When the 2021 MLB schedule was released last year, no one thought an early September series between the Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers would have huge ramifications on the NL West race.
Maybe, some might have thought, the reigning World Series champion Dodgers would need the three-game series to pad their lead over the upstart San Diego Padres.
The Giants weren't supposed to contend for the division crown this season. With aging veterans and several players signed to one-year contracts, the 2021 season was expected to be another step in Farhan Zaidi's rebuilding project, with an eye on 2022 and beyond.
Except the Giants have defied all expectations and projections this season. Instead of playing second or third fiddle to the Dodgers and Padres, San Francisco controlled the NL West for the last three-plus months.
From May 30 through Aug. 31, the Giants led the Dodgers and Padres in the NL West. On Wednesday, the Dodgers finally caught and passed the Giants, taking a half-game lead. But with the Giants beating the Milwaukee Brewers while the Dodgers were idle Thursday, the longtime rivals head into their final three games against each other this season deadlocked atop the division with identical 85-49 records (.634 winning percentage).
For as long as the Giants and Dodgers have been around, and for as long as they've been battling each other, it's extremely rare for both teams to be this good, this late into a season.
MLB.com's Sarah Langs, via the Elias Sports Bureau, noted that this weekend's three-game series between the Giants and Dodgers will be the second-ever meeting between them, at least 130 games into a season, when both teams have at least a .630 winning percentage.
The only other time? Sept. 3-6, 1962.
That year, the Giants entered the four-game series with a 86-50 record, while the Dodgers were 90-47. But San Francisco won three of four at Dodger Stadium. The rivals would end the season tied with 101-61 records, forcing a three-game tiebreaker series, which the Giants ended up winning two games to one. The Giants would go on to lose to the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Getting back to the current season, amazingly, the Giants and Dodgers have been so evenly matched in their previous 16 matchups that they've both won eight games apiece and scored 68 runs each.
The Dodgers appear to be peaking at the right time, while the Giants are just trying to tread water until they can get healthy, and this series looks like a mismatch on paper due to the issues plaguing manager Gabe Kapler's starting rotation. Anthony DeSclafani takes on David Price on Friday, but after that, the Giants have a bunch of question marks.
With Alex Wood on the COVID-19 Injured List and Johnny Cueto on the 10-day Injured List with an elbow strain, the Giants are planning to go with bullpen games against Julio Urias and Walker Buehler, on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Not exactly an ideal situation in vitally important games.
The Giants have been counted out all season long and proved everyone wrong. It looks like a tall task to keep it rolling over the next three days, but if anyone is equipped to do it, it's this club.