SAN FRANCISCO — After the Giants and Dodgers scrambled to the finish of the greatest division race in major league history, the rivals are set for their first-ever playoff matchup.
Following a two-run, walk-off home run from Dodgers left fielder Chris Taylor against the Cardinals in the National League wild card game on Wednesday, Los Angeles will travel north to San Francisco for a highly anticipated NLDS that begins Friday.
The margin between the 107-win Giants and 106-win Dodgers was incredibly thin during the regular season and the head-to-head matchups between the two clubs only highlight how evenly matched the two sides have been this year.
In October, one mistake can change the course of a series, which is why we’re focused on the five relief pitchers who have the greatest potential to determine which club will secure a coveted berth in the NLCS.
1. Kenley Jansen
The Dodgers’ closer earned the win in Wednesday’s wild card game by pitching a scoreless ninth inning, but the 12th-year veteran has had his biggest hiccups against the Giants this year.
Jansen posted a 2.22 ERA in 69 appearances and converted 38 of 43 regular season save attempts, but the right-hander went 0-3 with a 12.15 ERA against the Giants. Jansen took losses on May 28 (the Mike Tauchman game), July 21 and July 22 as San Francisco tagged him for 10 earned runs in a small sample size this season.
LaMonte Wade Jr. is one of the Giants who sees Jansen well and so is Buster Posey, who pinch-hit against Jansen and drilled a single to right field before Wilmer Flores hit a go-ahead ninth-inning homer at Dodger Stadium on July 21.
2. Tyler Rogers
Just as Jansen has struggled against the Giants, Gabe Kapler’s most trusted reliever has had his greatest setbacks against the Dodgers. Rogers is one of five pitchers in the last decade to throw at least 80 innings and make 80 appearances in the same season and it’s possible Kapler will use the durable submariner in every close postseason game the Giants will play.
Like Jansen, Rogers also posted a 2.22 ERA this year, but he gave up six earned runs in six innings against Los Angeles as Justin Turner, Will Smith and backup catcher Austin Barnes are among the Dodgers who did damage against Rogers this year.
3. Camilo Doval
The 24-year-old right-hander wasn’t in serious consideration for a postseason roster spot entering September, but he’ll begin October as the Giants’ best ninth-inning option after Doval ended the regular season on a remarkable hot stretch.
After being recalled to provide bullpen depth on September 5, Doval began his run of dominance with 1 1/3 critical innings against the Dodgers and ended it with 14 more scoreless appearances.
With an electric fastball and wipeout slider, Doval has drawn comparisons to former Angels closer Francisco Rodríguez, or K-Rod, who emerged at the end of the 2002 season and lifted his club past the Giants in the World Series with an unforgettable October run.
4. Jake McGee
With Tony Watson on the 10-day injured list due to a moderate left shoulder strain, McGee is the Giants’ top left-handed option out of the bullpen despite missing two-plus weeks in September with an oblique strain. The Giants hoped McGee could pitch against the Padres in the final series of the regular season, but the right opportunity never materialized and now the former Dodgers lefty will go into the playoffs hoping a live batting practice session from Tuesday at Oracle Park can be a building block.
After the Dodgers lost Max Muncy to a dislocated elbow, most of Los Angeles’ top sluggers are right-handed so it’s possible Kapler could ease McGee in against a softer patch of the Dodger lineup. That is, if any part of a 106-win lineup can be considered soft.
5. Alex Vesia
Right-handers Blake Treinen and Joe Kelly could be bigger factors for manager Dave Roberts out of the bullpen, but chances are the Los Angeles manager will deploy Vesia against one of the Giants’ most clutch hitters, Brandon Crawford.
Any time the Giants have a pocket of left-handers that features Crawford due up, Vesia will be one of Roberts’ top options as a strong second half made him the Dodgers’ most trusted southpaw.
Over the final two months of the season, Vesia proved he could be effective against both righties and lefties as he posted a 0.93 ERA and held opponents scoreless in 20 of his 22 outings.