This weekend should be exciting for baseball. The New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers face each other in a weekend series at Dodger Stadium. Baseball now has full interleague play, so MLB clearly hopes this re-ignites the old rivalry that dates back to Brooklyn and has spawned 11 World Series.
Except this time, it doesn’t feel like much of a meeting. The Dodgers hold first place in the NL West despite injuries, like every season. Every fan who pays attention knows their story. They’re a great regular season team who just as regularly falls short in the playoffs. Their only championship since 1988 came in the shortened 2020 season.
It’s also easy to forget that the Yankees and Dodgers had a weekend tilt at Dodger Stadium as recently as 2019. The difference then was both teams were in first place and experts viewed the series as a potential World Series preview. Could New York win in Los Angeles in a season so injury-plagued that “Next Man Up” became a motto?
The answer was yes. The Yankees took two out of three quite handily. Didi Gregorius slugged two home runs and put a damper on Hyun-Jin Ryu’s career season in the opener. Clayton Kershaw struck out 12 Yankees in a nationally televised game, but gave up three runs while his teammates gave him just one.
The Dodgers’ only win? Then-rookie Tony Gonsolin outdueling CC Sabathia, who was basically pitching on one leg and would blow out his shoulder two months later. Los Angeles also won on the saving grace of a controversial call.
But hey, it’s fine, right? Los Angeles has Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman now and can keep up with New York’s lineup. Especially since Giancarlo Stanton and Josh Donaldson return from hamstring injuries this weekend. Yankees fan favorite Tommy Kahnle, who spent the last two years with the Dodgers, is also coming off of the IL.
Even then, who cares? The Dodgers are so injured that not even the pitching matchups are exciting. Even Luis Severino facing Kershaw Friday seems tainted by the veteran lefty’s recent remarks. The rest of the way, Gerrit Cole will face rookie Michael Grove on Saturday and Doming German meets Bobby Miller, another rookie, on Sunday.
How far we have fallen indeed from Jackie Robinson stealing home. Or Reggie Jackson slugging three home runs in Game 6.
Baseball’s die-hards and old-schoolers will point the finger at interleague play. That isn’t the problem. The Yankees-Dodgers rivalry (or at least what’s left of it) hasn’t lost its intensity because New York suddenly plays Boston 13 times instead of 18. To be completely honest, Yankees-Dodgers basically died the moment Brooklyn was traded for Beverly Hills.
Rather, it’s because both teams have become predictable, especially the Dodgers. Even with the Giants overachieving in 2021 and the stacked Padres, the NL West is so weak that Los Angeles can basically run on autopilot. Team president Andrew Friedman can work his player development magic and pursue the free agents he likes without much consequence.
The Yankees are, well, the Yankees. They enter the season with plans that succeed and fail to varying degrees before Brian Cashman makes a surprise trade. Cue the playoffs and early exit, and maybe a run at a big free agent in the offseason. Lather, rinse, repeat since 2009.
But because of how good these teams are on paper, this weekend’s Yankees-Dodgers series will be treated exactly as expected: Like a potential World Series preview.
The sad part is that despite everything we just outlined, the Yankees and Dodgers’ shared history has that effect. The idea of them playing for it all in October really is that exciting and intriguing.
Perhaps this time around, fate will take note and the World Series may actually matter.