The most epic NLDS matchup ever in the 2021 MLB playoffs? The big questions concerning the Giants-Dodgers rivalry are answered.
The San Francisco Giants or the Los Angeles Dodgers: who is the superior team? If you’ve been following our MLB Power Rankings all
season, you’ve watched them swing back and forth between the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the league.
What’s the case for the Dodgers? They’re the defending World Series champions and have a tonne of superstars!
What about the Giants? They won the division by holding off L.A.
Whatever side you’re on, we’re going to find out the answer — at least in terms of 2021 — when the two National League West
powerhouses meet in the NL Division Series after the Dodgers won a walk-off victory over the Cardinals on Wednesday night. As we
prepare for a series in which the winner will be the favorite to win the pennant, ESPN baseball analysts Alden Gonzalez and Tim Keown
break down what this matchup means and what each club needs to do to win — as well as their predictions for who will win.
Is this the most epic NLDS game ever, with a 107-win team against a 106-win squad?
Gonzalez: To put it another way, I don’t see how there could be a better one. Start with the fact that this is one of baseball’s most storied
rivalries, with two teams that had never met in the postseason before, and then consider how it all ended, with the Dodgers surging
down the stretch, fighting fervently for their ninth consecutive division title, and the Giants refusing to give up. Despite going 43-13
after the start of August, the Dodgers only gained two games on the Giants. Wild.
Keown: This question is far too restrictive. This would be the most thrilling World Series matchup in the 162-game era purely on the basis
of the record. Two teams have never combined for more than 105 wins in a single season — ever — a monument to their abilities and the
ineptitude of many others. With the divisional rivalry and tight matchups this season (10-9 Giants), the only issue with this series is that
we won’t get to witness it over seven games.
Is this baseball’s best rivalry right now?
Keown: I’m assuming you’re referring to teams other than the Dodgers and Padres? (Reminiscences.) There is currently nothing that
compares to this one. Sure, there are historical and geographical factors at play, but there’s also something more fundamental at work:
The Giants have been shaped, at least in part, by two individuals (president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and manager Gabe
Kapler), who also assisted in the development of the roster-building philosophy that has led to the Dodgers’ recent dominance. And they’ve done it in San Francisco in a similar and rapid manner, emphasising depth and variety.
This season, these two teams have been so evenly matched, with so many great games, that we (once again) deserve a seven-game
series. Is there really a dent within dirt where Dave Roberts spiked his cap after Darin Ruf’s (non)check swing at the front of the Dodgers‘
Gonzalez: The check swing, of course. It’s crazy how that call, or Sheldon Neuse’s failure to stretch on a close play at second base, or Mike
Tauchman’s robbery of Albert Pujols’ walk-off home run, might have determined the division.
The Dodgers and Giants had split their first 16 games against each other, with a cumulative score of 68-68 heading into the last regular-season series between these two clubs.
The Giants won two of the three games, but we demand more of these. The only thing that saved this rivalry from being the best in the
world was that it developed into a slow burn. We expected the NL West to come down to a Dodgers-Padres battle, and it appears that
most of America didn’t accept the Giants’ status until the regular season was over.
If…, the Giants will win the series.
Gonzalez: Kris Bryant resurfaces as a hot commodity. Of course, the Giants’ offence isn’t built around a single player. Not at all. Brandon
Belt’s absence, however, creates a significant power vacuum in this lineup. And Bryant is uniquely qualified to fill it.
He’s hit only.245/.353/.347 since the beginning of September. He can, however, rapidly switch it on. And he’ll have to do it against a
Dodgers pitching staff that’s loaded with power right-handed pitchers.
Keown: I’m tempted to say something simple like, “If they keep winning one game more than the Dodgers,” but a five-game series isn’t
the same as a 162-game season.
The Giants need their starting pitchers will go 5 – 6 innings in any of their next three games to win three of another five.
The bullpen has been fantastic, and the meteoric rise of 22-year-old closer Camilo Doval adds another inning of depth, but if Kevin
Gausman, Logan Webb, and Anthony DeSclafani (presumably) can work their way through the Dodgers‘ lineup three times each, it will
limit the early- to middle-inning variables.
It will also show a pitcher’s ability to prevent the Dodgers from pounding out four- and five-run innings, which are their forte. Even this
forecast, though, is shaky because the Giants have won games in so many different ways and with so many varied contributions (and
contributors) that it seems foolish to get too specific about any of it.
Gonzalez: Kenley Jansen shuts the door behind him. Given how tightly these two teams have been matched, it may be as simple as that.
Also, The most significant ramification of Clayton Kershaw’s injury may be that Julio Urias will remain a typical starting pitcher in the
postseason — he’ll start Game 2 — and Roberts will be unable to employ him in the hybrid bullpen position that he has succeeded in
Last year, it was Urias, not Jansen, who got the final out of the World Series. But now it’s Jansen’s turn to pitch in the ninth inning.
He’s had a great year, with a 2.22 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 30.9 strikeout rate, but two of his five failed saves have come against the Giants.
On this side, it’s just as difficult to be reductive, but Max Muncy’s elbow injury shines a harsh light on Cody Bellinger.
He’s been one of baseball’s worst offensive players, and he appears to be particularly sensitive to confidence swings.
In the face of the Giants’ three right-handed starters, the Dodgers‘ only notable left-handed bat is Corey Seager (presumably Gausman, Webb, and DeSclafani.) Granted, the Dodgers’ offense has enough talent at the top and depth at the bottom to sustain a significant
injury. However, Bellinger and his subpar 45 OPS+ might end up at the first base, weakening L.A.’s outfield defence while adding another
pitcher-level hitter to the lineup. Pujols, whose range is nearly his wingspan and who has a chance to become the first player in an NLDS
to bat into a 7-4-3 ground ball double play is another option at first.
Is this LDS winner headed to the World Series?
Gonzalez: The Brewers were my favorite to win the World Series until one of their two key relievers, Devin Williams, fractured his hand
hitting a wall. And while one reliever generally doesn’t make much of a difference, given how good the Dodgers and Giants are, it should.
In summary, the victor of this series will advance to the World Series, assuming the club doesn’t deplete its pitching simply to make it
through what should be a tense LDS.
Keown: Without a doubt. The fact that these two clubs have been forced to play playoff baseball for nearly half a season is incredible.
How do you finish second after winning 106 games? How do you win 107 and get pushed to the last day of the tournament? One way is
to treat practically every game as if it were Game 7 — or, in the awful reality of our current discussion, Game 5 — and learn what works
and what doesn’t along the way. These two teams have locked down the formula, at least for this season.
It’s time for a prediction! Who do you have and why?
Gonzalez: In Game 5, I believe the series will be decided in the 15th inning. And, given how this battle has unfolded, I anticipate that any
forecast made will look dumb in retrospect.
Keown: Giants in five, primarily because betting against them this season has shown to be both dumb and unfulfilling, despite its
popularity. They’ll triumph in whatever manner they can, and you’ll be laughing at your forecasts.