LOS ANGELES — In the bottom of the sixth inning on Aug. 22, 2012, Brandon Crawford replaced Pablo Sandoval on the infield dirt, giving the Giants their strongest defensive alignment as they tried to hold on for a win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Crawford slid into the lineup between Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence, who had been acquired a few weeks earlier. He watched from short as Matt Cain finished off a strong start and Core Four members Jeremy Affeldt and Santiago Casilla pitched the final two innings. After the bottom of the ninth, he high-fived manager Bruce Bochy, catcher Buster Posey and first baseman Brandon Belt, among others.
Aside from Crawford and Clayton Kershaw, every player from both sides of that box score has moved on. They are spread around golf courses and broadcast booths. Like Crawford and Kershaw, nearly all of them are now raising multiple children.
Just about everything about the Giants has changed in recent years, but Crawford remains, and this weekend he watched a group that looks poised to return to those consistent winning ways. The Dodgers have been on top of the division at the end of nearly every month since that game, but this weekend, the Giants swept them for the first time at Dodger Stadium since that three-game series in 2012.
It was the kind of weekend that allows everyone to dream about what’s ahead. Like the Dodgers of the last decade, the Giants are perfectly mixing veterans with wildly talented rookies, and for the first time in a while, it feels sustainable.
“We’re doing it with veteran guys, with young guys, good pitching, good defense, good hitting,” Crawford said after a 7-3 win. “We’re playing really good baseball. It’s obviously a lot of fun.”
The final game of the sweep was won behind a resilient performance from ace Logan Webb, a two-run single from rookie Luis Matos, and plenty of opportunistic moments for a lineup that spent three days taking advantage of every mistake the banged-up Dodgers made.
Sunday’s win was the most normal of the three, but all three showed Crawford something about the group, which went 6-0 on the road trip and moved into second place in the NL West.
“Fighting back (on Friday) and taking the lead and losing the lead and still coming back and getting that win, I think that kind of gave us even more confidence than we already had, just knowing that we could come in here and play a really good team in the Dodgers and come back and beat them,” Crawford said. “And then with the game yesterday, scoring 15 runs and shutting them out, I think that just made us feel even better about the group of guys that we have here.”
With 22 wins in their last 31 games, including three straight road sweeps, the Giants have vaulted back into the postseason picture. But for as much fun as they had Sunday — and will have on the flight home — they know that it’s early, and they know their path this year still is far from clear.
If the Dodgers had long-term concerns, they didn’t show Sunday. They brought the tying run to the plate in the ninth and a few minutes later, Kershaw and other veterans went out to left field to happily play catch with their children. They’re more injured than any team in the division, even the Giants, with Max Muncy, Julio Urias, Dustin May and many others on the IL. But they expect to get most of their contributors back in the next couple of weeks.
Neither side of the rivalry is even atop the division at the moment. First place belongs to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who have quietly been rolling through one team after the next and will make their first 2023 appearance at Oracle Park next weekend. First, the Giants will play four against the preseason-favorite San Diego Padres, who have won seven of their last 10 and still have the most talent in the division if they can ever put it all together.
It won’t be an easy week, but the Giants look far better equipped for it than they did a month ago. Matos is here to stay, and after scoring seven runs in his first four games, he should get some of the biggest cheers when the Giants return home on Monday. Patrick Bailey, Blake Sabol, Ryan Walker and Tristan Beck all had good weekends in their first visit to Dodger Stadium. Casey Schmitt ended his with a fastball off the forearm, but an X-ray was negative and the Giants are hopeful he can avoid the IL.
The rookies are providing a reminder of how quickly fortunes can change, and Crawford has seen it before. He was part of the last real wave, joining Belt as franchise cornerstones a couple of years after Buster Posey and Madison Bumgarner arrived.
Crawford has been around long enough to know that one good month doesn’t have to mean anything. But he sees plenty of signs that this is different, from an improved defense, to a bullpen that’s locking opponents down like the Core Four did, to a lineup that keeps plugging holes and chugging along, passing the baton until the job is done.
As Crawford spoke, a veteran walked through the clubhouse and chanted “sweep, sweep, sweep.” Teammates smiled as they ate donuts and waited to board the team bus.
“For the most part, we’re playing good all-around baseball,” Crawford said. “We obviously just hope that we can ride this feeling and the way we’re playing throughout the rest of the season.”