By Flint Wheeler
Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout did a television interview, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols were catching up behind the batting cage, and Tommy Lasorda was in the Angels dugout chatting with players Monday before the Freeway Series opener in front of a sellout crowd at Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers and Angels are having fun. They’re fun to watch, and they’re even more fun to watch when they’re playing interleague matchups in August when we can still dream of a World Series matchup.
Both the Dodgers and Angels are in contention for the postseason, meaning Southern California has professional baseball swag for the first time in a while.
The Angels haven’t made the postseason since 2009, so this is the first time in five years both teams should make the playoffs in the same season.
“The rivalry is good but it’s always better when the teams are playing for something,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said.
The Dodgers have the best record in the National League and hold a 1 1/2-game lead in the NL West over the Giants. The Angels have 67 wins (At the writing of this article, second-best in baseball) and are one game behind Oakland for the AL West lead, and they lead the wild-card standings.
These Freeway Series are always anticipated due to rivalry and proximity, but they’re not always met with as much anticipation as this matchup, since both teams seem playoff-bound and there’s legitimate talk of a World Series set in Southern California.
“For the most part, it happens a lot more than it doesn’t that both teams are in contention,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “We’ve had a little bit of a playoff drought, but a couple of years it came down to the last weekend. It’s more of a rarity when both teams aren’t in contention.
“This is what makes baseball fun for Southern California fans. It’s exciting … This year, we’re certainly at the forefront.”
How can these teams not be at center stage with all these stars? The Angels’ Trout, Pujols, Garrett Richards and Co. are playing well. The Dodgers counter with stars Yasiel Puig, Kershaw, Zack Greinke and a surging Matt Kemp, among others.
Puig and Trout could have a productive rivalry going, and playing in these interleague games should only enhance that.
“Those are two pretty good players,” Scioscia said of Trout and Puig. “Mike and Yasiel are two of the most exciting, mega-talented players in baseball. To see them on the same field is exciting for the fans … If (Puig) pops up and walks back to the dugout a couple of times, that would be exciting for us.”
What would be exciting for Southern California baseball fans is if both teams make the playoffs again. Puig got his first taste of the postseason last year, but Trout has never been to the playoffs.
The Dodgers were two wins away from the World Series last year but haven’t won one in 26 years. The Angels, who won the World Series in 2002, are looking to get their playoff swag back. Even if Oakland wins the AL West, the Angels are in line for a wild-card spot.
These teams are playing later than usual in the season, with two games here at Dodger Stadium and a two-game home stand for the Angels on Wednesday and Thursday.
It’s a chance to watch Southern California baseball at its best. We haven’t seen the Dodgers and Angels both make the postseason in five years. They’re on track to change that and make this an October to remember.