Four X-factors for Giants-Dodgers Game 5: The Turners, Logan Webb’s changeup and more

Four X-factors for Giants-Dodgers Game 5: The Turners, Logan Webb’s changeup and more

The Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants were the two best teams in baseball during the regular season, so it’s only fitting their National League Division Series matchup will go the full five games. The Dodgers kept their season alive with a Game 4 win on Tuesday, setting up a winner-take-all Game 5 on Thursday at Oracle Park. Here’s how you can watch.

“This is what baseball wants,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said following Game 4. “As I understand, all the series are done and so we’re going to be the only show in town. So if you have a pulse or you’re a sports fan, you better be watching Dodgers-Giants. It’s going to be a great one.”

In 23 head-to-head games, the Giants hold the slight edge at 12-11 over the Dodgers, though they’ve been outscored 96-87. Their 24th meeting will determine who moves on to face the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship Series. Here are four potential X-factors for Game 5, with the understanding that anything can happen in one single baseball game.

1. Webb’s changeup

Giants ace Logan Webb had a breakout regular season thanks to his three-pitch mix, and he was brilliant in Game 1, holding the Dodgers to five hits in 7 2/3 shutout innings. He tied a season high with 10 strikeouts. Webb is a sinker/slider guy with some funk in his delivery and a low arm slot, though he also has a really good changeup, and it was on point in Game 1.

Webb threw a season-high 38 changeups in Game 1, and those 38 changeups generated a season-high 12 swings and misses. Four of his 10 strikeouts came on the changeup, including three against right-handed batters. Usually the changeup is reserved for batters of the opposite hand, but Webb threw it to everyone in Game 1. It was the best changeup he’s had all season.

“He’s got three pitches that are elite,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said after Game 1. “It’s definitely a luxury on my end to kind of pick and choose depending upon the game and the lineup that we have, and the action that I’m seeing on his pitches, to which one we want to lean on more. Sometimes it’s going to be more of an even mix and today we saw the changeup was used more. But he’s got the ability to get guys out in a lot of different ways and it’s a recipe for success.”   

If Webb has that changeup working again in Game 1, the Dodgers are in trouble. Not much you can do when a guy has his A+ stuff working. The sinker and slider are plenty good enough for Webb to have success without a reliable third pitch — his slider had one of the highest swing and miss rates in baseball this year — but give him a top changeup too, and, well, we can be untouchable.

Webb has dominated the Dodgers pretty much all season (five earned runs in 23 2/3 innings) and his extreme ground ball ability matches up well against a Los Angeles offense that likes to hit the ball in the air. With a great changeup, Webb adds strikeouts to those ground balls. His effectiveness doesn’t depend on the changeup, though a quality changeup allows him to level up.

2. The Turners

It has been a fairly quiet series for Justin Turner and Trea Turner. The two are a combined 4 for 35 (.114) in the NLDS, and they’ve only one drawn one walk as well. Furthermore, three of the four hits came in Game 4, so the Turners went a combined 1 for 26 (.038) in the first three games of the series. Given that, it’s a minor miracle Los Angeles lived to see a Game 5.

Through four games the Dodgers have been carried offensively by Mookie Betts and Will Smith, with some timely contributions from others here and there. The Turners are key components to their lineup, however. They’re middle-of-the-order guys expected to create havoc on the bases (Trea) and hit for damage to drive in runs (Trea and Justin). It hasn’t happened yet.

The Turners are too good for this to last, of course. Justin is one of the best postseason hitters of his generation (he’s a career .280/.375/.488 hitter in October) and Trea is an all-around force who led the league in batting average, hits, and total bases this season. He has postseason pedigree too. Trea was a central figure for the 2019 Nationals. He’s not new to the postseason.

Perhaps their combined 3 for 9 showing in Game 4 indicates the two Turners are about to bust out, and that Games 1-3 were just a blip. It happens, even to great players. At their best, the Dodgers can beat you in so many ways because they have power and speed and patience, and the Turners contribute to that greatly. Their performance in Game 5 could decide the series.

