Giants stymied by LA; NLDS evened up

October 10th, 2021

SAN FRANCISCO -- On paper, at least, the Giants are built to crush left-handed pitching. In reality, they’ve looked mortal against lefties in recent weeks, a flaw that was on display on Saturday night at Oracle Park.    

The Giants had few answers for Dodgers left-hander Julio Urías, who allowed only three hits over five innings of one-run ball in San Francisco’s 9-2 loss in Game 2 of the National League Division Series, evening this best-of-five showdown between the longtime rivals at one game apiece.

San Francisco trailed, 2-1, heading into the sixth inning, but the Dodgers broke the game open with a four-run rally that was sparked by Cody Bellinger’s two-run, bases-loaded double off Dominic Leone. The Giants got one run back on Brandon Crawford’s RBI single in the bottom of the sixth, but their momentum fizzled when Wilmer Flores ran into the third out of the inning at third base following a spectacular throw from Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts.

Los Angeles tacked on three more runs in the eighth to turn what had once been a close affair into a blowout.

“It wasn't our best effort tonight,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “The Dodgers just swung the bats better than us, made more pitches than us, made more plays than us. So as we've done all season long, we'll turn the page, get ready for an off-day of preparation and get ready for Game 3.”

The series will now shift to Los Angeles, where the Giants and Dodgers will meet for Game 3 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium. Left-hander , a former Dodger, will start for the Giants and oppose right-hander Max Scherzer.

In Division Series with the current 2-2-1 format, teams that have split the first two games in their opponent’s home ballpark, before returning home for Game 3, have gone on to win the series 23 of 36 times (64%). This excludes 2020 (Division Series played at neutral sites).

While facing Scherzer -- a three-time Cy Young Award winner and future Hall of Famer -- will be a tall task, the Giants have established a track record of success against righties this year. They’ve gone 80-35 (.696) against right-handed starters, most recently tagging Dodgers ace Walker Buehler for three runs over 6 1/3 innings in their 4-0 win in Game 1 on Friday night.

Against lefties, though, their offense has been spottier. After being held in check by Urías, the Giants fell to 27-21 (.574) against left-handed starters, including 11-11 since the All-Star break.

The Giants’ recent struggles against lefties are a bit confounding, as they regularly stack their lineup with right-handed bats when they face southpaws. Crawford and starter were the lone left-handed hitters in the Giants’ lineup on Saturday, which featured a deep pocket of lefty killers -- Darin Ruf (1.007 OPS vs. LHP during the regular season), Kris Bryant (.910 OPS), Austin Slater (.894 OPS), Buster Posey (1.051 OPS) and Flores (.803 OPS) -- at the top half of the order.

Still, Urías managed to limit the Giants to only one run, which came via Donovan Solano’s sacrifice fly in the second.

“Every time we've put our right-handed-hitting lineup out there against a left-handed starter, we always feel really good about it because if you go man-for-man up and down our lineup, we just have good numbers, particularly against lefties,” Kapler said. “So you kind of think that's going to show up in games against left-handed starters, but it really hasn't happened for us consistently throughout the season. It's been one of the areas that we sort of struggled. And last year it was these types of lineups that just produced so much.”

Saturday put a bigger spotlight on slumping third baseman Evan Longoria, who posted a 1.088 OPS against lefties during the regular season, but went hitless in four at-bats to remain mired in a 3-for-44 funk over his last 13 games.

“I thought his swing looked a little bit better tonight,” Kapler said. “I really have a ton of trust in Evan. He's just a professional hitter who has done it very successfully for a very long time, had an excellent year for us, and is going through a period of time and a stretch of at-bats that aren't going his way.”

The good news for the Giants is that the Dodgers’ rotation is not quite as left-handed now that Clayton Kershaw is out with a left elbow injury. Los Angeles’ bullpen also features only two lefties -- Alex Vesia and David Price -- so the Giants will like their chances as they head to Southern California and attempt to reset from their lackluster showing on Saturday, especially with another right-hander, Tony Gonsolin, looming as a potential Game 4 starter for the Dodgers.

Still, it’s possible that the Giants might not have seen the last of Urías, who would likely be available to pitch in some capacity in a potential Game 5 along with Buehler.

“I [have] never seen him not having his stuff,” Flores said of Urías, who improved to 3-1 with a 3.15 ERA over six starts against San Francisco this year. “He's always had it. Personally, I feel like I took good at-bats, I hit the ball hard; sometimes you just don't get a result. But I thought he had his stuff.”