Giants vs. Dodgers: Three reasons San Francisco can beat historic rival in NLDS

by 24USATVOct. 9, 2021, 2 a.m. 17

For the first time in history, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will meet in a postseason series. The Dodgers beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Wild Card Game on Wednesday, setting up a National League Division Series matchup between the historic rivals. Beyond the rivalry, the Giants and Dodgers had the two best records in Major League Baseball in 2021.

"It's what baseball wants," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said following the Wild Card Game win. "Giants, Dodgers, one of the great rivalries in sports, and it's happening."

The Giants won 107 games this season. The Dodgers won 106. The Giants won the season series 10-9 but the Dodgers outscored them 80-78. These two teams were as close to evenly matched as it gets this year. Then again, only one came into the season as a clear World Series contender. The other is an out-of-nowhere success story.

Despite having the better record and winning the season series, the Giants are a bit of an underdog in the NLDS (Caesars Sportsbook lists the Dodgers as -160 favorites). I don't think the Giants mind that either. The pressure is all on the Dodgers. They're supposed to be here and they're trying to repeat. The Giants came into the season with few expectations and have already exceeded them all.

With their underdog status in mind, here are three seasons the Giants can beat the rival Dodgers in the NLDS.

Stalwart catcher Buster Posey had a resurgent season at age 34, putting up 18 home runs (his most since 2015) and a 140 OPS+ (his highest since 2014). Posey was a deserving All-Star and he will start every NLDS game behind the plate. That's notable because, in an effort to keep him healthy and productive, the Giants kept Posey on a strict workload limit this year.

Early in the season Posey did not start more than two consecutive days at catcher. He started more than two straight games several times, but not more than two straight days. San Francisco loosened the reins down the stretch when they were fighting for the NL West title, but still on only five occasions all year did Posey start more than two straight days at catcher.

The Giants were so committed to the rest plan that Posey started only 13 of 19 games against the Dodgers, and sat at least once in every series of at least three games (he did start both games of a two-game series in June). And hey, it worked! Posey had an excellent season at an age when catchers typically turn into pumpkins, and the Giants won the division. Can't complain.

Built-in off-days mean Posey will be able to start every NLDS game without having to start more than two straight days behind the plate. He can stick to the rest schedule he's been on just about all year. Posey crushed the Dodgers this season (15 for 51 with four doubles and three homers). The more he's behind the plate and well-rested, the better San Francisco's chances.

2. Scherzer is in a bit of a rut

It is a testament to Max Scherzer's Hall of Fame talent that he got through 4 1/3 innings while allowing just one run in a win-or-go-home postseason game despite having basically no command. Scherzer was in long counts all night against the Cardinals in the Wild Card Game and needed 94 pitches to get 13 outs, yet he never broke. Lesser pitchers would've melted down.

That said, this is now three consecutive substandard starts for Scherzer, who was out-of-this-world good when he first joined the Dodgers. One bad start is a blip (especially when it happens in Coors Field), two is a coincidence, three is a trend. Here are Scherzer's last three starts:

Not great. Scherzer is in a bit of a rut at the moment, and it happens, even to Cooperstown-bound pitchers. It is happening at a bad time though, and anything less than the Terminator version of Scherzer is advantage Giants. Ditto the fact Los Angeles couldn't line up their rotation due to the Wild Card Game, so the Giants won't see Scherzer until Game 3. They avoid him as long as possible.

I wouldn't dare bet against Scherzer, though those last three outings are a red flag. Not a reason to panic, I don't think, but a reason to perk up a bit and wonder if something's up. Perhaps the long season is catching up to a 37-year-old pitcher, especially after the weirdness of last season. Whatever it is, Scherzer isn't quite himself right now, and that's good news for the Giants.

3. It's all about the long ball

From 2015-19, the Giants ranked 27th, 28th, 30th, 29th, and 26th in home runs. Their 694 homers those five years were 22 fewer than any other team. Power just wasn't part of their game. Even during their World Series years from 2010-14, the home run wasn't a huge part of San Francisco's offense. And that's fine. There's more than one way to score runs.

The lack of power no longer applies. The Giants hit a franchise record 241 home runs this season, second most in baseball behind only the Blue Jays, who had the benefit of the DH. Not only did the Giants hit a ton of home runs, they also allowed the fewest this year. Only 151 all season. Here are the largest home run differentials in baseball this season:

Home runs take on added important in the postseason. Run-scoring is typically lower in October than during the regular season, but the home run rate tends to hold steady, so the ability to hit home runs and the ability to suppress home runs have heightened value in the postseason. The Giants excel at both.

And so do the Dodgers! They hit the fourth-most home runs and allowed the third-fewest this season. It's not like they're lagging in either category, even relative to the Giants. The key difference is that several of San Francisco's top pitchers, the guy they're going to lean on the most in the NLDS, are extreme ground ball pitchers. The next ground ball I see go over the fence will be the first.

Logan Webb, San Francisco's Game 1 (and potentially Game 5) starter, had the highest ground ball rate (60.9 percent) and second lowest home run rate (0.55 HR/9) in baseball this season. He allowed just one homer in three starts against the Dodgers in 2021. Ace setup man Tyler Rogers had a 57.6 percent ground ball rate and 0.56 HR/9. Those two will see a lot of innings in the NLDS.

The Dodgers have two top ground ball relievers in Joe Kelly (58.9 percent) and Brusdar Graterol (58.3 percent), though neither is likely to see high-leverage work. Walker Buehler finished the season with the highest ground ball rate among the team's starters at 44.7 percent. When it comes to keeping the ball on the ground and potentially avoiding homers, the Giants have a leg up.


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