sense: Is your center the big city or somewhere that considers itself less complicated?

Giants-Dodgers is also a cultural conversation. Taking into account that there are Giants and Dodgers fans far afield, well outside their respective cities and their suburbs — and that the fandoms, themselves, have factions that struggle for primacy — the broad conflict is between the urban values San Francisco and Los Angeles represent, and those values are best understood through their ballparks.

Dodger Stadium has symmetrical fences and is surrounded by parking lots. It was constructed into a hillside on land that was seized from immigrant communities that had built their own homes and institutions there and gifted to the Dodgers. It’s a ballpark where celebrities orchestrate appearances. It’s where people from an especially wide array of backgrounds gather to root for the home team. It’s a nightmare to get in and out, but once you’re in, the ballpark feels timeless. It’s neither cutting-edge nor old-fashioned, not quite Mid-Century Modern, definitely not a jewelbox. It can hold 56,000 people, but it doesn’t feel huge unless you’re trying to walk around it.

The San Francisco Giants’ longtime home in the southeast corner of the city, Candlestick Park, provided one kind of contrast with Dodger Stadium, in that it was a multi-use facility shared with the San Francisco 49ers and owned by the city. It was like a dive bar in the same way the Oakland Coliseum still is today.

And then, at the turn of the century, the Giants moved to a fancy new ballpark that has had four different names thanks to changing corporate sponsorships. Oracle Park’s outfield dimensions reflect its placement along the waterfront, and its capacity of just over 40,000 reflects the exclusivity of attending a Giants game. The place is undeniably gorgeous. It was explicitly built to cater to young professionals who would go to games straight from work, either from downtown or from the offices that sprung up in the surrounding neighborhoods. Weekend night games are like hitting a nightclub, with roving packs of bros and chicks clutching their beers and hoping to dance on camera. If you ride Caltrain to one of those games, you’re liable to hear a buzzed gentleman shit-talking his co-workers’ marketing skills. The food is really good, especially at the many multiple specialty stands. The Giants are developing “a new waterfront neighborhood” on 28 acres located across the cove from the ballpark that apparently includes more than 1,300 housing units, 40 percent of which will be offered below market rate. When you sit in certain sections on the first base side, you can see the upper tip of the Salesforce tower.

When the Giants beat the Dodgers, deep down inside I’m happy that through physical prowess the professionals paid to represent my tribe have repudiated unchecked sprawl, unabashed car culture, and In N Out Burger. When Buster Posey hits a line drive into the gap, it’s a signal that dense, compact cities with developed public transportation are superior to spread-out urban areas, and that a large number of criticisms about San Francisco come from a place of not understanding that its compactness means one can’t hide from or easily ignore problems that might literally be 10 miles away in other cities, and thus more easily avoidable. Furthermore, it’s a blow to those people who champion sprawl, cars, and overrated hamburgers, and I revel in their pain.

All that’s to say I think the Giants can put together a largely platoon-proof lineup, but have been even better playing postseason-style matchup baseball all season long. Thus, they are particularly suited to take down the Dodgers. It’ll be Giants in 5.

(Photo: "Oracle Park and South Beach Harbor" by Bob Ecker for the Port of San Francisco. Used under CC BY 2.0 license.)