What the Giants’ ascent tells us about the Dodgers

Giants at Rangers, 4:57 p.m.

A World Series title for the Giants, should it arrive in the next four to 54 hours, will be hateful to many Dodger fans, though others will be above caring. I can’t say I’m looking forward to the potential celebration, though I’ve moved past the cringe phase into acceptance. It really has come to seem like the Giants’ year, and after more than 50 that haven’t been, why shouldn’t it be?

But if I’ve stopped worrying about what this means for me as a Dodger fan, I still am interested in what the Giants have done from a player personnel perspective to get here. And forgive me if I find it instructive.

Every player transaction a front office makes is designed to increase the odds of the team winning on the field. There can be parallel and sometimes competing timetables, short-term vs. long-term, but either way, it’s all about increasing those odds.

San Francisco is poised to win its first World Series title without having a single player earning more than $10 million this year making a meaningful contribution. The team has two eight-digit earners, both of whom are riding the bench. Barry Zito was a serviceable starter this year but didn’t make the postseason roster, while Aaron Rowand had a .659 OPS in 357 regular-season plate appearances and has one at-bat so far in the Fall Classic.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that high-salaried players can’t be valuable. Furthermore, the Giants aren’t exactly a low-budget team; their payroll trumps that of their World Series opponents from Texas, who had to overcome their own share of ownership strife to make it this far. But it does reinforce in my mind that the notion in recent years that the Dodgers had to get superstar X or superstar Y to win led to a phony hysteria.

If the Giants win the World Series, the principal reason will have been a homegrown foursome of starting pitchers, including three first-round picks in a six-year period, that coalesced in utterly timely fashion with a largely no-name bullpen and arguably the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza. (Quiz question: Do you know the names of the top Giants scouting executives?)

Putting aside how close the Dodgers came to glory in 2008 and 2009, the 2010 Giants could have been the 2010 Dodgers. Oh, it most certainly did not play out that way, but it wasn’t long ago that the Dodgers were the safer bet.

Instead, the Dodgers’ tricycle of homegrown first-round draft choices in the starting rotation busted a wheel when Scott Elbert (or, if you prefer, Greg Miller) flat-tired. Russell Martin — at one point the best rookie catcher from the National League West since Mike Piazza — is now a vapor. A nearly iron-clad bullpen in 2009 fell apart this year despite much the same makeup. And that’s before you even begin talking about what might have been with Matt Kemp and friends.

The core of the Giants is under 27 and entered 2010 with zero postseason experience. And yes, Tim Lincecum is a superstar, but Clayton Kershaw outpitched him this year.

As much as we want to blame everything and global warming on the McCourts, they are not all that went wrong with the Dodgers this year. I want the Dodgers to have better owners, but there is so much more that affects a team’s World Series chances than ownership. Much of the Dodgers’ ill fortunes this year is tied up in the tiniest of fibers, threads that might have held together but simply frayed.

You make the best moves you can make — but those moves include the draft as much as free agency and trades, maybe even more so.  You make the best moves you can make, and then you hope those players execute well and have some good fortune to boot. You make the best moves you can make, and then you play the cards. The Giants might be about to hit 21; the Dodgers busted. That’s the way the game goes every 56 years or so.

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