OAKLAND, Calif. — The Los Angeles Dodgers franchise has been around, in different forms, since 1884. The Yankees’ roots date to 1903. They are among the most storied and successful teams in the sport’s history, having met in the World Series 11 times.
Yet because interleague play was not introduced in baseball until 1997, the Yankees and the Dodgers have faced each other in only 13 regular-season games in more than a century of coexistence. The most recent time was a three-game series in 2016 when the Dodgers were on their way to another National League West title and the Yankees were headed for a fourth-place finish in the American League East.
The circumstances will be much different in this weekend’s three-game series, which begins Friday in Los Angeles: The Yankees and the Dodgers have the two best records in baseball, and the matchup could be a preview of the World Series. In an everyday sport such as baseball, in which coaches and players preach keeping an even keel to cope with the rigors of the marathon season, this matchup felt deserving of the fanfare.
“It’s something we’ll all look forward to,” Yankees Manager Aaron Boone said this week, before his team was swept by the Oakland Athletics and matched a season high with four consecutive losses.
The Yankees’ and Dodgers’ last postseason meeting was the 1981 World Series, which followed a strike-shortened season. The Dodgers won in six games, thanks to key performances from third baseman Ron Cey, outfielder Pedro Guerrero and catcher Steve Yeager.
Major League Baseball and television executives, who saw ratings slip during last year’s World Series, would salivate over a Dodgers-Yankees reunion this fall.
Some projections and oddsmakers, however, have the Dodgers and the Houston Astros, who aren’t far behind in terms of record, as the teams most likely to meet for the championship. That last happened only two years ago, and the Astros won in seven games. The Dodgers returned to the World Series last year, only to lose to the Boston Red Sox in five games. The Yankees have not played in a World Series since winning their 27th title in 2009.
Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge, a Northern California native, said he grew up hearing about games at Dodger Stadium from his father, and Judge visited once when he was in high school, doing a workout there. The stands were empty.
“I’m excited to see it packed out with the fans going crazy,” he said Thursday. “They’ve got a young good team like we do. I’ve been looking forward to this game for a while. They’re the best in the N.L. and been to the World Series two years in a row and won their division. You want to play the best teams.”
This weekend, the Dodgers hold an edge over the Yankees as a more well-rounded team, the biggest disparity coming on the mound and in the trainer’s room. No team can rival the Yankees’ wounded this season: 28 players have spent time on the injured list, including 16 who remain there today.
Entering Thursday, the Dodgers ranked first in the major leagues in earned run average (3.33) and fourth in runs scored (5.55 per game). The Yankees had a slightly better offense (5.88 runs per game, the best figure in baseball) but an appreciably worse pitching staff (4.52 E.R.A., ranked 16th).
The Dodgers’ best position players are either homegrown talents or ones who have blossomed in their system after being acquired: outfielder Cody Bellinger, who is a leading candidate in the race for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award; but also infielder Max Muncy, third baseman Justin Turner, outfielder Alex Verdugo and shortstop Corey Seager.
The Yankees have weathered numerous injuries in part because of the shrewd moves to acquire infielder D.J. LeMahieu, outfielder Mike Tauchman, third baseman Gio Urshela and the relief pitchers Zack Britton and Adam Ottavino. They have survived the loss of Luis Severino, who is hoping to make his season debut next month after several injuries, and the struggles of J.A. Happ, C. C. Sabathia and others mostly because the offense and bullpen have carried the team.
The Yankees’ most glaring weakness, though, remains their starting rotation, which was ranked 19th in baseball with a 4.85 E.R.A. entering Thursday’s game at Oakland. James Paxton, Domingo German and Sabathia are in line to start against the Dodgers.
By a sizable margin, the Dodgers (2.94 E.R.A.) have the best rotation in baseball, led by three All-Stars: Hyun-Jin Ryu, whose 1.94 E.R.A. is the lowest in the major leagues; Clayton Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner; and the 25-year-old right-hander Walker Buehler. The Dodgers’ bullpen, which has a comparable E.R.A. to the Yankees’ relief corps, ranks lower in several advanced metrics, and their closer, Kenley Jansen, has sputtered more than in years past.
James Wagner has covered baseball — the Mets for two and a half years and now the Yankees — for The New York Times since June 2016. Previously he worked at The Washington Post for six years, including four covering the Nationals. @ByJamesWagner • Facebook
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