San Francisco Giants

Early Giants-Dodgers series forecasts an entertaining summer

The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner (40) hits a solo home run off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in front of Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis during the second inning Saturday.
The Giants’ Madison Bumgarner (40) hits a solo home run off the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw in front of Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis during the second inning Saturday. The Associated Press

Dave Roberts recalled an evening last September when a few then-San Diego Padres coaches were looking at the out-of-town scoreboard and noticed a pitching matchup of Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw in San Francisco.

“I remember talking to the coaches,” said Roberts, San Diego’s bench coach at the time, “and saying, ‘That’s a game I would pay money to go watch.’ 

Now the manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Roberts had a view you can’t buy for Saturday’s latest meeting of the two left-handed aces, a 3-2 Dodgers win in 10 innings on a rainy afternoon at AT&T Park. Bumgarner allowed one run in six innings and hit his second career home run off Kershaw, who gave up two runs in eight innings. Charlie Culberson hit a tiebreaking double off George Kontos in the 10th for the game winner.

Saturday was the fifth time in the last 12 months Bumgarner and Kershaw have started against each other, and the frequency and profile of their matchups arguably have made them the current representation of the longstanding rivalry between their teams.

I mean, he’s the best pitcher in baseball. And he seems like a pretty good guy. What wouldn’t you admire? Except his looks, they’re bad. You can write that down.

Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, on the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw

“In many ways I think so,” Giants general manager Bobby Evans said recently. “They both have high respect for each other and they’ve both been very successful. It certainly makes for a good matchup.”

Bumgarner, 26, owns three World Series rings and a World Series MVP award. His team has won three of the past six World Series. Kershaw, 28, has three Cy Young Awards and a National League MVP. His team has won the N.L. West the past three years.

Leading up to Saturday, both pitchers shrugged off the significance of their latest encounter, as many players will characterize the Giants-Dodgers dynamic as simply another layer of intrigue for fans. Yet the attention paid to the Bumgarner-Kershaw matchup – and to this early April series – indicates the rivalry is in one of its stronger phases.

The Giants padded their roster over the winter with several expensive free-agent signings. The Dodgers also have shown a willingness to spend money but this year are promoting a strategy of depth – one that has already been tested this spring by injuries to their rotation. Neither team is ignoring the rest of the division, especially the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the Giants and Dodgers are widely considered to be the front-runners again in the N.L. West.

“We match up, I think, well against each other,” Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “This is the early part of the season, but the fact that (the series) has created this much interest – it’s a good thing for baseball, it’s a good thing for these players to know that these two teams are going to be battling it out probably for the whole year.”

Bochy used terms like “solid,” “balanced” and “tough” to describe the Dodgers. Roberts struck a similar chord describing the Giants’ lineup Friday, calling it “very balanced” with length, speed and power.

“Maybe on paper this is the best club they’ve had in (recent) years,” Roberts said. “But as we’ve seen, it’s not always the best team that’s holding that trophy. So I think for us, we feel really good about our club, but that lineup definitely poses some challenges.”

I think we’re friends. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to beat him.

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, on the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner

The teams’ mutual respect extends to their aces. Before Saturday, Bumgarner and Kershaw had met seven times. The Giants had won five of the games, but Kershaw owned the better numbers – a 2.12 ERA and 0.86 WHIP, or walks plus hits per inning pitched, compared to a 2.58 ERA and 1.15 WHIP for Bumgarner. Kershaw also had the best single performance in the game Roberts remembered from last September – a 13-strikeout shutout that clinched the division for the Dodgers.

The pitchers said they are friendly without being extremely close. Bumgarner gave a respectful answer when asked Friday what he admires about Kershaw.

“I mean, he’s the best pitcher in baseball,” Bumgarner said. “And he seems like a pretty good guy. What wouldn’t you admire? Except his looks, they’re bad. You can write that down.”

Kershaw told reporters Friday he puts little significance into his matchups against Bumgarner, “other than pitching against a really good pitcher.”

“I think we’re friends,” Kershaw said. “It doesn’t mean I don’t want to beat him.”

For much of Saturday, it looked as though Bumgarner would get the better of Kershaw. Already the only pitcher to homer off Kershaw in the majors, Bumgarner became just the 15th player overall with multiple career homers against Kershaw when he lined a 1-1 fastball into the left-field seats in the second inning. It was Bumgarner’s 12th career homer, tying Yovani Gallardo for most among active pitchers.

Shortstop Ehire Adrianza, starting in place of Brandon Crawford, homered off Kershaw out of the No. 9 spot three innings later, and the Giants carried a 2-1 lead into the ninth. But the Dodgers loaded the bases against closer Santiago Casilla with one out on a walk, a single and a hit batsman. Casilla got Adrian Gonzalez to hit a potential double-play grounder but second baseman Kelby Tomlinson bobbled it and recorded only one out as the tying run scored.

That removed both starters from the decision, and back-to-back one-out doubles by Corey Seager and Culberson off Kontos in the 10th gave the Dodgers their first win of the season series against the Giants.

“I look at the game (Bumgarner) pitched today, that’s a great game going against maybe the best pitcher in baseball,” Bochy said. “Here we had the lead with the closer out there. That’s all you can ask.

“They did a good job battling back; give them credit. We did it the first two games. This has been a great series, exciting games, and this one just got away from us today.”