Dodgers’ offense goes missing in shutout loss to Giants in NLDS Game 1

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Dodgers starter Walker Buehler reacts after giving up a homer to the Giants' Kris Bryant in the seventh inning Oct. 8, 2021.
Dodgers starter Walker Buehler reacts after giving up a solo homer to the Giants’ Kris Bryant in the seventh inning. Buehler surrendered three runs in 6 1/3 innings, and the Dodgers lost 4-0. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A defeated Walker Buehler put his hands on his knees and looked away, down at the grass, as the hysterical, orange-towel-waving crowd rumbled along a frigid San Francisco Bay. Game 1 of the National League Division Series wasn’t over. The Dodgers had two turns to claw back, six outs for the offense to display some semblance of life and topple the San Francisco Giants on Friday. It just felt over.

Buehler understood the moment. Kris Bryant’s solo home run to lead off the bottom of the seventh inning put the Giants ahead three runs and three runs felt like 30 the way the Dodgers were faltering at the plate.

The Dodgers’ offense — a formidable entity on paper even without the injured Max Muncy — was nowhere to be found at Oracle Park. Logan Webb was toying with them in his first playoff start. The Giants’ bullpen, perhaps the best in the majors, loomed. Runs were precious, and the prospect of the Dodgers scoring any seemed remote.

The Dodgers wound up not plating any, falling 4-0 in the first postseason game in the fabled rivalry’s history five days after the Giants beat them out by a game for the National League West crown. They produced five hits and five groundouts back to Webb. They didn’t have a runner reach third base after the first inning. They’ve scored three runs in 18 innings across two games thus far this postseason.

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

The bottom four spots in their lineup went 0 for 12 with seven strikeouts, which prompted the Dodgers to decide to make a change to their lineup for Game 2 on Saturday. Roberts said Chris Taylor, the Dodgers’ wild-card game hero, will start in center field after not playing Friday. Cody Bellinger will move to first base, where Muncy would’ve resided if not for the left elbow injury he suffered in the regular-season finale, and bump Matt Beaty to the bench. First pitch Saturday is scheduled for 6:07 p.m.

“It’s a big bat in the middle of the order that we’re missing, but we’re still fine,” Dodgers catcher Will Smith said. “We’re still fine without him and we got plenty of guys to drive in runs.”

The Giants' Logan Webb pitches during the seventh inning against the Dodgers on Oct. 8, 2021.

The Giants’ Logan Webb pitches during the seventh inning. The right-hander worked 7 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10 and walking none. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

While Buehler, a Cy Young Award candidate, surrendered three runs over 6-1/3 innings, Webb needed just 92 pitches to log 7-2/3 scoreless innings. He gave up five hits and recorded a career-high 10 strikeouts without a walk. In 28 at-bats against Webb, the Dodgers forced him to throw more than four pitches three times. He didn’t throw more than six pitches to a single hitter.

In all, the Giants needed just 103 pitches from Webb, submariner Tyler Rogers and rookie fireballer Camilo Doval for the 27 outs. It was the first time the Dodgers were shut out in the postseason since Game 3 of the 2018 National League Championship Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. They failed to score five times in the regular season.

“I thought we had the same club all night long and that was a driver,” Roberts said. “You got to read and react sometimes.”

Buehler entered Friday with a 2.35 earned-run average in 12 playoff starts. Last postseason, he surrendered five runs in 25 innings over five starts to solidify his status as a premier big-game hurler.

The Giants presented a unique challenge. No team is more familiar with Buehler than San Francisco. The right-hander faced the Giants six times this season. He surrendered five runs (three earned) in the first five matchups, but he gave up six over three innings Sept. 5 at Oracle Park.

A month and three days later, Buehler stumbled out of the gate. He issued a leadoff walk to Tommy La Stella in the first inning. Three batters later, he fell behind 3-0 to Buster Posey. Buehler remained careful, throwing a 96-mph fastball up and away. Posey was given the green light and smashed the pitch anyway, launching it over the brick wall in right field for a two-run home run.

It was the first home run Buehler has given up on a 3-0 pitch as a major leaguer. It was just the second time in his previous 10 playoff starts that he yielded more than one run.

“It’s on me to create some momentum,” Buehler said. “I kind of sucked that out of our dugout. At the end of the day, this game is on me.”

Buehler wasn’t particularly sharp after that, giving up a single in each of the next four innings, but he worked around the traffic. He received help in the second inning when shortstop Corey Seager and second baseman Trea Turner turned a nifty inning-ending double play. It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Buehler retired the side in order.

The Dodgers' AJ Pollock walks off the field after striking out during the third inning against the Giants on Oct. 8, 2021.

The Dodgers’ AJ Pollock walks off the field after striking out during the third inning. The Dodgers struck out 11 times in all and had just five hits. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

And yet Buehler gave up just two runs through six innings. He kept the Dodgers within striking distance, within one swat of changing the game’s complexion.

Webb didn’t waver. The 24-year-old right-hander, who emerged as the Giants ace after the All-Star break, capitalized on the generous outside corner plate umpire Carlos Torres offered him.

He dotted the fringes of the strike zone with his three-pitch mix, baiting an overzealous bunch into bad swings. He got a boost in the fourth when second baseman y La Stella and shortstop Brandon Crawford executed a flashy inning-ending double play that eclipsed Seager and Turner’s work from a little earlier.

With it, Webb smoothly operated ruthless efficiency in the biggest game of his life. He completed the seventh by getting Bellinger to swing through a changeup for his 10th strikeout on his 77th pitch as the Dodgers stranded a runner on second base for the second straight inning.

“He threw a lot of off-speed pitches,” Smith said, “and just made his pitches.”

Moments later, Bryant, the former Chicago Cubs slugger acquired midseason to bolster the 107-win Giants down the stretch, smashed a 3-2 fastball over the wall in left-center field. Buehler retired the next batter before Roberts emerged to pull him, capping a frustrating night when good wasn’t good enough.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.



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