The MLB is set to begin their playoffs in November, with the World Series scheduled for October. With a record-breaking amount of games and teams, the MLB has been making headlines as one of the most competitive leagues in all of sports.
The mlb playoffs picture 2021 is a picture of the upcoming MLB playoff picture.
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- Alden Gonzalez is a character in the film Alden Gonzalez
- In 2016, he joined ESPN to cover the Los Angeles Rams.
- For MLB.com, he formerly covered the Angels.
- Tim Keown
Senior Writer for ESPN
- ESPN The Magazine’s Senior Writer
- ESPN.com’s columnist
- I’ve written five novels (3 NYT best-sellers)
The San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers have each won 109 games, including the playoffs. Only the 110th victory counts tonight.
The National League Division Series between the reigning World Series champion Dodgers and the NL West champion Giants is down to a decisive Game 5 at Oracle Park in San Francisco.
Alden Gonzalez and Tim Keown of ESPN baseball explore some of the major issues regarding the series so far — and what it may imply for the clinching — ahead of the grand finale.
Has the NLDS lived up to the expectations, and will the NLDS conclusion tonight live up to it?
Gonzalez: It’s amazing to think we’re four games into this series and haven’t seen a single lead change. But it doesn’t change the fact that these games have been tight. There have been a few big, series-altering events scattered throughout, but they have been quiet. For example, in the eighth inning of Game 1, Logan Webb recorded an out on a slow roller up the first-base line, atoning for an error he committed on a nearly identical play four innings earlier. In Game 2, Cody Bellinger ambushed Dominic Leone’s first-pitch fastball in the sixth inning, blowing the game open in spectacular manner. In the sixth inning of Game 3, Steven Duggar, in the lineup for his defense, runs down a long drive by Chris Taylor in the face of ferocious gusts. Or Walker Buehler, pitching around back-to-back singles in the second inning of Game 4 on short rest for the first time in his career, setting the tone for a performance that salvaged the Dodgers’ season. Expect more of these in the future.
Keown: Game 5 generates its own buzz, so whatever has occurred up to this point in the series — and it has been a decent but not fantastic series, in my view — will be overshadowed by the excitement and expectation of the championship game. Given the previous 23 games between these two clubs in 2021, there’s a good chance the last one will be close and well-played. The fact that they have the whole stage to themselves is both amazing and appropriate.
What about the first four games has shocked you the most?
Gonzalez: Gavin Lux has never looked better. With two outs in the ninth inning of Game 3, he almost tied the game with a long fly to center that was knocked down by the wind, then got the start in Game 4 and reached base four times, drawing two walks and lining a pair of singles. Lux, 23, has been one of the Dodgers’ most highly touted prospects in recent years, a potential cornerstone who the club has repeatedly refused to deal. However, he battled hard in 2020 due to limited plate appearances and failed to take advantage of a chance for semi-regular playing time in 2021. Lux went on the disabled list twice, was relegated to the minors in late August, and then learned to play outfield in a desperate attempt to contribute. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts saw a calmer, more efficient load and attitude when he returned on Sept. 10. It started to convert into postseason output, ensuring that Lux would start Game 5 of the winner-take-all series. Roberts stated Tuesday night, “He’ll be in there someplace.”
Brandon Belt’s production in the middle of the order has been sorely missed by the Giants. When Belt and Max Muncy were ruled out for this round of the playoffs, the Giants’ roster depth seemed to be a significant advantage. That has not been the case. With each at-bat, it’s obvious that Bellinger is building confidence, and Lux is becoming a problem for San Francisco. Tommy La Stella, Kris Bryant, and Buster Posey have all contributed to the Giants’ success. Only once has Evan Longoria looked terrific, but it was enough to win Game 3. LaMonte Wade Jr., Mike Yastrzemski, and Darin Ruf’s lack of productivity is unexpected; individually, it wouldn’t be a huge issue, but they’re all suffering at the same moment. That was unusual during the Giants’ hero-of-the-day regular season.
So far in this series, the greatest play I’ve seen is…
Gonzalez: If Brandon Crawford hadn’t made a leaping grab late in Game 3, this series would be totally different. With runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of the eighth, the Giants lead by one run. With an anticipated batting average of nearly.900, Mookie Betts smacked a 100-mph line drive. Crawford wasn’t only athletically capable of catching the ball; he was also ideally positioned to do it, exemplifying what has made the Giants’ defense so outstanding this season.
Keown: Here, we’ll distinguish between aesthetics and significance. La Stella and Crawford’s double play on Justin Turner in the fourth inning of Game 1 was one of the finest defensive plays of the whole season. With all of his momentum going toward left field, La Stella collected the ball on the third-base side of second and made a backhand flip to Crawford, who slid over the bag like a speed skater and made a cross-body throw to first. Each runner was separated by the length of a shoelace, emphasizing how precise everything had to be — the flip, the turn, and the throw. Crawford’s grab of Betts’ liner in the seventh inning of Game 3 was the most crucial play, but here’s where Crawford’s ho-hum genius comes into play: If you’ve been paying attention to him all season, you’d be shocked if he didn’t make that catch.
