Dodgers Pester Giants Relentlessly, Force a Decisive Game 5

One of Dodgers’ biggest moves in last night’s must-win Game 4 came long before the players took the field, when Dave Roberts announced that he would start Walker Buehler on short rest rather than turn to Tony Gonsolin. It was a gamble necessitated by losing an extremely tight Game 3 to fall behind 2-1 in the best-of-five NLDS. Gabe Kapler, for his part, opted to stick to the script of starting Anthony DeSclafani, leaving Game 1 hero Logan Webb waiting in the wings for a potential Game 5. Let’s examine how those decisions played out.

The Early Innings

From the jump, Buehler proved he was up to the task in his first career start on short rest, not looking anything like a diminished version of himself. His velocity was up a full tick, and he worked quickly while hitting his spots.

DeSclafani, on the other hand, was unable to hold serve. His slider-heavy evening (50% usage on the night after 36% during the season) had the Dodgers sitting on the pitch. Their aggressive approach paid off; they swung at four of the first five sliders they saw, which led to three line drives and a quick 1-0 lead. The damage was limited to just the one run, as DeSclafani moved off his slider to strike out Justin Turner and end the inning.

The second inning brought about one of the toughest spots of the night for Buehler. Kris Bryant continued his success against the right-hander (Bryant went 3-3 with a home run in Game 1) with an opposite field line drive before quickly moving to third base after a LaMonte Wade Jr. base hit with one out. Up stepped Game 3 hero Evan Longoria. Buehler stayed away from him the whole at-bat with some nasty pitches. His final slider was a doozy that had Longoria way out in front for a much-needed strikeout:

For his part, DeSclafani was right back into trouble in the second inning, giving up three more hard hit balls. When Mookie Betts reached on a hard grounder — only a diving Brandon Crawford kept it from reaching the outfield and bringing in a run — Gabe Kapler had seen enough and went to the bullpen. The move worked as intended as: José Álvarez retired Corey Seager to limit the damage to a single run. All things considered, the Giants had to feel good that they were only down two.

Kervin Castro made the next attempt to slow down the Dodgers, but after walking two of the first three batters he saw, he too was removed. Next out of the ‘pen was Jarlín García, who picked up where Castro had left off by walking Gavin Lux to load the bases with one out. The Dodgers had arrived at yet another opportunity to blow the game open. Garcia started Cody Bellinger off with two straight balls as more than 50,000 Dodgers fans cheered loudly for a couple more. Giants pitching coach Andrew Bailey took the opportunity for a mound visit and whatever wisdom he imparted did the trick, as García came back with two straight fastballs right down the middle to get Bellinger to ground softly into a force out at home. Next up, Chris Taylor worked a full-count before blistering a 100 mph line drive to the wall in left field. But like so many other hard struck balls to the warning track in this series, this one was tracked down, as a leaping Wade ended the threat:

In the early innings, the Giants were like a boat taking on water. Kapler, to his credit, was always quick to plug the hole but the Dodgers were relentless in foiling the Giants’ game plan. Somehow San Francisco survived the first three frames only down 2-0. Or as Brian Anderson put it, “a huge wipe of the brow for the Giants.”

Middle Innings

The Dodgers finally seemed to catch their break in the fourth inning when Buehler squibbed a 67 mph grounder that clanked off García’s glove, allowing him to reach in front of the top of the Dodgers’ lineup. Two pitches later, Betts had doubled the Dodgers lead with a towering opposite field home run:

That blast pushed the Dodgers’ win probability over 90% for the first time. But just when it looked like the Dodgers were going to coast to a Game 4 victory, Buehler began showing the wear of pitching on short rest. His fastball velocity remained up a full tick throughout his outing but he began missing his spots with greater regularity in the fourth and fifth. He fell behind four of the final five batters he faced, walking two of them. With two on and one out, Dave Roberts dialed up a repeat of his Wild Card plan, bringing in Joe Kelly to escape the jam. A base hit from Tommy La Stella and a groundout from Darin Ruf brought home a run for the Giants but Kelly eventually retired Crawford to keep the Dodgers lead at three.

The Giants had finally scratched a run across, but their momentum was short lived, as the Dodgers went right back to having tough at-bats and creating headaches for Kapler and his squad. Dominic Leone and Tyler Rogers both walked batters in the fifth inning before a sacrifice fly from Betts brought home a fifth run for the Dodgers.

Through six innings, the Giants had used seven pitchers. It was nowhere close to what Kapler had drawn up when the game started. This is a pitching staff that succeeded this season by playing remarkably clean baseball, with the lowest walk rate in the game. They simply did not have a clean night. Nearly every pitcher Kapler called on labored through their outing. They were constantly falling behind in the count, and combined to walk five Dodgers on the night. These struggles were paired with the Dodgers’ elite ability to lay off balls out of the zone. No team swings less on chase pitches than they do and they had no interest in helping out the Giants’ struggling hurlers.

Late Innings

The late innings proved to be largely on-theme with the rest of the game. The Giants scored a run against Blake Treinen in the eighth to open up a sliver of intrigue but a two-run homer by Will Smith in the bottom half of the frame gave the Dodgers their biggest lead of the night, and removed the drama from the ninth: Phil Bickford closed out the Giants with a clean inning, giving the Dodgers a 7-2 win.

The win probability chart tells the story of a game the Dodgers controlled for most of the night. The at-bat between Buehler and Longoria in the second proved to be the biggest missed-opportunity for the Giants. After that turning point, the Dodgers offense just kept putting pressure on the Giants by having good at-bats and responding with runs any time the Giants made progress. Here it’s worth noting the role Gavin Lux played. After a wild game Game 3 that ended on Lux’s shocked expression as his near-homer was caught on the warning track, he rewarded Roberts’ decision to start him in center field with four great at-bats, reaching base all four times.

The stage is now officially set for a monumental Game 5 on Thursday that will task each team with taking on a pitcher who beat them earlier in the series, with Julio Urías set to start for the Dodgers and Webb getting the nod for the Giants. But with the day off on Wednesday, you can be assured that both teams will have plenty of arms rested and ready to help keep their season alive.

Luke Hooper is a designer and writer at FanGraphs. He lives in Portland, Oregon, longing for a major league team to materialize.

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11 months ago

Obviously it would have been nice to win yesterday but pitching Webb on 3 days’ rest and if that failed relying on Gausman against Urias on Thursday seemed much more risky that hoping that Buehler slipped up yesterday and if that didn’t work having both Webb and Gausman fully rested for Thursday. Webb pitched just great in game 1 and there have already been three Webb-Urias matchups this year (May 29, July 21, and July 27) with the Giants winning all of them. Why mess with that?

11 months ago

Seems like nearly every team that reserves its better pitcher for the deciding game because they can, regrets it. No guarantee Webb is gonna be money on Thursday, as the Dodgers are fantastic at making adjustments. If he can shut down the bluemen twice in a week, more power to him. I think the Dodgers got this.

11 months ago
Reply to  Seamaholic

It isn’t a matter of reserving the best pitcher for the deciding game, it’s a matter of giving your best pitcher enough rest to be his best (and also not blowing him out for later series, because this is only the division series). Webb has pitched 4 games against the Dodgers this year, he’s pitched 23.2 innings with 4 earned runs, 27 Ks, 4 BBs, and 1 HR, the Giants have won all four, and the last appearance was the best of all (and actually two of them were within a week of each other). Doesn’t look to me like the adjustments to Webb the Dodgers have made so far have been that fantastic.