The two best teams in baseball meet again for the the NLDS, starting tonight in San Francisco. The Giants have home-field advantage due to winning 107 games and the NL West, their first division title since 2012. They finished one game ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who had to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the Wild Card in order to make it to the NLDS.
These two teams took two completely different paths to the same destination. Both teams will meet in San Francisco starting tonight, which is the biggest surprise of this MLB season. Before the season, the Giants’ over/under for wins was set at 75.5, and many fans thought they’d win even less. They were thought to be a team rehauling their roster, while letting their stars of the early 2010s ride off into the sunset.
Instead, those stars all had massive resurgences, which were paired with some of the best free agent/trade acquisitions of the offseason and a blockbuster deadline trade to form the best team in all of Major League Baseball. Those acquisitions, Alex Wood, LaMonte Wade Jr., and Anthony DeSclafani, among others, have been the perfect complementary pieces for their stars.
The Dodgers are baseball’s version of a superteam, employing superstars like Mookie Betts, Max Scherzer, Trea Turner, and more. Cody Bellinger was one of the worst players in baseball, but it didn’t matter. The Dodgers won 106 games behind their top 7 lineup, top 2 rotation, and top 5 bullpen. The Dodgers have some of the best position players in baseball, an elite rotation, and no holes on their roster.
Game 1: Buehler vs Webb
In game 1, the Dodgers will give the ball to postseason hero Walker Buehler, while the Giants will send out 2nd year pitcher Logan Webb, who had an improbable breakout season in 2021. For Buehler, it’s a heavy load of fastballs, whether it’s a four-seamer, cutter, or sinker. He also has two breaking balls and a changeup, but his four-seam fastball is one of the best pitches in baseball.
Unfortunately for Buehler, the Giants are a team of fastball hitters. Against the fastball, the Giants have a team .367 wOBA and .360 xwOBA. Individually, Brandon Crawford has a 12.2 run value against the fastball, followed by LaMonte Wade Jr. (10.3), Buster Posey (8.7), Steven Duggar (9.7), and Mike Yastrzemski (9.7). Buehler struggled in his last start against the Giants, but also has multiple great starts against them this year.
The Giants will likely stack their lineup with lefties, as they normally do against right-handed pitching. Wade Jr., Duggar, Yastrzemski, and Tommy La Stella should all get starts tonight. They’ll also sprinkle in their everyday righties like Buster Posey and Kris Bryant, as well as one of Evan Longoria or Darin Ruf.
For the Giants, it’s Logan Webb who will get the nod for his first career postseason start. Webb started the season as a back-up option as the Giants’ 6th starter, but has established himself as their ace, and a top-15 pitcher in baseball in 2021. He’s shut down the Giants this year, allowing just four earned runs over 16 innings pitched with 17 strikeouts and just four walks.
The Dodgers don’t play matchups quite like the Giants, so expect a lineup similar to the one used in the Wild Card game. Following his walk-off blast, Chris Taylor should get a start, especially given his success against Webb in his career (.481 wOBA). They’ve settled into Betts leading off, followed by Corey Seager, then Trea Turner. They have one of the deepest lineups in baseball that can be a nightmare for any pitcher, although Adam Wainwright held them in check in the Wild Card game.
Game 2: Urias vs Gausman
Julio Urias will start game 2 in place of an injured Clayton Kershaw, who avoided Tommy John surgery but will still not return for the postseason. Urias closed out the World Series last year, wrapping up a postseason in which he threw 23.0 innings with a 1.17 ERA, primarily out of the pen. Although it doesn’t mean anything, he led the majors in wins with 20 in 2021, while putting up a sub-3.00 ERA in 185.2 innings. He’s just 25, and his first fully healthy MLB season was a major success, and he’ll receive some back-ballot Cy Young votes.
Against lefties, the Giants will look to Darin Ruf, Kris Bryant, and Buster Posey to be run producers. Although Bryant had fairly pedestrian numbers after the trade, he had a .586 wOBA against Urias in 2021, and a 138 wRC+ against lefties overall. Evan Longoria will probably get the start at 3rd, with Ruf at first due to the Belt injury, and Austin Slater may get to start.
Kevin Gausman was brought back to San Francisco on the one-year, $19M qualifying offer this past offseason, and he produced a better season than even his biggest supporters expected. In 192 innings, Gausman had a 2.81 ERA, 3.00 FIP, 3.42 SIERA, and 4.8 fWAR. Although he hasn’t been quite the same since the foreign substance crackdown, he finished the season with two great starts to help clinch the NL West and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Game 3: DeSclafani vs Scherzer
Like the Dodgers, the Giants have a great rotation with three great starting pitchers. On Monday, the series will shift to Los Angeles, where the Giants will start Anthony DeSclafani against Cy Young contender Max Scherzer. The Reds let Anthony DeSclafani walk last offseason, and he signed a one-year prove-it deal with San Francisco. In 2021, DeSclafani proved it. He had a 3.17 ERA, 3.62 FIP, 4.11 SIERA, and 3.0 fWAR.
Max Scherzer started the Wild Card Game for the Dodgers after being acquired from the Nationals at the trade deadline alongside Trea Turner. Scherzer hasn’t had his best stuff in his past few starts, which could come to bite him against an offense as consistent as the Giants. In the Wild Card game, he got away with his poor command, giving up just one run in 4.1 innings.
Scherzer made just one start against the Giants in 2021 and lasted only 0.2 innings before being pulled with an injury, and most of this years’ Giants hitters haven’t faced Scherzer in years. They’ll likely lead off Wade Jr., following him with some assortment of La Stella, Kris Bryant, and more.
Game 4: Wood vs Price
Depending on the state of the series, these pitching matchups could definitely change. Of course, game four is always “if necessary” but based on these two teams’ season series (10-9 Giants) it seems like a safe bet that it will be necessary. The team that goes down 2-1 might be more inclined to bring back their ace on short rest, especially the Dodgers with the trusty Buehler.
This matchup of veteran lefties would be a great switch from the power pitchers of the first few games to a game that will feature many balls in play and possibly a high score. The lineups feature plenty of firepower, but both teams also have the bullpen depth to only need three innings from their respective starters, if that’s all they can get.
Game 5: Buehler vs Webb
If these series gets to a game 5, it’s possible that we get a rematch of Game 1, back at Oracle Park. It’s also possible that one of these starters gets used up in game 4, so one of the game 2 starters might be ready to go on regular rest. They could also use starters out of the bullpen, which makes for some interesting possibilities.
The ideal series for a neutral fan includes a game 5, and given the strength of both these teams, it’s possible to get an all-time great, classic series early on in the playoffs.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images