If the Los Angeles Dodgers were to have any hope of forcing a do-or-die Game 5 in the National League Division Series after getting shut out by the San Francisco Giants (and the wind) in Game 3, something dramatic was going to have to happen in Game 4.
Appropriately, their best player was on it.
Though it's not entirely thanks to Mookie Betts that the Dodgers knotted the series at two wins apiece with a 7-2 victory at Dodger Stadium on Tuesday, the MVP-winning right fielder came through with the hit of the game when he launched a two-run home run in the fourth inning:
That was Betts' first postseason home run since he iced the Dodgers' long-awaited championship with a late blast in Game 6 of the 2020 World Series. Perhaps more importantly, the four-spot that it put on the scoreboard matched (and still does match) the Giants' high score for the series, set in their 4-0 victory in Game 1 at Oracle Park.
As advantages go, this points to a big one in favor of the Dodgers even though both they and the Giants will carry 109 wins each for the season into Game 5 on Thursday.
Dodgers Players of the Game
- RHP Walker Buehler: 4.1 IP, 3 H, 2 BB, 1 ER, 4 K. He wasn't flawless, but he was miles better than he was in Game 1 and the best he's ever been on three days' rest. Of course, it helps that this was his first assignment of that sort.
- RF Mookie Betts: 2-for-4, 1 HR, 1 R, 3 RBI. It may have happened in the fourth inning, but the game might as well have been over as soon as he went yard. In his two seasons with the team, the Dodgers are 9-0 (h/t Matt Kelly of MLB.com) when he drives in a run in the playoffs.
- C Will Smith: 2-for-4, 1 BB, 1 HR, 1 R, 2 RBI. It took a while for the Dodgers to get another big hit after Betts' blast in the fourth, so Smith's two-run shot in the eighth was a relief in more ways than one.
Giants Players of the Game
- RHP Zack Littell: 2.0 IP, 2 H, 0 BB, 0 R, 4 K. Out of the eight pitchers that Giants manager Gabe Kapler called on, Littell was the only one who had any real success.
- 1B Darin Ruf and RF/LF Kris Bryant: They provided the offense for the Giants with RBI groundouts in the fifth and eighth innings, respectively. In a related note, it wasn't a good offensive night for the Giants.
The Dodgers Have the Warmer of 2 Cool Offenses
During the regular season, the Giants and Dodgers were about as evenly matched on offense as two National League teams could be. Though the Dodgers scored more frequently, it was only to the tune of 5.1 runs per game to the Giants' average of 5.0. The Giants also out-homered them 241 to 237 and finished with a .769 OPS to L.A.'s .759.
It was fitting, then, when the baseball gods decreed that both offenses should be cut down to size by way of eerily similar circumstances.
The Giants lost their leading home run hitter when first baseman Brandon Belt went down with a thumb injury in late September, and the same happened to the Dodgers when Max Muncy injured his elbow on the final day of the regular season.
Hence, one of, if not the biggest question hanging over the Dodgers and Giants after the former knocked off the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Game: Which lineup would do a better job of weathering the absence of perhaps its best hitter?
After initially tipping toward the Giants as they banged out nine hits (including three home runs) in Game 1, the scales have since gone in the other direction. In Games 2, 3 and 4, the Dodgers have out-hit the Giants 28-16 and outscored them 16-5.
Not bad, considering the Dodgers could only muster five singles in the process of losing 1-0 in Game 3. Yet it's no secret by now that this is one for the "Not What It Seems" file, as the Dodgers felt the bite of both good defense and bad luck as they racked up seven outs on batted balls of at least 100 mph in exit velocity.
The Dodgers missed out on not one, but two 100-plus mph shots off Betts' bat in Game 3. And they especially missed out on a 106.9 mph drive off the bat of Gavin Lux that died at the warning track to end the game in the ninth:
Whether it was because both players were playing angry or actually feeling good even though their solid swings on Monday didn't produce results, Betts and Lux each took a turn driving the bus in Game 4. Betts' homer was one of two hits, while Lux also had two knocks.
For Lux, this is more like what the Dodgers saw as he was ripping off 16 hits in a 10-game span in September.
For Betts, it's more like what they've needed to see from him all season.
The 29-year-old entered 2021 just three seasons removed from an MVP campaign with the Boston Red Sox in 2018, wherein he had a 1.078 OPS with 32 home runs and 30 stolen bases. His debut season with the Dodgers in 2020 was in that same vein, as he racked up a .927 OPS and 16 blasts en route to a runner-up finish in the NL MVP voting.
This year, though, Betts put forth a "down" year as he slipped to an .854 OPS and 23 homers. A bothersome hip injury held him back at various parts of the summer, though he seemed to be just plain cold as he hit .231 in 35 games down the stretch.
Don't look now, but Betts is heating up again. Factoring in his 2-for-4 showing in the NL Wild Card Game, he now has seven hits in 20 at-bats in the playoffs. These are all singles apart from his homer on Tuesday, though the quality of his swings in the last two games hint at possibly more power to come.
“I think Mookie’s been getting some hits, but to see him go back-side like that was really impressive,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Betts' homer, according to Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times. “I told him after the homer, I said that’s the best swing he’s taken all year.”
To be sure, the Dodgers still have problems on offense. Their struggles with the wind in Game 3 underscored how limited they are when they can't hit the ball over the fence. They've also been inconsistent in the clutch all season, and so it was in Game 4 as they went 1-for-11 with runners in scoring position and left 11 men on base.
The Giants, though, basically don't have anything going at the plate right now.
They're just 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position since Game 1. And while Evan Longoria's solo shot off Max Scherzer in Game 3 got the job done, it's also the club's lone homer since their series-opening barrage. This calls attention to how the Giants' homer-heavy attack in the regular season was arguably driven more so by depth than by a select few star sluggers. Without Belt, the Giants are frankly deficient in the latter category right now.
Ultimately, what the Dodgers have on offense without Muncy is undeniably looking better than what the Giants have without Belt. That is, a flawed yet warm offense in lieu of one that's both flawed and cold.
What's Next for the Dodgers and Giants?
Of course, pitching has also been a major factor for both clubs through the first four games of this series and should be once again when they reconvene for Game 5 at Oracle Park in San Francisco on Thursday.
The Dodgers are set to start 25-year-old left-hander Julio Urias four days after he took it to the Giants with five innings of one-run ball in Game 2. The Giants will counter with 24-year-old right-hander Logan Webb, who was even better as he pitched 7.2 shutout innings in Game 1.
If Urias and Webb are in fine form again, runs will be at a premium in the first elimination game between the Dodgers and Giants since 1962. Whether it's Betts or someone else, the conditions could be just right for the next Shot Heard Round the World.