This year’s San Francisco Giants-Los Angeles Dodgers division series was described as a historical clash of dominant teams in the regular season, where the two clubs combine to win record 213 matches in the previous six months. By and large, it has lived up to that expectation: Every victory of perhaps-still-underestimated The Giants have been followed by a series-bound statement from the Dodgers that leads us to Thursday’s all-or-nothing Game 5.
The immediate action of the competition is clear. A win for LA would lead it to a rematch of last year’s NLCS with the Atlanta Braves, which the Dodgers won (while erasing a 3-1 deficit) on their way to the 2020 championship. A win for San Francisco would put it on the brink of returning to the World Series and bring one of the game’s most unusual dynasties to perhaps the most unexpected chapter yet.
The symbolic stakes can be just as high. The Giants-versus-Dodgers are one of the sport oldest and greatest rivalries, with 2,539 matchups spanning 130 years of history. And this season’s match felt particularly personal. Even if it took them 168 games to do so, a Dodger victory would be the culmination of Los Angeles’ seasonal bid to chase its bitter rival to the north and restore order. we all assumed would exist between the teams before the season started. For San Francisco, a win would be a final confirmation of exactly who owned the rivalry, the division and perhaps the entire league this season – expert picks and 106 Dodger wins are condemned. Plus, ruining Los Angeles’ attempt to defend its short-season title over a full schedule would give Giant fans plenty to crow about for a long time to come.
And the big picture for the off-season as a whole could hardly be higher. Before and after every game in the series, either the Dodgers or the Giants have been World Series favorites in our forecast model, where games 3 and 4 get that status switching hands between Los Angeles and San Francisco (and back again):
|Odds LA wins||Odds SF wins|
|Phase||Series||WS||Series||WS||Game winner||WS Favorite|
|After match 1||47||25||53||17||Fighting||Dodgers|
|After game 2||67||36||33||10||Dodgers||Dodgers|
|After game 3||33||18||67||23||Fighting||Fighting|
|After game 4||53||29||47||15||Dodgers||Dodgers|
No matter what happens in Game 5, the winner is likely to be in the driver’s seat of the World Series. Contingent on winning the NLDS, the Dodgers would have a commanding 55 percent chance of winning the championship; for the Giants, that figure would be 32 percent. In other words, both clubs’ chances (conditional on winning Thursday) would exceed the current odds of the Houston Astros, AL’s leading World Series rival by 26 percent.
In that sense, the Game 5 is a mini-World Series all by itself. If it’s not the de facto championship clinic — a lot can still happen between now and the end of October — it’s a battle over who gets the title (with apologies to the Astros, Braves and Boston Red Sox).
That’s a lot to put on Logan Webb and Julio Urías, dueling starters in the decisive competition, although the two have a combined 0.71 ERA and 1.04 fielding independent pitching in a couple of appearances in the series, where each won his lone start. And there’s a lot more pitching where it came from, as we would expect from No. 1 (Dodgers) and 3 (Giants) pitching staffs in MLB at wins over replacement this season. But perhaps the biggest question is which Dodger lineup will occupy the field for Game 5. In its two wins, Los Angeles has scored a total of 16 races; in its two losses, it has been shut out completely and lost by a total margin of 5-0.
According to ESPN’s Stats & Information Group, the team that scored first has won 21 of the 23 Giants-Dodgers matchups this season, so we can get a sense of who will be title favorites early. Or Game 5 might bend the trend that post-season elimination games tend to do. Either way, one of the biggest tales of the entire MLB season of 2021 – the battle of California’s womb – will see itself resolved Thursday with major consequences for the championship hunt to follow.
See our latest MLB predictions.
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