Dodgers shift their focus to wild-card game before sweeping Brewers
The Dodgers threw in the towel in their fight for the National League West title in the fifth inning of their 10-3 win Sunday over the Milwaukee Brewers, knowing they were too far behind in the cards, resigned to the fact that they were going to play in Wednesday’s wild-card game against the St. Louis Cardinals.
The out-of-town scoreboard in right field displayed the frustrating reality: The San Francisco Giants were drubbing the lifeless, soon-to-fire-their-manager San Diego Padres 7-1 en route to ending the Dodgers’ eight-year divisional supremacy with an 11-4 rout.
Knowing that, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts chose to play for Wednesday. He pulled Walker Buehler after five innings. The big-game dealer held the Brewers to one run over five innings. He tied a season high with 11 strikeouts and threw just 79 pitches. But that didn’t matter. Saving bullets for the postseason — and possibly a relief appearance in Wednesday’s one-game playoff — was more important.
The San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres on Sunday to capture the NL West title. The Dodgers will play the Cardinals in a wild-card game.
“I think it’s probably the most understanding I’ve been coming out of a game,” said Buehler, who finished the season 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA and 212 strikeouts over 207 2/3 innings.
Roberts replaced Buehler with pinch-hitter Matt Beaty in the bottom of the inning with the Dodgers trailing 1-0. Beaty reached on an infield single to load the bases, setting up an outburst that roused the Dodger Stadium crowd even if it was irrelevant in the standings.
Mookie Betts followed Beaty with another walk against left-hander Aaron Ashby — the fourth of the eight pitchers the Brewers (95-67) used — to push home the tying run. Corey Seager then beat out an infield single to give the Dodgers (106-56) the lead.
Next, Trea Turner completed his National League MVP resume with his second grand slam in three days — and the Dodgers’ franchise-record 11th this season.
The second baseman went one for three to finish the season with a .328 average, becoming the franchise’s first batting champion since Tommy Davis in 1963. He clubbed 27 home runs, stole 32 bases and posted a .911 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 147 games this season between the Washington Nationals and Dodgers while switching positions from shortstop to second base after he was traded at the July 30 deadline.
“I don’t know why Trea isn’t getting spoken about in the MVP race as much,” Buehler said. “He’s had an extremely special year. He’s had a year that not many players can have.”
If the day had completely gone the Dodgers’ way, if the Padres had mustered an effort to beat the Giants for the second straight day, they would’ve traveled to San Francisco late Sunday for a tiebreaking Game 163 on Monday. First pitch would have been scheduled for 6:08 p.m. at Oracle Park. A ninth consecutive National League West title would’ve been well within their grasp with Max Scherzer on the mound.
The St. Louis Cardinals rode a 17-game winning streak to claim the second wild-card spot and will face the Dodgers on Wednesday. Here’s why they pose a serious threat.
Instead, the 2021 Dodgers may end up as the greatest second-place team in Major League Baseball history. Their 106 wins — tied for the franchise record they established in 2019 — are the most for a club that didn’t finish in first place. The previous record of 104 was set by the 1909 Chicago Cubs and 1942 Brooklyn Dodgers. Divisions were decades away.
“You have to give credit to the Giants,” Roberts said. “They had an even greater regular season. They took it from us. I don’t think we gave it away.”
So, they will host the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. Scherzer, 37, will start opposite 40-year-old Adam Wainwright while Max Muncy likely won’t be available.
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The first baseman exited Sunday’s win in a scary scene in the third inning. Brewers second baseman Jace Peterson hit a dribbler in front of the plate that catcher Will Smith fielded cleanly. His throw, however, veered inside first base, forcing Muncy to stick his left arm out as Peterson sprinted down the line. He couldn’t pull his arm back before Peterson ran through it, bending it backwards and dropping Muncy to the ground in pain.
He eventually walked off the field clutching his left arm and the Dodgers were suddenly without one of their best hitters for an unknown amount of time. The club later offered a vague update, announcing that Muncy departed with a “left elbow injury.” After the game, Roberts said tests on Muncy’s elbow were “unclear.”
“We just don’t want to close the door on a potential down-the-road appearance,” Roberts said. “So we’ll see how he responds over the next few days and see where that takes us.”
The Dodgers’ World Series hopes will take a huge blow if Muncy misses significant time because of a play in what became a meaningless game.
Los Angeles joined the Brewers, NL Central champions for over a week, in having nothing to play for by the fifth inning. Roberts began making wholesale changes in the top of the sixth, removing Trea Turner and Justin Turner from harm’s way. Seager and Betts followed an inning later.
The Dodgers concluded the schedule thrashing another opponent for their franchise-record 15th straight home win. They finished the season 45-15 over their final 60 games, two games better than their dominant first-place run in 2020’s truncated season.
But that wasn’t good enough for a division title in 2021. The Giants (107-55), somehow, were even better. The consolation prize is an elimination game.
“We got a chance to win a ring,” Trea Turner said, “and that’s all that matters.”
The Midland Angels drew record crowds who roared their approval during Fernando Valenzuela’s brief visit in 1991 at the tail end of his baseball career.
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