Dodgers’ chase of Giants comes down to one final game in NLDS

It just had to come down to this, didn’t it?

All summer long, the Dodgers chased the San Francisco Giants and all summer long the underdog Giants held the favorites off, just long enough into the fall to claim the National League West crown on the final day of the regular season and end the Dodgers’ eight-year division reign.

So, it’s only right that first postseason meeting in the 131-year-old rivalry’s history will be decided in a winner-take-all Game 5 in the National League Division Series on Thursday. It seemed almost inevitable.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said with a smile Wednesday. “I was hoping we would win in three straight.”

The clubs will take the field at Oracle Park for their most important clash since they moved from New York to California together ahead of the 1958 season.

It’ll be the 24th meeting between them in 2021. For all the expectations placed on the Dodgers’ expensive, star-studded roster, the Giants, surprising contenders this season, hold a 12-11 edge. The Dodgers, however, have outscored them 96-87. They’ll enter with 109 wins each, postseason included. Whichever side reaches 110 will advance to the National League Championship Series to face the Atlanta Braves.

“I feel like our team and the Dodgers team have both been playing meaningful games for a while now,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said. “Obviously this one coming up on Thursday is the most meaningful to this point and it should be fun.”

The Dodgers will give the ball to Julio Urías a year after he played October hero during their World Series run. The 25-year-old left-hander was the only 20-game winner in the majors this season, recording a 2.96 earned-run average across a career-high 185 2/3 inning along the way. The Dodgers haven’t lost one of his starts since the Giants clipped them 2-1 on July 27. That was 12 starts ago.

Urías will pitch on regular rest after tossing just 72 pitches in five innings in the Dodgers’ Game 2 win. He gave up one run and knocked in the Dodgers’ first run with a two-out single, igniting a nine-run outburst. Thursday will be his sixth start against the Giants in 2021 and the fifth postseason start of his career.

“The adrenaline definitely changes, and the thought process a little bit, too,” Urías said in Spanish. “But it’s the same game. I’m not trying to do too much, just trying to be ourselves and trust the talent that we have.”

The Giants will counter with Logan Webb, a right-hander just a year younger than Urías who made his playoff debut in Game 1 of the series with 7 2/3 scoreless innings. Webb sliced through the Dodgers with an array of changeups and sliders, needing just 92 pitches to record 23 outs. He struck out 10 batters without a walk.

Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias reaches first base on an RBI single against the San Francisco Giants in Game 2 of the NLDS.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

After the game, Roberts said his team didn’t make the necessary in-game adjustments. Using a golf analogy, he lamented that the Dodgers kept using their driver, taking big swings, with no success. On Wednesday, he said he believes the offense will utilize more clubs, “play for the slug,” and use the entire field.

“We know each other’s playbook,” Roberts said after his team’s Game 4 on Tuesday. “So now we just go to old-school, we’re going to run the ball to the right and you’re going to have to stop us. It’s Vince Lombardi. We’re going to play. We know what we do, they know what we do.”

The Dodgers do, however, hold one possible wild card. Max Scherzer, the ace they acquired from the Washington Nationals at the July 30 trade deadline, could feasibly be used out of the bullpen on two days’ rest after logging seven innings in Game 3 on Monday. But Roberts said he doesn’t envision the 37-year-old right-hander pitching in relief.

“It’s highly unlikely,” Roberts said. “The goal is still to win the World Series and have Max starting Game 1 in the NLCS, if we get there, increase that chance, but obviously I’m not immune to the fact that you don’t get there unless you win Game 5.”

Does Giants manager Gabe Kapler believe Scherzer won’t be available?

“I’m not going to be surprised by anything,” Kapler said. “Dodgers aren’t going to be surprised by anything. It’s where we are.”

Scherzer has experience pitching in relief in a Game 5 of a division series. It just wasn’t a pleasant experience. Scherzer, then with the Nationals, gave up four runs (two earned) in one inning of relief in Game 5 of the 2017 NLDS against the Chicago Cubs. The Nationals lost 9-8 and had their season end that night.

His last postseason relief appearance was in Game 2 of the 2019 NLDS against the Dodgers. He logged a scoreless eighth inning with three strikeouts for the Nationals in a win at Dodger Stadium. The Nationals went on to eliminate the 106-win Dodgers in Game 5 on the way to winning the World Series.

Two years later, another 106-win Dodgers club will look to avoid the same fate in their third elimination game in eight days. A win Thursday and, after months of chasing them down, they’ll have finally toppled the Giants when it matters most.

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