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Game 1 pitching matchup: Dodgers right-hander Walker Buehler (16-4, 2.47 ERA) vs. Giants right-hander Logan Webb (11-3, 3.03 ERA).
What’s at stake: Winner of NLDS advances to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers or Atlanta Braves. Loser is eliminated.
How they got here: The Dodgers, who finished second in the NL West with a 106-56 record, beat the St. Louis Cardinals 3-1 in Wednesday night’s NL wild-card game when Chris Taylor lined a dramatic walk-off, two-run homer to left field in the bottom of the ninth inning. The Giants needed a franchise-record 107 wins to stave off the Dodgers in a heated division race that was not clinched until last Sunday’s regular-season finale, when San Francisco beat San Diego 11-4.
Season series: Giants 10-9. The Dodgers swept a three-game set in San Francisco on May 21-23 and a two-game series in Dodger Stadium on June 28-29, but the Giants won three of four games in Los Angeles twice, on May 27-30 and July 19-22. The Dodgers suffered two of their most crushing losses of the season at the hands of the Giants on back-to-back nights. San Francisco scored three runs in the top of the ninth off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, two on Wilmer Flores’ homer, in a 4-2 win on July 21, and four runs in the top of the ninth off Jansen in a 5-3 win on July 22 with Jansen issuing a bases-loaded walk to Darin Ruf on a controversial full-count check swing and then giving up a two-run single to LaMonte Wade Jr. Giants left fielder Mike Tauchman robbed Albert Pujols of a potential walk-off homer in the ninth inning of San Francisco’s 8-5, 10-inning win on May 28.
Key players: Dodgers leadoff man Mookie Betts, who singled twice in the wild-card win, needs to get on base in front of Corey Seager and Trea Turner, and the speedy Turner needs to create some havoc on the basepaths. If Cody Bellinger, who singled, walked twice, stole two bases and scored a run in the wild-card game, can provide competitive at-bats, he would ease the loss of left-handed-hitting slugger Max Muncy to a left elbow injury. Julio Urias, the 20-game winner and 2020 October hero, will play an important role — the left-hander will start Game 2 and will be available for Game 5 on regular rest. San Francisco’s success could hinge on their playoff neophytes. Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are grizzled October veterans who have five World Series rings combined, but seven core position players (Wade, Ruf, Mike Yastrzemski, Steven Duggar, Donovan Solano, Austin Slater and Alex Dickerson), four front-line relievers (Tyler Rogers, Jarlin Garcia, Dominic Leone and Camilo Doval) and two starting pitchers (Webb and Anthony DeSclafani) have never experienced the pressure of playing in a postseason game.
Key matchup: There are so many, it’s tough to pick just one, but how Buehler fares against the Giants lineup will be a huge factor because the hard-throwing right-hander could face San Francisco twice in the series, in Games 1 and 5. Buehler, 27, is already an accomplished big-game pitcher — he is 3-1 with a 2.35 ERA in 11 playoff starts, striking out 83 and walking 22 in 61 1/3 innings, including a six-inning, one-run, three-hit, 10-strikeout effort in Game 3 of the World Series against Tampa Bay and a six-inning, no-run, seven-hit, six-strikeout effort in a must-win Game 6 of the NL Championship Series last October. But after going 3-0 with a 0.79 ERA and 32 strikeouts in his first five starts against the Giants this season, Buehler was roughed up for six earned runs and seven hits in three innings of a 6-4 loss in Oracle Park on Sept. 5, his worst game of the season.
Dodgers win: If they build rallies with singles and doubles, advance runners with productive outs, generate offense without relying too heavily on the long ball, and their bullpen matches zeros with San Francisco’s relief corps. The Giants might have the deepest and most versatile bullpen in baseball, with multiple options and diverse looks and repertoires from the right and left side, but the Dodgers bullpen, as it showed in the wild-card win, can be overpowering and effective, especially if hard-throwing right-handers Brusdar Graterol and Joe Kelly can bridge the middle innings in front of setup man Blake Treinen and Jansen like they did against the Cardinals on Wednesday night.
Giants win: If their starting pitchers can neutralize the top three hitters in the Dodgers lineup and keep the ball in the park, their relievers continue to lock down the later innings and the offense continues to slug and deliver clutch hits like it has all season. The Giants hit a franchise-record 241 homers, second-most in the major leagues behind Toronto (262), and they scored a major league-high 49.5% of their runs (398 of 804 total runs) on homers. They had 43 comeback wins and went 14-36 in games they trailed after six innings, 13-39 in games they trailed after seven innings and 6-41 in games they trailed after eight innings.
Prediction: Dodgers in five games.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.