The San Jose Giants haven't just been a thorn in the side of the Modesto Nuts for the last six years, they've been the big orange and black spike in the backside of the entire California League.
In winning the North Division title for an unprecedented sixth straight year, the Giants have put themselves in position to win their fourth league title during that span.
But to do so, San Jose first will have to get past the Nuts, who suddenly and unexpectedly are the league's hottest team.
Modesto needed to win its last six games of the regular season and for San Jose to win three of four against Visalia just to reach the postseason. And that was before dispatching second-half division champion Stockton in two games to take a season-long eight-game win streak into the next round.
The best-of-five division championship series opens with games tonight (6 p.m.) and Sunday (5 p.m.) at San Jose Municipal Stadium. Games 3 and 4 will be in Modesto on Monday and Tuesday at 7:05 p.m., and if needed a game 5 would be in San Jose on Wednesday night.
Historically, this head-to-head series has been owned by San Jose ever since well before the final Modesto A's team beat the Giants in the 2005 North Division finals en route to Modesto's last league championship.
Over the last 10 years, Modesto has a winning record against every team in the North Division except San Jose, which owns a 140-114 record against the A's/Nuts since 2001.
And over the last 11 seasons, Modesto won the season series against the Giants only twice. In 2003, the Li'l A's won 15 of the 26 games played. The only other winning season for Modesto in this rivalry, and since picking up the Colorado affiliation in 2005, is this year.
"I had no idea about what happened before us, but they're a good team and will be a good test for us," said third baseman Ryan Peisel.
Modesto has won 13 of the 23 games played in 2010, and amazingly has gone 11-4 in games at Municipal Stadium after dropping the first two games this season in San Jose.
"We're playing pretty well," said Nuts manager Jerry Weinstein. "We've played so well on the road overall this season (38-32) that it's really not a factor for us. We've adjusted well to all situations and conditions on the road. That's what we do."
Peisel's answer would be typical of most of the guys in the Modesto clubhouse. Only one, reliever Kenny Durst, spent more than a week in a Modesto uniform prior to this season, so this is a group that knows nothing and couldn't care less about what former groups of Nuts have done against San Jose.
But what they do know is that San Jose, after winning the first half, posted the division's worst record (31-39) in the second half and because of the first-round bye hasn't played a game since Monday.
"It's one of those things, with the days off, that hopefully they'll come out a little bit cold and we just keep rolling along," Peisel said.
"At this point there are no bad teams left, so we know we won't be running into a bad team. They won the first half and they've been winning recently, so we'll see."
NUTS NOTES -- Josh Sullivan (3-3, 5.86) will start game 1 for Modesto against Giants righty and UC Davis product Justin Fitzgerald (10-6, 3.45.) Ethan Hollingsworth will pitch the second game for the Nuts and will be followed in the rotation by Durst and first-round stars Rob Scahill and Juan Nicasio.
Vouchers redeemable for free general admission tickets to all Nuts home playoff games can be picked up at Extreme Pizza in Modesto and at Boyett Petroleum locations in Ceres, Modesto and Salida.
In the South Division, Rancho Cucamonga dispatched of High Desert in two games and will meet first-half champion Lake Elsinore tonight to open their best-of-five series. The first two games of the league championship series will be played Thursday and Friday in the home park of the North Division champion.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2300.