The X element has always been…
Gonzalez: It’s unquestionably Buehler for the Dodgers. Despite Webb’s domination on the opposing side, he gave his team a chance to win the first game. More significantly, his decision to start Game 4 on short rest ensured that the Dodgers would be able to complete the series with their top three starters (Buehler, Max Scherzer and Julio Urias). Clayton Kershaw’s departure, as well as those of Trevor Bauer, Dustin May, Danny Duffy, and, don’t forget, Cole Hamels, puts a huge question mark in the Dodgers’ rotation’s fourth slot. Buehler, Scherzer, and Urias will need to absorb as many of the starts as possible if they are to advance into October. Any other scenario might wear out the Dodgers’ bullpen.
After flailing at everything Webb threw at them in Game 1, Dodger batters are finding their patience. Webb hammered the zone early, forcing the Dodgers to swing and then expanding with his off-speed offerings. Posey shushed him in the interview room after the game when he claimed that was the game plan. The Dodgers, who are usually a disciplined team that runs up pitch counts in an ultra-modern manner, seemed to be more than eager to comply. Even though they lost 1-0 in Game 3, the Dodgers were more selective after that. As a consequence, they were able to get into favorable counts and look for errors. It raises an interesting question for Game 5: Was this a Dodgers or a Webb thing?
What effect will returning to San Francisco have?
Gonzalez: The Giants will benefit from a rowdy Oracle Park crowd, which propelled them to a 54-27 home record during the regular season, but their greatest advantage — apart from hitting last, which is crucial in such a tight game — is how their pitching lines up. Webb, who pitched 723 innings of scoreless relief in Game 1, will be completely rested for Game 2. Kevin Gausman, on the other hand, will be able to offer anything the Giants need from the bullpen. Camilo Doval, who had six outs in Game 3 but wasn’t utilized in Game 4, will be back. It’s easy to see the Giants using just those three pitchers on Thursday night, but Tyler Rogers, one would assume, will make an appearance.
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Keown: Before Game 1, the first playoff game between these two rivals, the atmosphere inside Oracle Park was electric. Fans chanted “Beat L.A.” so loudly that you could feel it in your teeth as they marched shoulder to shoulder across concourses and up ramps. That may seem mild in comparison to a Game 5 winner-take-all matchup between these two teams, but the atmosphere isn’t the only factor working in San Francisco’s favor. With the victory in Game 3, the Giants were able to keep Webb on regular rest and reintroduce him to the home fans. He hasn’t been around for very long, but he has made it clear that he lives on the spotlight. This is the most significant.
Before this series, you both anticipated that the winner would advance to the World Series. Are you still convinced? Will they win it based on what you’ve seen from the other teams in the playoffs this week?
Gonzalez: Going into the game, I had two teams in mind that I felt would cause problems for either the Dodgers or the Giants. The Milwaukee Brewers were one of them, but that was before Devin Williams punched his way out of the playoffs. The only other club that can pitch, execute, and match up with any of the two is the Tampa Bay Rays. Both have been ruled out. The Houston Astros seem to be very dangerous, but I’m still concerned about their pitching. So, yeah, I believe the best team left in this series will win by a large margin. Small samples may negate this, but the Giants and Dodgers have a significant edge over the rest of the league.
Keown: The winner of Game 5 will go to the World Series, but I’ve seen enough of the Braves to know it won’t be easy. My World Series prediction was the Astros over the Giants, which signifies nothing and should be regarded as such. Houston’s offense is capable of outshining its starting pitching, which is saying a lot. There’s virtually no reason to believe this, but I’m sticking with it since the Astros now seem to be a club capable of hitting its way out of nearly any situation.
So, who do you think will win tonight? And who will play the role of the hero?
Gonzalez: The Dodgers will be much more prepared for Webb’s east-west approach in Game 5, but the Giants will benefit from the presence of Gausman, who may provide bulk innings behind him with a totally different pitch mix. This, along with the Giants’ home-field advantage, will drive them to victory. Posey will deliver the big hit, because, well, he’s Posey.
Keown: Giants in a tight game that may go to extra innings and will undoubtedly use the overwhelming bulk of the Giants’ squad. The simple call is to predict Webb will be the hero, and I fully anticipate him to pitch well into the night and match his Game 1 performance, but the Giants’ season has been defined by a parade of surprise heroes. I’m not sure why, but it seems like a Ruf night with lefty Urias starting. In the series, he’s 0-for-7 with four strikeouts, indicating that he’s either struggling or about to break out. The latter, in my opinion.
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