5 reasons NLDS Game 5 will be epic

October 14th, 2021

As if a historic rivalry series between the Dodgers and Giants wasn’t already enough of a treat in and of itself, on Thursday, we get the most thrilling conclusion possible: a winner-take-all game between the teams. They entered with 213 combined regular-season wins, the most of any postseason series all-time. It just had to end this way.

There are so many reasons to eagerly anticipate Thursday’s game, it’d be impossible to list them all. But we’ll try to round up some of the most notable. Here are five reasons why Game 5 will be epic.

1) We don’t usually see two pitchers who win this much in a game like this

The most important thing a pitcher can do is put his team in position to win a game. And that’s precisely what Julio Urías and Logan Webb have done for the Dodgers and Giants, respectively, all year.

Despite that the Dodgers are 27-6 in Urías’ starts this year including the playoffs -- an .818 winning percentage -- L.A. has slated Corey Knebel to begin the game. Most likely, Urías will see plenty of work as the bulk reliever following Knebel, giving San Francisco pause if they wanted to frontload their lineup with righty bats. Meanwhile, the Giants are 22-5 in Webb’s starts, an .815 winning percentage, also including the playoffs.

If those winning percentages sound particularly high for teams in a pitcher’s starts, it’s because they are -- at least for a playoff matchup, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Game 5 will be the fifth postseason matchup between two pitchers who each had a team winning percentage of .800 or better in their starts that season entering the game (including postseason, minimum 15 GS). It’s the first of those in a winner-take-all game.

The others, if you were curious? Paul Abbott and Roger Clemens in 2001 ALCS Game 4, Lefty Gomez and Lon Warneke in 1932 World Series Game 2 and Wild Bill Donovan and Orval Overall in Games 1 and 3 of the 1907 World Series.

2) Nor do we see two teams that win this much in this spot

We mentioned the 213 combined wins for these two teams earlier, and there’s further context with them facing off in a win-or-go-home game. The Dodgers won 106 games and the Giants won 107. This is just the fifth winner-take-all postseason game between two 100-win teams from the regular season. The last time it happened was Game 7 of the 2017 World Series between the Astros and Dodgers. Before that? We hadn’t seen a game like this since 1977.

But it isn’t just the fact that both teams won 100-plus games. They also had the top two records in the Majors. This will be just the fifth winner-take-all postseason game between teams that had the top two records in MLB in the divisional era (since 1969), according to Elias. These also occurred in the 2007 ALCS, 1992 NLCS, 1979 World Series and 1972 NLCS.

3) Teams this good don’t usually lose this early -- but one will

Something that underlies both notes above, regarding 100-win teams and meetings between the top two teams in MLB, is that those prior instances were all in the LCS or later. With the 2021 NL West becoming the first division to feature two teams with 105 wins, and the ‘21 NL being the first such individual league, we are in this unusual spot where two outstanding teams are facing off in the LDS.

That also means that the team that loses Game 5 will either tie or set a record for the most wins by a team that lost in the Division Series. If the Dodgers lose, they’d tie the record, which they set in 2019 when they lost to the Nationals in the NLDS despite 106 regular-season wins. And if the Giants lose, those 107 wins would be the most by a team to lose in the DS.

4) It’s winner-take-all between these historic franchises

This was the first time that the Giants and Dodgers met in the postseason since the first modern World Series in 1903. But they’ve played other winner-take-all games in the past. Those battles were regular-season, tiebreaker contests -- two of them, in fact.

In 1951, the two teams played a best-of-three tiebreaker series to determine the NL pennant between Brooklyn and New York clubs. And of course, it went the full three games. You may have heard how that one ended -- Bobby Thomson off Ralph Branca, "The Shot Heard Round the World." The Giants won the pennant, at the Polo Grounds.

In 1962, they met again in a best-of-three for the pennant, but as California squads. This time, the decisive game three came at Dodger Stadium and the Giants won again, scoring four runs in the top of the ninth to win the game and the series.

The winner this time around won’t seal a trip to the World Series, but it will get to keep those title hopes alive.

5) They’ve been all knotted up the entire year

The Giants won the regular-season series, 10-9, while the Dodgers scored 80 runs to the Giants’ 78. That difference of just two runs marked only the sixth time since these teams moved West that their season series has featured a run differential of two or fewer.

And now, they enter Thursday one game apart in the season series including the playoffs: 12 wins for the Giants, 11 for the Dodgers. The run differential has widened slightly with the Dodgers’ two high-scoring wins -- it’s now 96 runs for the Dodgers, 87 for the Giants. But it’s still a razor-thin margin, and it all comes down to this one game, pitting the Dodgers’ hopes of becoming the first repeat champion since the 1998-2000 Yankees against the Giants’ hopes of continuing an unexpected dream season.

It all comes down to this. Thursday night. It’s going to be epic.