After two long, cold nights in San Francisco, the NLDS between the Dodgers and Giants now moves to greener pastures. Despite neither game having been particularly tightly contested, games 1 and 2 felt like battles of attrition nonetheless for two franchises who deserved better than having to play each other after winning well over 100 games during the regular season.
Friday night’s game 1 felt like a low point of sorts for the Dodgers. Walker Buehler, often a playoff ace, mostly lived up to the billing outside of two mistakes that Giants’ hitters sent out of the ballpark. The bullpen would allow a solo shot to Brandon Crawford but otherwise pitched effectively. The Giants won Friday night’s game the way they’ve won many this season – mixing great starting pitching with a few well-timed home runs. The worrisome part of Friday night’s game wasn’t the Giants’ ability to crush a few mistakes – that’ll happen.
Instead, it was the Dodgers’ out-of-character approach at the plate.
Logan Webb had a career season for San Francisco, and the Dodgers got another good look at why in game 1. Every pitch he throws has late movement, and he had a particularly effective slider and changeup at his disposal on Friday. Typically, the Dodgers are an offense adept at patiently forcing a starting pitcher into the zone, and pouncing when they’re dealt a mistake. Friday night, all of that went out the window. Dodger hitters would chase seemingly every changeup and slider Webb threw as the night went along, regardless of how far outside the zone he went.
I think it’s possible to attribute some of that to home plate umpire Carlos Torres’ early strike zone, as he rung up several Dodgers early in the game on pitches well off the plate away. While it’s generally good practice to adjust your offensive approach to an umpire’s established strike zone, LA took it entirely too far – as such, they became easy fodder for Webb’s gameplan well into the 8th inning. It was a disheartening offensive showing not only on the scoreboard, but in the team’s perceived unwillingness to adjust back into patience at all as the night pressed along. By the time Webb left the game with 2 outs in the 8th inning, the Dodgers’ chances for a comeback had all but dried up.
Heading into game 2, the pressure being placed on Julio Urias was obvious. In a 5-game series, a 2-0 deficit is as close as you get to a death sentence, and Urias was the only man standing in the way of a quickly dire situation. As he has all season, Julio delivered. Outside of a run-scoring fly ball by Donovan Solano in the 2nd inning, it was a strong showing over 5 innings for the 25-year old lefty. He artfully carved a pathway through a Giants’ lineup specifically designed for massive platoon advantages against a left-handed starter, handcuffing hitters with his fastball and using his changeup and slurve to keep them off balance.
Julio’s departure after 5 strong innings immediately preceded a much needed offensive outburst. After being arguably the two least competitive hitters in the lineup against Logan Webb on Friday night, Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock would each stroke massive 2-run doubles in the 6th to extend the Dodgers’ lead to 6-1. The Giants’ rallied against Joe Kelly in the bottom of the inning, but would only muster 1 run after Mookie Betts’ missile of a throw gunned down Wilmer Flores to limit the damage. The Dodgers bullpen produced another strong showing over the final 3 innings, and the boys in blue cruised to a 9-2 win as the offense continued to punish Giants’ relievers.
As the Dodgers and Giants shift to Los Angeles, the Dodgers have nullified any advantage San Francisco might have gained with their division title in short order. Home field advantage belongs now to Los Angeles, and the 3-game series that lies ahead begins with Max Scherzer on the mound tonight. He’ll have a rested bullpen behind him as well – neither Blake Treinen or Kenley Jansen have appeared since last Wednesday’s Wild Card game.
NLDS Game 3
Monday, October 11
6:37 pm PT
Alex Wood (10-4, 3.83 ERA) vs Max Scherzer (15-4, 2.46 ERA)
If you’ve been following the Dodgers over the last few months, you’re probably well aware that they haven’t lost a game Scherzer has started since acquiring the veteran right-hander in late July. For a while, he was unconsciously lights out – heading into his September start in Colorado, he had posted a 0.78 ERA over 9 starts as a Dodger while striking out 79 and walking 7. He’s struggled relative to those standards in three starts since then, allowing 11 runs over his last 14.2 innings of work. Still, it’s difficult to imagine a pitcher you’d rather have on the mound in a pivotal Game 3 than Mad Max.
For his career, the Giants have had more success against Scherzer than most opponents – over 11 career starts against San Francisco, Max is only 4-5 with a 3.84 ERA. Against these Giants, though, there’s plenty more reason for optimism. Offensive players available for the Giants tonight have hit a combined .134 against him, striking out a whopping 45 times over 104 at-bats. Scherzer’s ability to continue that success tonight will come down to his ability to avoid the long ball – if he can keep the ball in the field of play against this homer-happy lineup, he should be able to pitch deep into the night for the Dodgers.
Alex Wood pitches for San Francisco, taking on the responsibility of a huge moment in a ballpark he’s very familiar with. Wood will look to get ahead of Dodgers’ hitters with his fastball, and bury them late in at-bats with low breaking balls. The Dodgers will throw a bevy of right-handed bats at him, including one he hasn’t faced yet in Dodger blue: Trea Turner. Although they haven’t seen Wood since June, the Dodgers’ roster is full of hitters who have crushed him in the past. Combined, they’ve hit .276 against him – and Mookie Betts, Gavin Lux, AJ Pollock, Will Smith, and Chris Taylor all enter with marks of .333 or higher in various sample sizes. Pollock, Justin Turner, Souza Jr, and Chris Taylor have multiple home runs against the lefty as well.
In just 17 innings against LA this season, Wood has allowed 9 runs and 5 homers. If the Dodgers do a good job early in the game of hunting only the fastball, they’ll have a chance to put the pressure on Gabe Kapler to dip into his bullpen early on.
NLCS Game 4
Tuesday, October 12
6:07 pm PT
TBD vs TBD
While we don’t know the starting pitchers for Tuesday’s Game 4 at Dodger Stadium yet, Saturday’s Dodger win did ensure that the game will be played. My best guess is that the Dodgers will be eyeing Tony Gonsolin to pitch, especially if they win Game 3. Gonsolin has had plenty of rest, but likely won’t be allowed to pitch too deep into the game if he gets in trouble. With Scherzer on the mound Monday, one would imagine the Dodgers are hoping to piggyback a well-rested bullpen behind Gonsolin if given the opportunity.
For San Francisco, Anthony DeSclafani would be next in line. It seems likely that he’ll get the nod, but a Dodgers win in Monday’s Game 3 could change the script for Kapler in a hurry. To an even greater extent than Alex Wood, the Dodgers have absolutely pulverized DeSclafani when given the opportunity. He’s made 6 starts against Los Angeles this season, lasting only 27 innings while going 0-3 with a 7.33 ERA. He’s allowed 6 home runs to Los Angeles and walked a ridiculous 15 batters, a victim of the Dodgers’ patient approach.
If the Giants find a way to solve Scherzer on Monday, my guess is that Kapler will feel comfortable enough to roll with DeSclafani in Game 4. If not, the Giants’ bullpen gate could be opening early and often and one would begin to wonder how quickly turning to Logan Webb on short rest could cross Kapler’s mind.
Monday night’s Game 3 is pivotal, to state the obvious. The Dodgers will be looking for a classic Scherzer start, and will likely get one if he can avoid the long ball. If Max does his job and the offense matches their historical performances against Alex Wood, the Dodgers will have a great chance to seize advantage in the series. In a 5-game rivalry series like this one, though, everything is on the table – the Dodgers will need to be ready to roll with the punches and find a way to take advantage of opportunities that come their way.