Three games in July can’t “make or break” a season. They can change a season’s direction — for example, if you’re on the fence about buying or selling before the deadline and you go out and get destroyed — but by themselves, three games can’t be more important than the combined impact of 159 others. They may feel like they are, but perspective is important.
Of course, even I’m not going to pretend that playing the Padres or Royals is no different than playing the Giants right now. For weeks, when the Giants were crushing everyone and playing at a 106-win pace, leaving the Dodgers in the dust, I said I didn’t care. The Dodgers had to focus on what they could control. If the Giants were beating the Phillies and Marlins and Brewers, well, it wasn’t great, but it was also no reflection on the Dodgers. As long as LA took care of business, the Giants would inevitably fall back to earth. Both things happened. The Dodgers spent several weeks either in first place or tied for it, a considerable achievement since they’d been as far back as 9.5 games in early June.
Now, after not having faced one another for two and a half months, the Dodgers and Giants finally get to face off again in San Francisco this weekend, and yeah, it’s big. If it wasn’t, Don Mattingly wouldn’t have arranged his second-half rotation so that Dan Haren would be the first one to start, in order to get Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, and Hyun-jin Ryu lined up for these three games. The Dodgers are currently 1.5 games back; at best, they could be 1.5 games up, and at worst, 4.5 games out. Most likely, it will be 0.5 or 2.5. It matters, but it’s not the entire season. For the first time in a long while, they have the absolute control in their hands, and they don’t have to look at the scoreboard and hope that Kyle Kendrick or Edwin Jackson or Tyson Ross or whichever pitcher the Giants were facing that day did well.
Having not played one another for so long, these two teams are a bit different than they once were. You’ll probably hear a lot about how the Giants took seven of the first 10 games between the two, and that’s fine, because it’s true. It happened, and it counts in the standings. Is it really indicative of anything? No, probably not. The late-July Giants aren’t the early-season Giants — all 10 of those games took place in the first six weeks of the season — and these aren’t the same Dodgers, either. For example, Paul Maholm started three of those games; Kershaw just one. Brandon Hicks hit two homers against the Dodgers; he was DFA’d two weeks ago. Brandon Belt hit one as well; he’s on the disabled list. Matt Cain won’t be pitching this weekend; Yusmeiro Petit will. Angel Pagan got on base 18 times in those 10 games; he’s out with a back injury.
That’s not to underestimate the Giants; far from it. They have won two championships since 2010, obviously, and they remain a tough team. I’m just not all that worried about games that happened with different players back in April and May, and this series alone won’t decide the NL West race. (They still play six games in September.) Unless the Dodgers sweep, of course. Then you can write all the “turning point! narrative!” articles you want.