If a four-game series in June can provide a scouting report on a possible seven-game series in October, there is at least one category in which the Pittsburgh Pirates say they are finally on equal terms with the Dodgers.
"I think there was a long period when we felt they didn't respect us enough and we resented that," Pirate pitching coach Ray Miller was saying at Dodger Stadium, where the current series has the appearance of a playoff preview.
Other clubs in other eras have talked about the Dodgers' lack of respect, suggesting arrogance. The Pirates believed they were better than the Dodgers were giving them credit for being, and there have been recent displays of bad blood.
"I don't want Dodger blue crammed down my throat, but I'm sure they don't want to keep hearing about our Killer B's," Miller said, referring to Barry Bonds and Bobby Bonilla.
"I think the whole thing has evened out now, that the two clubs have really learned to respect each other. It just took a little longer than we would have liked."
There was a transition period when Manager Jim Leyland and his staff took over in 1986.
It wasn't until last season that the Pirates won the National League East title and wasn't until this season that they have been able to maintain the best record in baseball.
"What Ray says is true, but it's also true that the first couple of years we didn't deserve much respect," Leyland said. "Then we had a lot of people suddenly eligible to take advantage of the system through arbitration and free agency, and that was what people talked about, rather than looking at the talent and how good a team we had become.
"We're a long way from being perfect, but no one we play is perfect either. We're a good, solid team that hasn't gotten the credit because of everything else that's gone on (with the team)."
Leyland has kept the Pirates together despite the contract fuss surrounding Bonds and Bonilla, and he has helped produce a 40-25 record without a real roll by an offense built around Andy Van Slyke and the Killer B's.
This, too, is generally overlooked, but the Pirates know how to play little ball. They came into Dodger Stadium having stolen 44 bases in 62 attempts, and shortstop Jay Bell, who had 38 sacrifice bunts last year, had 18 this year.
That could be pivotal in a short playoff series, but it's in the critical area of pitching that the Pirates most often fail to get respect, a serious mistake.
Leyland's relief committee--nine pitchers had saves last year--includes three left-handers and three right-handers and is third in the league in saves.
And his rotation, with Doug Drabek, Zane Smith and John Smiley the probable playoff starters, would provide Orel Hershiser, Ramon Martinez and Tim Belcher formidable competition.
The Dodgers began the series with the major leagues' best earned-run average, 3.00, but the Pirates were second at 3.34.
They were tied in complete games and shutouts, and although the Dodgers had 77 more strikeouts, the Pirates had issued 46 fewer walks with a major league low of 2.38 per game.
"The Dodgers have had the league's best pitching depth since I've been here, and Ron (Perranoski) does a great job with it," Miller said. "They pitch inside better than any team in the league. I don't mean they're trying to hit guys, they just know how to use the inside half of the plate.
"We don't have as many guys who can reach back and strike someone out, but we don't walk as many, and with the way we catch the ball, that compensates (for the Dodgers' edge in strikeouts)."
Said Leyland: "The Dodgers are more of a power staff, but the object is to get 27 outs any way you can get them. I know Tommy (Lasorda) is very comfortable with his staff, and I'm comfortable with mine.
"My approach is that I never worry about how good another club is. I like mine and that's all I'm concerned about. I'm not going to make comparisons or begin thinking about October in June."
Plenty can happen before October. And there's plenty of time to build even more respect.
The Minnesota Twins are trying to become the first team in major league history to go from last place to first. The general manager, Andy MacPhail, has rebuilt swiftly within budgetary limits, showing that it can be done by a small-market team.
The Twins' payroll of $22 million is the American League's 10th highest. Only eight of 25 Twins have contracts of more than $1 million.
One pitcher, Allan Anderson, and seven position players are all that remain from the team that beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1987 World Series after having won the American League West title with 85 victories.
Financial imperatives played a major part in the overhaul, but MacPhail also wasn't misled by that fluke success. The Twins had only two pitchers--Bert Blyleven and Frank Viola--who won more than eight games that year.
The key moves: