By Alex Koenig
The last time a pitcher and a batter on opposing teams in the same city faced each other in the midst of seasons as good as the one’s LA Dodgers’ Centerfield Matt Kemp and LA Angels of Anaheim’ Pitcher Jered Weaver are having, it was 1936 and the combatants were immortalized on the cover of Time magazine.
Prior to 1997, and the advent of interleague play, the only time a “subway” series could occur was in the biggest one of them all, the World Series. While this weekend’s matchup between the 36-38 Angels and the 33-41 Dodgers will not nearly have the same implications as the 1936 version between Lou Gehrig’s New York Yankees and Carl Hubbell’s New York Giants, the quality of play involved is comparable.
Weaver, coming off an All-Star campaign last season, currently leads the American League with a 9-4 record, to go along with his 2.01 ERA – good for second, and 102 strikeouts (4th). Perhaps more importantly, he has a league leading WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 4.0 which, through 74 games, puts him on pace to reach a WAR of 8.8 by the end of the season. That would be good enough for the highest mark in Angels’ franchise history, eclipsing the immortal Nolan Ryan’s mark of 8.3, set in 1977.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the City of Angels, the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp is putting in an MVP performance of his own. Kemp has an NL leading 20 Homers, is third in RBI with 57 and has 18 Stolen Bases, making a 40/40 season a legitimate possibility. On top of that, he’s batting .325 with an OPS of 1.028 to go along with his own league leading WAR of 4.4. That mark puts him on pace for a WAR of 9.6, which would be the second highest total since the Dodgers came to L.A. in 1957 – behind Adrian Beltre’s monster year in 2004.
Both Kemp and Weaver are the odds on favorites for their leagues’ MVP and Cy Young awards, respectively, and though their teams are having disappointing seasons, the historic
nature of this weekend’s matchup cannot be understated. The list of same city tandems with WAR’s above 8.0 – 8 and above is deemed MVP-worthy – is a short one (see below) made even shorter still when constrained to be both a pitcher and a batter. In fact, since Ted Williams and Warren Spahn ruled Boston in 1947, it’s only happened once, with Dwight Gooden and Rickey Henderson dominating the league in 1985.
*Italics marks pitcher, bold marks winner of Cy Young or MVP
|Mel Ott 8.4
When Gehrig and Hubbell met up in the World Series, following their MVP seasons, The Iron Horse went 1-6 against Hubbell. However, that one hit was a two-run homer in Game 4 – which the Yankees won, on their way to winning the Series in 6. That was the only time in baseball history that a pitcher and a batter who shared a city faced eachother in the middle – or rather at the end – of MVP-caliber seasons.
Who knows if Kemp and Weaver will keep up the pace they currently are on. If their numbers fall after the All-Star break they certainly wouldn’t be the first hot starts to ever flame out. However, with the season as it stands now, their matchup this weekend will be far more than just another mid-season game between two sub-par teams. It will be a match-up the likes of which we have almost never seen before, and may never see again. Records aside, it’s the situation Major League Baseball must have been dreaming of when they conjured up the concept of inter-league play. The names ‘Kemp’ and ‘Weaver’ do not, and may never, have the cachet of Mays and Mantle, Ruth and Williams, Gehrig and Bonds, but right now, they are playing like they do. In a sport that is so consumed by its own history, baseball fans in Los Angeles and beyond should sit back and appreciate what they will be watching this weekend: something historic.