SAN FRANCISCO – It is not free to park your car. The beer’s gonna cost you. So will the Cha-Cha bowls and garlic fries and panda hats and game-authenticated vials of infield dirt.
But it’s still free to hope. So top up. Because when Clayton Kershaw pitches at AT&T Park, that’s really just about all you have.
The Giants created more traffic, opportunities and offense than they usually do against Kershaw, even if that statement sounds better on the menu than it looks on the plate. Kershaw was 0.69 in 10 career starts here. In other words, the printed instructions call for you to open up that vial and get to chewing.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kershaw, Kemp lead Dodgers past Giants]
The Giants did manage two runs in Kershaw’s eight innings, but that was not enough because they made two throwing errors on the same play in a two-run second inning, strike-throwing savant Yusmeiro Petit fell behind just once all afternoon and he used that occasion to park a cement-mixer slider in Matt Kemp’s loading zone.
The Giants lost 4-2 on Sunday, the Dodgers seized a three-game lead in the NL West after taking two of three, and what a series it was. The Giants dropped a 9-0 anvil on Friday. The Dodgers loosened a 17-0 grand piano on Saturday. Then Kershaw threw his weight around to help the visitors make a productive little weekend of their time here.
The Giants and Dodgers have played against each other 16 times this season, which is usually a big enough pie slice to properly identify and render judgment on the filling. The better team is usually apparent by now. But the Giants have won eight, the Dodgers have won eight, and both teams have been at turns unbeatable and unwatchable in this fever chill of a season.
When Kershaw pitches, of course, his side would be favored against the Gashouse Gorillas or the Twelve Apostles. It’s all-inclusive when you’re 19-3 with a 1.70 ERA and have a legitimate shot to become the first NL pitcher to win an MVP award since Bob Gibson in 1968.
When Zack Greinke pitches, the Dodgers have consistently come out on top, too. They are 4-0 in his starts against the Giants this season, and they haven’t beaten him in six career entanglements.
Kershaw and Greinke are both lined up to face the Giants a week from now at Chavez Ravine, when the Dodgers could secure another division title or set up a wild, scoreboard-watching final weekend.
There are a few other points in the Dodgers’ favor, namely that Kemp is playing like a healthy All-Star again and Adrian Gonzalez is on a hot streak. The Giants play cleaner and smarter infield defense, though, their bullpen is deeper and they could be adding Brandon Belt to the mix soon. They have experience and belief in their corner, too.
Here’s what’s left:
The Dodgers play seven on the road, then six at home. The Giants have nine on the road, then four at home. The Dodgers have six meetings with the Colorado Rockies and four against the Chicago Cubs. The Giants have seven meetings with the San Diego Padres and three with the Arizona Diamondbacks. For both NL West contenders, all of their remaining opponents save each other are playing for pride, love, approval and/or draft picks.
But it will come down, as is usually does, to pitching. How bad off is Hyun-Jin Ryu’s sore shoulder? Does 39-year-old Tim Hudson have anything left in the tank? And considering Hudson is the Giants’ starter currently lined up to face Kershaw a week from Wednesday, do they even want to find out?
It’s a mental exercise, anyway, to kick around whether the Dodgers or Giants have the better team, or try to noodle out which side would win No. 51 first if they played 100. The schedule is the schedule and there are 10 wins or losses to be recorded on days these two teams won’t play each other as a division is decided over the next two weeks.
Which team is better? Shouldn’t we know this by now? And isn’t it just loads of fun that we don’t?