Dodgers must avoid getting tangled in Giants’ Webb to win NLDS Game 5



SAN FRANCISCO — Something has to give. Finally.

The Dodgers and San Francisco Giants have measured themselves against each other all year. They have each won 109 games now (thanks to the Dodgers’ wild-card win). They have gone head-to-head 23 times with just five runs separating the two teams (in the Dodgers’ favor) over those passionate engagements.

A 24th meeting – a 110th win for one team – will be needed to separate baseball’s two best teams. The winner of Game 5 of the National League Division Series on Thursday night will advance to the best-of-seven NL Championship Series against the Atlanta Braves. The loser will be left to wonder how 109 wins can feel like a failure.

“I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this. I was hoping we would win in three straight,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts joked Wednesday afternoon. “But I think if you’re talking about baseball – it’s the first time that this has happened, us playing in a postseason series, the way that the regular season played out … it was inevitable, yeah.”

If a final clash between the Dodgers and Giants was inescapable neither is the challenge if the Dodgers are going to advance to a second consecutive NLCS clash with the Braves. They have to solve the riddle of Logan Webb.

The 24-year-old right-hander had his way with the Dodgers in Game 1, holding them to five hits while striking out 10 in 7-2/3 scoreless innings in his first postseason start. The Giants have won 19 of his past 21 starts (including Game 1) and 11 of his past 12, during which Webb has a 2.57 ERA.

“He’s got three pitches that are elite so it’s definitely a luxury on my end to pick and choose,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said of Webb’s pitch mix – a low 90s sinker, a low 80s slider and a changeup. “He’s got the ability to get guys out a lot of different ways, and it’s a recipe for success, that’s for sure.”

Webb relied heavily on his off-speed pitches in Game 1, including a slider on which batters hit just .156 this season. Of his 92 pitches in the series opener, Webb fed the Dodgers just 25 fastballs, 20 of those sinkers. He threw his slider 29 times and his changeup 38 (the most of any start in his career).

Afterward, Roberts criticized his hitters as strongly as he ever will, saying they failed to make “adjustments,” chasing far too many of Webb’s pitches out of the strike zone – very uncharacteristic of the Dodgers’ lineup. No team swung at a lower percentage of pitches outside of the strike zone than the Dodgers this season (27.8).

Using a golf analogy, Roberts said they stuck with one club – “the driver” – all game. That has to change in Game 5, he said Wednesday.

“I think that you look at what Webb’s done to us and obviously he’s thrown the baseball really well against us,” Roberts said of Webb, who allowed just five earned runs on seven hits in 16 innings over three regular-season starts against the Dodgers. “He’s got really good stuff. The ball has a lot of action and when he’s right, he has really good command, and even when he’s not, the ball kind of moves a lot. So I think it’s just the idea of staying short, use the big part of the field, because … he doesn’t give up a whole lot of slug. So to kind of play for the slug is just a bad approach.

“For us, when it’s going well we are taking our walks. We’re getting into counts. We’re essentially making the pitcher get himself into trouble. We’re not overly aggressive but aggressive in the strike zone. So that’s kind of the yin and yang. You want your hitters to be aggressive but to their zones and, when we start expanding – and Logan is an east-west guy so he’s trying to get us to expand east-west. If we can stay locked in on our zone that’s when we’re at our best.”

If the Dodgers do make adjustments in their approach against Webb this time around, Giants manager Gabe Kapler thinks Webb has the variety in his pitch mix to counter.

“When pitchers have two great secondary weapons, they have a good sinking fastball they can elevate at times, and they see some adjustments being made either in-game or in a subsequent game, they can always go to those other secondary weapons, if those are working better,” Kapler said. “They can also pitch more in the zone if necessary. If you’re seeing a passive approach, they can try to pick the edges of the zone or go out of the zone for some swing and miss.

“So it’s true for Logan, but it’s true for all pitchers. They’re going to be able to adjust their pitch usage. They’re going to be able to adjust how frequently they’re in the zone, how quickly they’re pitching to contact (in the count), things like that.”

One thing Webb will not change is his pre-game routine – and the unhealthy amount of Red Bull included in it. He said he drinks three of the heavily caffeinated energy drinks before each start – “right before or right when I get to the field, right before I start my stretch with the trainer and then at the end of my warmup.”

“I’ve always loved Red Bull,” he admitted during Wednesday’s press conference. “I honestly started drinking it when I was in travel ball, when I was really young.

“Don’t be mad at my dad or mom or anything about that.”



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