LOS ANGELES -- It just couldn’t be any other way.
The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have spent the entire season watching each other, scouting each other, and battling one another.
Each team has won 109 games this season, including the postseason.
They've played each other 23 times.
And now, for the 24th time Thursday night, they’ll go at it for the final time this season in a winner-take-all game.
It will be only the fifth winner-take-all postseason game between two 100-victory teams in baseball history, and the first between two teams in the same division.
The Dodgers defeated the Giants, 7-2, on Tuesday night at Dodger Stadium to force Game 5 of the best-of-five division series, setting up Thursday's matchup at Oracle Park.
The winner plays the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series.
The loser goes home for a long, painful winter.
“This is what baseball wants,’’ Dodgers manager Dave Roberts says. “All the (other) series are done, we're going to be the only show in town.
“So, if you have a pulse or you're a sports fan, you better be watching Dodgers-Giants.
“It’s going to be a great one.’’
It has been 59 years since these two teams played in a sudden-death elimination game against one another, but for the first time in their fierce 131-year history, this will be the first true postseason game.
The two teams say they will spend their waking hours studying video, pouring over scouting reports, churning out analytic studies, but the truth is that they’re just wasting their time.
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Considering this will be the 24th time they’ll face one another in the last 146 days, they know each others tendencies all too well.
“We know each other’s playbook,’’ Roberts says, “so it just goes to old school. We’re going to run the ball to the right, and you're going to have to stop us. It’s the Vince Lombardi (style).
“We know what we do. They know what we do. We know who they want to have the baseball in Game 5. They know who we want and the matchups that we're trying to get.
“Now, it’s about going out there and executing, and the best team wins.’’
The reality is that these teams are virtually equal, with nothing that really separates the two. The more they look for differences, the more they are the same.
“I think because of the familiarity,’’ Roberts said, “we think alike, I think on the margins, trying to get advantages.’’
You know they’re carbon copies when they can play all year-long against one another and realize that nothing can possibly surprise them.
“I don't think there's anything in particular that has stood out over the course of this season,’’ Giants manager Gabe Kapler says, “where there was a moment that we learned something. They're such an excellent, balanced team, I think their roster was very well constructed here at the end. It's a difficult team to match up against."
Who knows, maybe the slight difference will be the performance of their pitchers, sending two of the finest young starters in baseball to the mound in the biggest game of their lives.
The Dodgers will be sending 25-year-old Julio Urias, MLB’s only 20-game winner this season, to the mound. The Giants will be countering with 24-year-old Logan Webb, who was spectacular in his Game 1 start, yielding just five hits while striking out 10 in the Giants’ 4-0 victory. Urias was nearly as brilliant in his Game 2 start, yielding three hits and striking out five in the Dodgers’ 9-2 victory.
The two teams spent the postgame singing their praises, believing that age is just a number, and convinced their youth won’t be a deterrent.
“I think his confidence has just continued to grow,’’ Giants All-Star catcher Buster Posey said of Webb, who has gone 21 consecutive starts without the Giants losing a game. “The stuff has gotten better because he believes that he has elite pitches that can compete with any lineup. He’s shown in the last game of the season, and then in the first game of this series, that he can keep his poise, and I think that bodes well for Thursday.’’
Countered Dodgers All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts: “Just seems like Julio has this weird, but like old soul about him. He just gets on the mound like he's been there, he's done it. He's got so much confidence in himself that it just kind of oozes out on everyone else.’’
The Dodgers are used to October, and refuse to blink no matter how bleak the situation. They won all three elimination games last season against Atlanta after being down 3-1 in the NLCS, and were tied at 2-games apiece in the World Series before winning the final two games against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“I just think we're best when our backs are against the wall,’’ Dodgers outfielder Chris Taylor said, “and we've shown that. We understand we still control our own destiny.’’
The Giants, on the other hand, haven’t been to the postseason or had a winning season since 2016. They have finished a combined 101.5 games out of first place since that postseason berth. But here they are, winning a franchise-record 107 regular-season games, with the chance to snuff out the Dodgers.
“We know we got a tough task at hand,’’ Giants infielder/outfielder Kris Bryant said, “but it's been pretty special what we've been able to do. Just the resiliency that we have and proving people wrong. …
“It’s just all come together at the right time, and 107 wins later, we're in this position.’’
They’ll play one last time against one another Thursday night, in front of a raucous, sellout crowd in San Francisco.
“This,’’ Posey said, “is why you play.’’
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NLDS Game 5: Dodgers-Giants square off in winner-take-all showdown