One thought that crossed the mind when we lost Kevin Towers to thyroid cancer on Jan. 30 was how much the former Padres and D-backs general manager legitimately did demonstrate a distaste for the Dodgers.Remember, for instance, the time Towers said that if a carton full of baseballs had been
One thought that crossed the mind when we lost Kevin Towers to thyroid cancer on Jan. 30 was how much the former Padres and D-backs general manager legitimately did demonstrate a distaste for the Dodgers.
Remember, for instance, the time Towers said that if a carton full of baseballs had been sitting next to him when the video board showed the Dodgers celebrating a six-homer day against his D-backs, he would have flung them into the Dodgers' dugout? OK, it wasn't the stateliest statement of all time, but it was definitely evidence that this was a man who appreciates a good rivalry!
We don't have a ton of true full-blooded rivalries in Major League Baseball today. There are so many games, players move around so much and the dual Wild Card system has made the important affairs such a moving target from year to year that the tension can wane. It's ultimately a good thing that brouhahas the likes of which we saw with the Nationals and Giants and the Yankees and Tigers last season rarely spill over into subsequent seasons, though it doesn't feed many juicy narratives.
But there are still some matchups have a little more heft than others. So what follows is a list of team rivalries that seem notable specifically for the 2018 season. Emphasis, obviously, on teams that figure to be in contention.
10. Red Sox vs. Orioles
While there were other 2017 tussles mentioned above that might not linger in '18, this one merits inclusion on the list simply because these are division rivals who face each other so frequently and, ergo, could demonstrate some continued frustration with one another. There was a lot of drama packed into this matchup in the first half of the 2017 season, from Buck Showalter suggesting the Sox were making excuses after the flu bug bit their clubhouse to the Red Sox throwing behind Manny Machado after Machado injured Dustin Pedroia on a slide to, unfortunately, the racist taunts Adam Jones rightly spoke out about at Fenway.
9. Twins vs. Yankees
Entirely one-sided, but notable. The Twins are now an unfathomable 33-90 against the Yankees dating back to 2002, including last year's American League Wild Card Game and four other postseason meetings. That puts the Yanks on pace for a 119-win "season" against the Twins. Joe Mauer is the only current Twins player who has been around for the majority of this period of Minnesota misery against the Yanks, but you couldn't blame the 2018 Twins if, particularly after what happened last fall, if they feel some sort of incentive to squash this storyline in their limited dalliances with the Bronx Bombers this year.
8. Nationals vs. Mets
After finishing first and second in the National League East for three consecutive seasons, things regressed significantly in 2017, with the Mets besieged by injuries and holes. The Nats are the clear class of the East and in good shape to win the division for the fifth time in eight years. But with the Mets adding Todd Frazier and returning Jay Bruce to a club that remains a healthy rotation away from becoming really interesting, we'll put this one on here, just in case.
7. D-backs vs. Dodgers
We'll call this the Kevin Towers Special. Last year, the Dodgers ran away with the division, then swept Arizona out of the NL Division Series, which should only fan the flames for a D-backs team that, as voiced by Archie Bradleyon Twitter at one point last year, doesn't like to see Dodger blue in the stands at Chase Field.
D-backs-Rockies (coming off their NL Wild Card Game in 2017) and Rockies-Dodgers are other intriguing NL West offerings. Oh, and then of course there is…
6. Giants vs. Dodgers
The history here will always earn these two lovebirds a spot on this list, provided they are both making an earnest effort to contend in a given season. Though the Giants had the worst record in baseball last season, the "earnest effort" still applies to each.
Projections available at FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus see a nice bounceback for the Giants this year, but the Dodgers are still projected to run away with a division they've dominated each of the past five years. So it's hard to rank this one especially high. But we will continue to hold out hope that this is the year the Giants and Dodgers finally meet in a proper postseason series.
5. Astros vs. Yankees
They found themselves opposing each other on the AL Championship Series stage last fall. Then they found themselves opposing each other in the Gerrit Cole trade market. The Astros won out both times, but the Yankees' addition of Giancarlo Stanton takes a good team to another level. And in what has been a quiet offseason overall, these are two elite AL clubs that did what it took to get demonstrably better. So that bodes well for future battles.
4. Astros vs. Rangers
Texas' two teams didn't have a legit rivalry until 2015, when the two postseason-bound ballclubs had a benches-clearing incident that included A.J. Hinch and Jeff Banister jawing at each other. Then in 2016, the Rangers went 15-4 against Houston and, as a result, beat the Astros by 11 games in the AL West. That result stuck with the 'Stros, who entered 2017 hungry to take down Texas. Last May, third baseman Alex Bregman tweeted "Operation #BTSOOTR," or Beat The (You-Know-What) Out of The Rangers. In the ensuing series, there was tension -- plunked batters, cleared batters, dugout warnings -- and Hinch later said, "Things have gotten a bit salty between us."
This year, it's the Rangers who have something to prove against the Astros, but in general the Lone Star Series has more meat on the rib-eye than it did when they first began sharing a division.
3. Cubs vs. Dodgers
Cubs owner Todd Ricketts put this one to words recently when he referred to the Dodgers as the Cubs' "nemesis." In 2016, the Cubs had to get through the Dodgers in the NLCS round on their way to their first World Series title in 108 years, and last year the Dodgers had to get through the Cubs in that same round to reach the Series for the first time since 1988.
As I write this, FanGraphs projects these two clubs to have the NL's top two records in 2018. Who's up for a rubber match?
2. Cubs vs. Cardinals
This offseason, the Cardinals have made some moves with an intent on closing the gap on the Cubs in the NL Central after consecutive October absences. And there was also a brief (and pretty silly) little beef between Willson Contreras and Yadier Molina last month when Contreras gave an interview in which he said "I'm going to be better than" Molina and Buster Posey. (Molina responded by posting a picture on Instagram of himself, Posey and Salvador Perez with a caption that translated to, "Respect the ranks, newbies.")
But take note that the NL Central offers plenty of other possibilities in the rivalry realm. The Brewers and Cubs have been in the same division going back to 1998, and to date it ain't exactly Packers-Bears. Still, two clubs separated by just 80 miles of I-94 were surprisingly separated in the standings by just six games in 2017. With the Brew Crew stocking up in advance of '18, things could really start to heat up along Lake Michigan.
And then, of course, there's the possibility that the Brewers and Cardinals could reignite a rivalry with roots in the 1982 World Series and last experienced in earnest in 2011, when they met in the NLCS.
If Jacob Arrieta and/or Lance Lynn wind up signing with one of their former division foes, that might further stoke things in the Central. But for now, it's still Cubs-Cardinals on this list.
1. Yankees vs. Red Sox
This rivalry went from sizzling in the mid-2000s to overcooked earlier this decade. But last year, the Yanks and Red Sox both reached the postseason for the first time since 2009. Now, FanGraphs projects the Red Sox to be one game better than the Yanks, which some might find surprising after the Stanton trade (though PECOTA gives the Yankees a nine-game edge).
It's still a long, long way from its visceral and volatile peak in 2003 and '04, when there truly was no love lost between many of those between the lines. But the back and forth between Brian Cashman and Dave Dombrowski last year (each president of baseball operations referred to the other club as the "Golden State Warriors" at some point, trying to pain themselves as an underdog) was kind of fun. And with the Rays in transition and the Blue Jays and Orioles holding uncertain status as true contenders, it could very well be that the East comes down to Boston and the Bronx once again.
Hopefully that means more emotion along the lines of what inspired last year's greatest viral baseball video.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.