For Giants, NL West title a stress-reliever, not a cause for big celebration
This was less of a celebration than a catharsis.
The San Francisco Giants had just won the National League West. The players hugged on the field, but there were no dog piles. The relief pitchers emerged from the bullpen to join the fun — not in a sprint, but in a slow walk.
The Giants were elated. More than that, they were exhausted. The Dodgers might not have won the division, but they extended the regular season to the final day, driving the Giants batty in the process.
“It’s been pretty stressful, honestly,” San Francisco pitcher Logan Webb said. “I feel like I’ve lost a couple of years off my life.”
On Sunday, for the first time in a season for the ages, the Giants could win and the Dodgers could do nothing about it.
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.
Webb morphed into Shohei Ohtani for a day. He hit his first major league home run, scored three runs and drove in two. He also pitched into the eighth inning, and the Giants clinched the division title with an 11-4 rout of the San Diego Padres.
The Giants won 107 games. The NL has been in business for 146 seasons, and in all that time only four teams have won more games.
“We needed every one of them, right?” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said.
The last time an NL team had won exactly 107 games — the 1907 Chicago Cubs, of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance fame — the team won the pennant by 17 games.
“You think about winning 107 games,” Giants catcher Buster Posey said, “and you’d think that we’re going to get to relax a little bit the last 10 days or so.”
The Dodgers applied the pressure in what will be remembered as one of the classic races in a classic rivalry. The Dodgers won 106 games. No major league team has won so many games and finished in second place.
No more than five games separated the teams all season. Over the final six weeks of the season, the Giants led the division on all but one day, but no more than 2½ games separated the teams.
The Giants finished on a 23-6 run, the Dodgers on a 22-7 run.
“Every time we would win,” Webb said, “they would win.”
From games 156 through 160, the Giants won, and so did the Dodgers. In game 161, the Giants lost and the Dodgers won, closing within one game of San Francisco. In game 162, the Dodgers won, but so did the Giants.
“We felt like we had to win every game for the last month,” Posey said. “We were pretty close to doing that. It was a grind.”
Said Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford: “That’s what it’s like to be in the division with the Dodgers. They’re obviously a great team. To be able to hold them off for most of the second half was pretty great.”
For the Giants, to have four days to rest up for the NL Division Series is pretty great too. While the Dodgers had Max Scherzer lined up for a potential tiebreaker Monday, the Giants had spent their three best starters — Webb, Kevin Gausman and Anthony DeSclafani — over the weekend.
The Dodgers saw their eight-year reign as champions of the NL West come to an end Sunday during their win over the Brewers in the regular-season finale.
Scherzer and the Dodgers instead face a sudden-death game Wednesday against the St. Louis Cardinals. The losing team goes home. The winning team comes here, to face the Giants.
No disrespect to the Cardinals — or to their recent 17-game winning streak — but the Dodgers should be the team that comes here.
Right, Farhan Zaidi?
“This is my diplomatic answer: I think it would be a fun series against either of these teams,” said Zaidi, the Giants’ president of baseball operations. “The Cardinals have had an amazing run in September. Everyone has taken notice of that. But there will be a good number of subplots if it winds up that California Division Series.”
Webb did not beat the Dodgers, after all. He beat the Padres, whose disastrous season ended with an embarrassing exclamation point. In the last game of a year with a losing record, the Padres called it a season for Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. in the sixth inning of a game in which they trailed by eight runs.
No disrespect to Webb either, but the Dodgers-Giants rivalry demands that this dramatic pennant race not end without the teams facing each other. Let’s play five, starting Friday.
Never have the Dodgers and Giants met in postseason play.
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.
“It would add a whole new level to the rivalry,” Crawford said.
Said Posey: “It will be fun no matter what. When it comes down to the postseason, the intensity is there no matter what, but there is no doubt it would be heightened if we played them.”
Over the 162 games of the regular season, the Giants were one game better than the Dodgers. Over the 19 games of the season series between the teams, the Giants were one game better than the Dodgers.
Here’s hoping the teams can settle their superiority on the field in what would be a golden state series.
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