Dodgers’ bullpen, Cody Bellinger and other takeaways from the NL wild-card game
Dodger Stadium shook as if struck by a moderate earthquake when Chris Taylor’s two-run home run sailed into the left-field pavilion in the ninth inning to give the Dodgers a 3-1 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals in Wednesday night’s National League wild-card game.
The dramatic walk-off win as a crowd of 53,193 roared its approval sent the Dodgers into the best-of-five NL division series against the NL West rival San Francisco Giants beginning Friday night at Oracle Park. Here are four takeaways from Wednesday night’s game:
Oh, what a relief
The Giants have one of baseball’s best and deepest relief corps, but the Dodgers showed Wednesday night that they should be able to match them pitch for pitch in a battle of bullpens.
Joe Kelly, Brusdar Graterol, Blake Treinen, Corey Knebel and Kenley Jansen combined for 4 2/3 innings of scoreless, two-hit innings with six strikeouts in relief of struggling starter Max Scherzer.
Kelly replaced Scherzer with two on and one out in the fifth inning and retired Nolan Arenado on a fielder’s-choice grounder and struck out Dylan Carlson with a nasty 88-mph curve. Graterol hit one batter in a scoreless sixth.
Treinen gave up one hit and struck out one in 1 2/3 scoreless innings. Knebel, who missed almost four months of the season because of a right-lat strain and hadn’t pitched in many high-leverage situations in September, struck out Harrison Bader with a sharp 81-mph curve to end the eighth with a runner on.
Photos of the NL Wildcard game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals
Jansen, who went 4-4 with a 2.22 ERA and 38 saves in 69 regular-season games, then struck out three of the four batters he faced in the ninth, blowing a 94-mph cut-fastball by Tyler O’Neill with a runner on second to end the inning.
“They have been our backbone all year long,” third baseman Justin Turner said of the Dodgers bullpen. “For them to go out and give us four-plus shutout innings and give the offense a chance to come up and take a big swing, you can’t say enough about those guys.”
Cody Bellinger was one of the worst hitters in baseball this season, the 2019 NL most valuable player batting .165 with a .542 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 10 homers, 35 RBIs and 94 strikeouts while battling numerous injuries in 95 games.
But he was an asset offensively Wednesday night, and he will continue to be as long as he doesn’t swing from his heels too often and shows good plate discipline in the eighth spot.
The left-handed-hitting Bellinger walked off starter Adam Wainwright to open the third inning, which ended with Trea Turner’s bases-loaded, double-play grounder.
Bellinger struck out in the fifth, but he lined a single to right with one out in the seventh off reliever Luis Garcia and stole second before Mookie Betts flied out to center to end the inning.
Bellinger then drew a two-out walk off left-hander A.J. McFarland with two outs in the ninth and stole second base before Taylor, who entered the game as part of a double switch in the seventh, hit his game-winning homer off Alex Reyes.
“I told Cody that he’s gonna be better going forward as a ballplayer and a person going through this adversity this year,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s getting to the other side, and the at-bats he took tonight, the hit, the walk, the stolen bases, that’s what we need from him, to be that dynamic player, not that one-dimensional, home-run hitter.”
First things first
It’s hard to tell if Matt Beaty will be a long-term solution at first base in place of injured slugger Max Muncy as the Dodgers proceed in the playoffs, but Beaty availed himself well Wednesday night.
Roberts chose to start Beaty, a left-handed hitter who had started only once during the final month of the regular season but homered twice in the team’s final three games, over Bellinger and Albert Pujols.
Roberts said it was more important to have Bellinger in center field, where he would have more of a defensive impact with a fly-ball pitcher — Scherzer — on the mound and a right-handed-heavy St. Louis lineup.
“I think that center-field defense, outfield defense, is really important,” Roberts said. “And if the ball is on the ground, it should be to the left side of the infield. Also, Matt has swung that bat well. So have him take a couple of at-bats against [Adam] Wainwright and potentially pivot out of that if we need to.”
The October Dodgers are back and will now meet those gawd-awful San Francisco Giants in a postseason series for the first time in the teams’ 131-year rivalry.
Beaty actually saw more action than shortstop Corey Seager and third baseman Justin Turner in the first six innings. He snagged Nolan Arenado’s slow roller in the third, spun and fired to second for a force out and fielded Carlson’s chopper behind the bag to end the inning.
Beaty also caught Arenado’s foul pop near the first-base dugout rail with a runner on second to end the seventh before being pulled in favor of Billy McKinney to start the eighth.
Game of inches
Cardinals first baseman Paul Goldschmidt escaped unscathed from a sixth-inning play that looked like a carbon copy of the one that resulted in Muncy suffering his potential season-ending elbow injury on Sunday.
With runners on first and second and two outs, AJ Pollock tapped a grounder in front of the mound that Garcia fielded cleanly, but his throw to first sailed high and wide, just behind the head of Pollock.
Goldschmidt, a three-time Gold Glove Award winner, somehow manage to glove the ball, keep his foot on the bag and pull his arm out of harm’s way to end the inning.
Muncy was unable to avoid Jace Peterson on Sunday, the Milwaukee infielder running into Muncy’s arm and dislocating his elbow.
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