3. Flores and Ruf

It would be incorrect to say the Giants don’t have stars. Posey, Kris Bryant, and Brandon Crawford are stars in my book. The team’s success goes beyond its stars, however. The Giants won 107 games this season because they got contributions from every corner of their roster, with guys like LaMonte Wade Jr. and Steven Duggar and Austin Slater serving as high-end complementary players.

Against left-handed pitchers, two of San Francisco’s biggest weapons this season have been Wilmer Flores and Darin Ruf. Both joined the Giants last year — Flores came over after a year with the Diamondbacks and Ruf returned to MLB after three seasons in Korea — and in their two seasons with San Francisco, both have bludgeoned lefties.

Flores vs. LHP

216

.284/.329/.527

10

13

Ruf vs. RHP

205

.275/.390/.579

11

13

That is big-time production against southpaws and Flores and Ruf should both be in the lineup against Dodgers lefty Julio Urías in Game 5. Flores will likely play first and Ruf will likely play left, as they did in Game 2 against Urías. Slater is another one of the club’s top lefty mashers (.290/.393/.546 against lefties the last two years), so he’ll be in the lineup as well.

Flores and Ruf have crushed lefties the last two years, but in the NLDS, they are a combined 0 for 15 with five strikeouts. Ouch. The one run they’ve driven in came in Game 4, when Ruf hit a little ground ball with the bases loaded and one out, in what proved to be San Francisco’s best chance to get back into the game. These two have been quiet in the NLDS.

Both Flores and Ruf have seen Urías plenty over the years (combined 34 plate appearances), and this will be their second time seeing him in five days, so there’s familiarity here. Posey and Bryant have led the way for the Giants offensively (they are 11 for 29 in the NLDS and the rest of the team is 12 for 96), and they’ll need help in Game 5. Against Urías, Flores and Ruf need to have an impact.

4. The call for Jansen

Over the last two months or so Kenley Jansen has been close to automatic for the Dodgers. He allowed two earned runs in his final 27 2/3 regular season innings, holding opponents to a .087/.168/.141 batting line. Jansen has pitched twice this postseason (Wild Card Game and NLDS Game 3) and he’s struck out six of the seven batters he’s face. He has been dominant.

“Kenley has been fantastic for us all year,” Roberts said prior to the NLDS. “Every player — position or pitcher — is going to have a couple rough stretches. It happened to Kenley right after the break, but outside of that, he’s been fantastic and probably more consistent than any closer in the big leagues. I don’t want to imagine where we would be without him.”  

Jansen’s recent success stems from scaling back on his signature cutter a bit, and using more sliders and sinkers. He’s gone from 90 percent cutters at his peak to 60 percent cutters now, so hitters have more to worry about. No matter how he’s done it, Jansen has been dynamite lately, and there’s basically zero chance he won’t find himself on the mound at some point in Game 5.

The question is when will we see Jansen, and how long will we see him? He recorded more than three outs only seven times this season and not once since Aug. 13, when he threw two full innings on only 19 pitches. Would the Dodgers use him for four outs in Game 5? Five outs? Would they ask him for a two-inning sale like the Giants did with Camilo Doval in Game 3?

Also, while the Dodgers bullpen has been very good overall this year, would Roberts be willing to use Jansen earlier in the game? Say, for example, things starts to unravel in the sixth or seventh inning. Would they go to Jansen to calm things down and put the game back on the rails, then ask someone else to close? In a winner-take-all game, nothing can be off the table.

We are all but certain to see Jansen in Game 5, even if it’s a blowout. The willingness to use him for an extended outing (say two innings) or earlier in the game in a Moment of Truth™ situation could decide Game 5. It’s a difficult needle to thread because using him too much or too soon could backfire, but ultimately the Dodgers have to put the game in the hands of their best.

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