Patience at the plate pays off: Takeaways from Dodgers’ win against Giants
The same Dodgers team that looked overmatched in a National League Division Series-opening loss to the San Francisco Giants on Friday night overwhelmed the Giants in Game 2 Saturday night.
The Dodgers pounded out 11 hits and broke open a tight game with four runs in the sixth inning and three runs in the eighth inning of a 9-2 victory in Oracle Park to even the best-of-five series at one.
All that chatter about the Dodgers’ inability to make adjustments at the plate and deliver in the clutch disappeared into the night like Will Smith’s towering eighth-inning homer into a swarm of Giants fans in the left-field bleachers.
Now the series moves to Los Angeles, and the defending World Series-champion Dodgers are feeling much better about themselves as they send Max Scherzer to the mound to face Giants left-hander Alex Wood in Game 3 on Monday night.
“It’s a good feeling,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “It’s interesting how the narrative changes from game to game. Right now, it’s a three-game series, we have home-field advantage, and we have Max on the mound. I like where we’re at.”
Here are five takeaways from Saturday night’s game:
Patience is a virtue
VIDEO | 02:34
Mookie Betts, Julio Urías and Dave Roberts break down the Dodgers’ NLDS Game 2 win
Dodgers pitcher Julio Urías, outfielder Mookie Betts and manager Dave Roberts discuss what they did to win Game 2 of the NLDS against the Giants.
Mookie Betts set the offensive tone for the Dodgers in Game 2 in his first at-bat, laying off three Kevin Gausman split-fingered fastballs near his ankles while drawing a walk to open the game.
The Dodgers didn’t pummel the Giants starter early — Corey Seager struck out swinging at split-fingered pitches in his first two at-bats, and the San Francisco right-hander retired 10 straight batters from the second through fifth innings.
But unlike Friday night, when the Dodgers chased far too many Logan Webb changeups and sliders outside the zone, the Dodgers had more competitive at-bats, laying off many of Gausman’s breaking balls and split-fingered pitches in the dirt and forcing him to come into the zone.
The approach paid off in the second, when Julio Urias and Betts both hit splitters for RBI singles, and the sixth, when Trea Turner led off with a double on a splitter and Will Smith laid off two splitters in the dirt and a slider for a walk. Chris Taylor walked to load the bases, and Cody Bellinger and AJ Pollock smacked two-run doubles for a 6-1 lead.
“I thought we gave ourselves a chance tonight,” Roberts said. “We weren’t afraid to get into counts, to grind Gausman, to use the whole field. Even guys that didn’t get hits, I felt all throughout the lineup, it was a well-played baseball game.”
Roberts was at a loss to explain how his team can look so lost one night and so locked in the next.
“I don’t know the answer,” he said. “I wish I knew it in about the third inning [Friday] night. Logan threw the baseball well and we didn’t make any adjustments.
“It was good tonight to get Gausman up, to get him on the plate, to use the whole field. That mind-set paid dividends, and hopefully we can continue that through the rest of this series.”
Betts made the defensive play of the game, fielding Brandon Crawford’s bloop RBI single in medium right field, spinning around and firing a 98-mph laser to third baseman Justin Turner to nail Wilmer Flores attempting to go from first to third to end the sixth inning.
But second baseman Trea Turner made two web gems of his own, further proof that the longtime shortstop is finally beginning to feel comfortable and confident at the new position since his July 30 trade from the Washington Nationals.
Right before Betts’ play, Turner ranged behind the second-base bag to make a backhand diving stop of a Flores grounder and flip to Seager to force Buster Posey at second for the second out of the sixth.
Evan Longoria opened the bottom of the seventh with a hard grounder to the shortstop side of second base. Turner, who was shifted toward the middle, raced to his right and made a sliding backhand grab on the outfield grass. He scrambled to his feet and made a long, accurate throw to first for the out.
“There were some really good defensive plays,” Roberts said, “in particular, Trea Turner and the Mookie play getting Flores at third base.”
The Dodgers acquired Corey Knebel last October believing the right-hander could regain his 2017 All-Star form after missing the entire 2019 season because of Tommy John surgery and struggling through an injury marred 2020 season, when he compiled a 6:08 ERA in 15 games.
That didn’t happen during a 2021 regular season in which Knebel missed almost four months because of a right-lat strain, but it could be happening at just the right time for the Dodgers.
Knebel gave up no runs, struck out 11 and walked three in 7 1/3 innings of his last seven regular-season appearances, most coming in low-leverage situations, but Roberts has thrown the fastball-curveball specialist back into high-leverage in the playoffs, and Knebel has looked dominant.
Knebel struck out Harrison Bader with a sharp 81-mph curve to end the eighth inning with a runner on in the wild-card win, and he threw a one-two-three seventh inning on Saturday night, striking out Tommy La Stella with an elevated 97-mph fastball and freezing Alex Dickerson with a 79-mph curve for strike three.
Knebel’s emergence gives Roberts yet another option to go with Brusdar Graterol, Joe Kelly, Phil Bickford and left-hander Alex Vesia as he bridges the innings between the starter and setup man Blake Treinen and closer Kenley Jansen.
It was strongly suggested in this space on Saturday that Roberts take more of a sledgehammer to his lineup by replacing Pollock with left-handed-hitting Gavin Lux, who hit .360 (18 for 50) with a .967 OPS, one homer and nine RBIs in his final 17 regular-season games.
Pollock hit .297 with a career-high .892 OPS, 21 homers and 69 RBIs on the season but had one hit in his last 10 regular-season at-bats, went 0 for 3 with a strikeout in the wild-card win and looked overmatched at the plate Friday night, striking out twice and tapping back to the mound.
Roberts, smartly, ignored this writer’s advice. He kept Pollock in the lineup for Game 2, and Pollock rewarded that decision by walking and scoring in the second, capping a four-run rally with a two-run double in the sixth and singling and scoring in the eighth.
Home-plate umpire Angel Hernandez, notorious for having an erratic strike zone, missed at least five pitches in the first few innings, including a 94-mph fastball from Dodgers starter Julio Urias that was well off the plate yet called for strike three in the first.
In the bottom of the second, Roberts fumed when Hernandez called a full-count curve from Urias at the bottom of the zone a ball, a leadoff walk that led to the Giants scoring a run to cut the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1.
But the Dodgers also benefitted from a Hernandez call in the sixth when a 2-and-2 fastball from Giants reliever Dominic Leone to Taylor that caught the outside corner was called a ball.
Instead of a strikeout for the second out of the inning, Taylor took the next pitch for a walk to load the bases. Bellinger and Pollock followed with their two-run doubles to break the game open.
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