7/3/2014 11:57 A.M. ET
NL West race illustrates the unique drama of MLB
Dodgers have erased big deficit to draw close to Giants
By Terence Moore / MLB.com
There are so many reasons to love the nearly year-long rhythm of baseball. The Dodgers are providing the latest, and they are doing so with help in the National League West from their arch enemies in northern California. Simply put, courtesy of the Dodgers rising and the Giants sinking, we have another Major League season of The Surge -- or shall we say The Collapse, if you're more into orange and black instead of Dodger blue.
Warning: You better get used to comparisons and contrasts in this column, because they are inseparable regarding this subject.
Through May, the Giants mostly streaked. They even flirted with going uncontested atop their division through September, in search of a third World Series championship in five seasons. In contrast, the Dodgers were a mess, but that was before the calendar flipped to June -- and then the Giants were a mess, and the Dodgers mostly streaked.
This is so cool. Mostly, this is so 1978 Yankees (or 1978 Red Sox) or so any of those other famous (or infamous) surges (or collapses) in baseball history.
These are baseball moments, alright. The other three major sports leagues in North America aren't designed for anything like this -- where a team can sit hopelessly away from making the playoffs during the season and then acquire magic for days, weeks or even months. The opposite also is true (see the present Giants and those 1978 Red Sox), and much of it involves baseball's regular season, which consists of 162 games over seven months. That marathon schedule allows teams to go into automatic pilot while recovering from the lowliest of deficits, or plunging from loftiest of heights.
The NFL regular season is too short for such moments, and since a slew of teams make the playoffs in the NBA and NHL, well, you get the picture.
Little drama there.
Which brings us back to the yin and yang of these things in our national pastime, and they've often involved the Dodgers. Like last year on the positive, when the Dodgers went from 9 1/2 games out in last place to winning the division after all of their competitors vanished. Or like 1951 on the negative, when they botched a gigantic lead in September to set up Bobby Thomson's home run for the Giants and Russ Hodges' call for the ages. You also had the 1962 Giants and the 1973 Reds catching and surpassing the previously coasting Dodgers.
As for other teams racing up and down the standings with a heavy dose of flair during a particular season, I'll give you the short list to save time. There was the rise and fall of the Cardinals and Phillies in 1964, the Mets and Cubs in 1969, the Phillies and Mets in 2007 and the Red Sox and Rays and the Braves and Cardinals in 2011. I already mentioned the epitome of these double moments, and it involved the Yankees and Red Sox of 1978. They kept the nation riveted from early September through a sudden-death game in Boston on Oct. 2. That's when Bucky Dent slammed his improbable home run at Fenway Park to bring the Yankees from July purgatory to October heaven.
The Red Sox were the reverse of that.
How depressing. Well, how exhilarating. Whether The Surge is more pleasurable than The Collapse depends on which team is yours at that time. But one thing is certain: Neither team is boring in these situations.
Such is the case with this year's out-of-nowhere drama in the NL West between the Giants and the Dodgers. Instead of "the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant, the Giants win the pennant," we could be on our way to the Giants lose the division, the Giants lose the division, the Giants lose the division, the Giants lose the division.
With their bullpen less than stellar, sparkplug Angel Pagan recovering from injury and strikingly little mojo, the Giants could make the brutal transition from a 9 1/2-game lead in the NL West in early June to a Wild Card berth or to no playoff berth at all. They once owned baseball's best record at 42-21, but they eventually lost 15 of 19 games. The Giants fell a half-game back behind the Dodgers earlier this week before regaining first place (barely) to turn the division into a tossup.
While the Giants were sinking, the Dodgers were soaring by, taking 14 out of 21 games at one point. The Dodgers' run differential in that stretch was plus 33 compared to the Giants' minus 37.
I told you this is cool. The Dodgers or the Giants also could turn the NL West into the NL West of 1982. Back then, the Braves exploded to a 13-0 start along the way to a nine-game lead by late July. Then they dropped 19 out of 21 games to create a multi-team race in the division through September, but Atlanta rebounded near the end to win seven of nine and the NL West.
If you're keeping score, those 1982 Braves went from The Surge to The Collapse to The Surge again in the same season.
Now that was really cool.
Terence Moore is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.