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Perception & reality for the Dodgers, heading into Game 2

NLDS Game 2: Julio Urías vs. Kevin Gasuman, 6:07 p.m. PT, TBS

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Francisco Giants - Game One Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The postseason is one giant magnifying glass, constantly challenging our perceptions. Things can turn in an instant, but the Dodgers need to face some realities if they are going to beat the Giants.

Logan Webb dominated Game 1, there’s no getting around that. The lack of offense spoiled what was a mostly fine start by Walker Buehler, even if not up to his standards. He allowed three runs for the first time in 10 postseason starts, and gave up two home runs in October for the first time ever. Yet as he walked off the mound with one out in the seventh inning on Friday, I thought this was a winnable game for the Dodgers.

But was it?

This is by no means perfect, but I checked every game in 2021 in which a pitcher recorded exactly 19 outs and gave up exactly three runs. On the low end of a quality start, teams receiving these games from a pitcher this year were 11-9. The pitchers themselves were 5-4.

Postseason history tells a different story. Teams with that pitching game lost 20 out of 27 games, including each of the last eight such games. That includes Max Scherzer in Game 4 of the 2012 World Series, when he allowed Buster Posey’s previous last postseason home run, before Game 1 on Friday.

On offense, the Dodgers only saw 103 pitches in nine innings, matching their total in a five-inning win in Washington D.C. on July 1. Only three times this season did the Dodgers see fewer pitches, but those were in shorter games. One was a seven-inning game in a doubleheader, and two others were home wins in each they only batted for eight innings. Friday marked the fewest pitches per inning in a game this season for the Dodgers.

“We chased a lot, more than we should have,” manager Dave Roberts said. “If you don’t make adjustments, they’re going to keep going to the well.”

Only once in Game 1 did a Dodger face a three-ball count, a six-pitch strikeout by AJ Pollock to open the third inning against Webb. Three-ball counts are advantageous for hitters for obvious reasons, with a .559 league-wide on-base percentage, and more power (a .186 ISO, compared to .167 overall), in 2021.

In the wild card game, the Dodgers had 12 three-ball counts, and during the season had the second-most three-ball counts in the majors (behind only the Yankees), averaging 8.4 per game.

San Francisco in Game 1 had five three-ball counts, including home runs by Posey and Kris Bryant.

The Dodgers certainly miss Max Muncy, out with a dislocated left elbow. His power and plate discipline were a warm blanket for the offense, one that’s gone missing.

“He gets on base. He can drive runs in,” Roberts said. “When you’re talking about games like this, every base matters and keeping the line moving. It’s a big void, but it’s where we’re at.”

But the Giants are without their power-hitting first baseman with a great eye, Brandon Belt, too.

San Francisco is getting along just fine, and won Game 1 with home runs from three of their stars: Posey, Bryant, and Brandon Crawford.

The Giants are deeper than the Dodgers, who are rostering Billy McKinney and Steven Souza Jr. for this series. Los Angeles will play Cody Bellinger — who hit .165/.240/.302, a 48 wRC+ this season — at first base in Game 2, negating his primary value at the moment: defense in centerfield. It’s not an ideal situation.

For the Dodgers to overcome this depth disadvantage, and the 1-0 deficit in the series, they need their own stars to perform. Or else the five-game series will be even shorter.

NLDS Game 2 info

Teams: Dodgers at Giants

Series: San Francisco leads, 1-0

Location: Oracle Park, San Francisco

Time: 6:07 p.m.