Familiarity and Execution: The two, foremost themes heading into NLDS Game 5 between the Dodgers and Giants

By Morris Phillips

SAN FRANCISCO–The biggest game in the long history between the Giants and Dodgers is here. Twice, the Giants struck first, and the Dodgers answered emphatically both times. Now in Game 5, only one statement remains to be made. Which team will win this epic series with all of the baseball world focused on Oracle Park Thursday night?

The Dodgers took the first, and biggest gamble of the series on Tuesday, in bringing back Walker Buehler on short rest to start Game 4. And Buehler delivered. That allows Los Angeles to now start Julio Urias on regular rest, opposite the Giants’ Logan Webb in Game 5. Manager Dave Roberts said he eyeballed Buehler, and what he saw made the manager’s decision easy.

“I would feel really weird not pitching a game that we could lose a series,” Buehler said in explaining the vibe he sent to Roberts.

“Sometimes when you might be a little bit more fatigued and not too amped up or too strong, you kind of try not to do too much,” Roberts said of his ace’s Game 4 performance. “And all night long he stayed in his delivery. All the stuff — the velocity, the characteristics of his secondary pitches — was really good.”

Both starters for Thursday have already won a game in the series. Logan Webb was spectacular in Game 1, pitching into the eighth inning and forcing the Dodgers’ hitters into uncharacteristic mistakes. Urias had a shorter stint in Game 2, pitching five innings and allowing three hits and a run. But when Urias departed, the Dodgers were already in control, leading 2-1 in a game they would break open in the sixth, and win 9-2.

For the Giants, the questions are clear: Can Webb summon the magic a second time? And can the San Francisco bullpen support him when he departs? The odds of both happening are good.

Webb remains a problem for any ballclub that steps into Oracle Park. He’s yet to lose a ballgame at home (6-0, 1.96 ERA in 73 1/3 innings in 2021, not including his 7 1/3 scoreless innings in Game 1), and his unwavering demeanor and penchant for dialing up strikeouts will energize the sold out crowd on Thursday. The only issue? Los Angeles’ hitters were undisciplined in Game 1. This time, they will challenge Webb to be at his absolute best this time by only swinging at baseballs in the strike zone.

Overall, the Giants’ pitching staff has done some good things. They’ve kept the Dodgers’ best hitters from leaving the park. Only two Dodgers have homered in the Series: Will Smith has two, and Mookie Betts greeted Giants’ reliever Jarlin Garcia with bad news in the fourth inning on Wednesday night. A host of other Los Angeles sluggers have been left frustrated trying to drive one out, especially in Game 3. For the Giants, that needs to continue.

Also, the Giants’ pitchers that have shown some vulnerability most assuredly won’t throw in the deciding game. Starters Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani both must turn the page, and get ready for the next round if the Giants advance. Dominic Leone and Garcia have both had a pair of substandard appearances.

So that leaves Camilo Doval, the re-emerging Jake McGee, and Zach Littell as top options for Gabe Kapler if the Giants’ are fortunate to reap high-leverage situations in Game 5 after Webb departs. Littell–awful in Game 2, but lights out in Game 4–is the most intriguing. He’s a trusted arm, and Kapler is likely to forget his Game 2 hiccup, and remember his four strikeouts in an inning plus on Tuesday.

The Dodgers also will be in great shape to unearth a well-pitched game in the decider as well. Urias, the 20-game winner will start, and the best bullpen in baseball will follow. All signs point to a tense, low scoring game.

From a hitting standpoint, the Giants will have all-hands on deck, but they’ll likely depend on the most familiar suspects against Urias. Both Brandon Crawford and Buster Posey had hits off Urias in Game 2, and Austin Slater will likely earn another start in right field against the Dodgers’ left handed starter. Slater, too, doubled off Urias in Game 2.

Darin Ruf (left field) and Wilmer Flores (first base) will likely be in Kapler’s starting lineup, as will Kris Bryant, who has picked up his game after a lackluster end of the regular season, giving his manager tremendous versatility.

“A bat of that caliber and that quality, and knowing that they can play anywhere and they are going to be ready to go gives us the flexibility to do a lot of things,” Kapler said of Bryant. “So I guess it’s not just Kris, but also what that does for the rest of the roster and how we can construct our lineups.”

The defending champion Dodgers are easier to decipher. Betts, Trea Turner, Corey Seager and the youthful, but dangerous Smith can each be the one to individually or collaboratively ruin the evening for San Francisco fans on Thursday. And don’t forget Justin Turner either. He’s done almost nothing in the series thus far–hitting .059–but he undoubtedly will be in the Roberts’ lineup and a serious threat to come up clutch in a big spot.

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