Down to the final at-bat — a warning-track flyout that checked up amid Dodger Stadium’s blustery conditions — Game 3 of the all-California NLDS was never more than a pitch or two away from doing an about-face.
When it ended, the San Francisco Giants walked away with a 1-0 win. And the Los Angeles Dodgers were pushed to the brink of elimination. The reigning-champion Dodgers seek to keep their season alive on Tuesday, when they host the Giants for Game 4 (9:07 p.m. ET on Sportsnet ONE).
An early-round series between baseball’s two winningest teams could be the breeding ground for this year’s World Series champion. As we await a pivotal Game 4, here’s what you need to know:
The starting pitching matchup is half-set
As you might’ve expected, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said “everything is on the table” in terms of his team’s pitching plans for Tuesday.
Could Walker Buehler start on short rest, four days after throwing 99 pitches? Perhaps. But a more likely scenario is that Tony Gonsolin gets the ball, with Buehler and others waiting in the wings. In 15 games (13 starts) this season, Gonsolin posted a 3.23 ERA with a less encouraging 4.54 FIP.
He appeared on the Dodgers’ NLCS and World Series rosters last season, but the results weren’t pretty: 0-2 in four games with an 8.68 ERA. With the season on the line, you might want to keep a short leash on that guy.
For San Francisco, Anthony DeSclafani will take his turn on the mound. He’s 0-8 against L.A. since 2015, and this season he pitched to a 7.33 ERA in six starts against them. But he could wash all that away with a stout, series-clinching performance.
One pitcher who might not be available for this game is Giants rookie reliever Camilo Doval. The 24-year-old’s save on Monday was just his second multi-inning effort in the big leagues, and it’s unclear whether he’ll be fresh enough to pitch on back-to-back nights.
Very hot, then very not
One tried-and-true narrative of post-season sports is the importance of getting hot at the right time. But neither of these offences seem to have received the memo.
Over the final 30 days of the regular season, nobody hit as well as the Dodgers. In 18 games, they posted a league-best .852 OPS while bashing 35 home runs and scoring 105 times (5.83 runs per game). The Giants weren’t far behind, ranking seventh in OPS (.795) while scoring 101 runs in 19 games (5.32 runs per game).
Since the playoffs began, however, the story has changed. Excluding the one-game wild card losers, only the Milwaukee Brewers have fared more poorly at the plate than these teams:
• Dodgers (four games): .212/.268/.326, 12 runs, 28 hits, 33 strikeouts
• Giants (three games): .176/.208/.330, seven runs, 16 hits, 30 strikeouts
The sample size is tiny, of course, but that’s the nature of playoff baseball. A subset of fleeting opportunities defines the outcome, for better or worse.
On Monday, 36-year-old Evan Longoria hit his first post-season home run in eight seasons. It was also his first post-season hit in that span. Buster Posey, another ageless wonder at 34, has led the Giants with five hits (including a double and a homer) in three games.
Los Angeles needs more from Mookie Betts, a two-time champion whose five hits this post-season have all fallen for singles. Then there’s Justin Turner, who boasts an .872 playoff OPS in his career; he’s just 2-for-17 this October.
It all worked out in the end, but last year’s Dodgers did have their backs to a wall for one stretch of the World Series run.
Los Angeles cruised through the wild card and division series rounds unscathed, dusting Milwaukee and San Diego in two- and three-game sweeps, respectively. But in the NLCS against Atlanta, the Dodgers fell behind 3-1.
In two of three elimination games that followed, the Dodgers trailed by a pair of runs through two innings. But their championship-calibre mettle prevailed, and they won Games 5-7 to advance.
Some of that mettle could be ascribed to the Dodgers’ extensive residency in the post-season: they’ve won 11 playoff series since 2013, securing three NL pennants in the process. Most of their roster has at least a few years of October seasoning, when the air is brisker and the spotlight is brighter.
The Giants, meanwhile, haven’t advanced past the NLDS since 2014, when they won their last of three World Series in a five-year span (2010-14). This is their first taste of playoff action in five years.
Nearly all of the faces have changed since the 2014 title, but two of the most important ones — Posey and shortstop Brandon Crawford — remain. Mixing a bit of old in with the new, the Giants are now just a game away from breaking new ground in an emerging era of their franchise.