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Giants look forward to next shot at Dodgers after NLDS loss

NBC Sports
Wimer Flores, Will Smith

SAN FRANCISCO -- There was something incredibly appropriate about the way the National League Division Series ended. Not the result, of course. The Giants didn't want to watch the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate on their mound, and they certainly didn't want to do it as they tried to overcome the shock of the final call of the game. 

But the matchup itself -- Max Scherzer vs. Wilmer Flores -- was just so perfect in describing how this rivalry became a rivalry again.

On one side, you had the future Hall-of-Famer, a three-time Cy Young Award winner who joined a rotation that already had a three-time Cy Young Award winner, along with two young pitchers who look capable of getting their own one day. Scherzer is potentially a rental, and an expensive one at that. He cost the Dodgers a haul in terms of prospects, and he's finishing off a $210 million contract.

At the plate, you had a player Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris signed for a grand total of $6.25 million right at the start of Gabe Kapler's first spring in charge. Flores has never made an All-Star team, but Giants coaches have gotten the best out of him, and he has turned into an extremely valuable role player. Before this series started, Kapler talked passionately about how underrated Flores is and how important he is to what they do.

 

On paper, it was a mismatch, but then again, this whole thing was.

Seven months ago, the entire sport -- with the exception of the players and coaches in one clubhouse -- viewed this as David versus Goliath. With 109 wins apiece, the Giants and Dodgers took the field Thursday night on equal footing.

It was remarkable the Giants closed the gap so quickly, but they did it with smart roster management -- make one good baseball decision after another, Zaidi preaches -- and an ability to find improvements for every player on the roster, young or old, past superstar or journeyman. Every Giant did what Flores did, getting better in obvious but also more subtle ways, with the end result being a division title. But in the end, the Giants ran into a buzzsaw. 

Over five games, the Dodgers simply had more talent, and there's no shame in anyone admitting that. The Dodgers on Thursday were led by Mookie Betts, perhaps the best all-around player in the National League. The Giants got their lone run from Darin Ruf, another incredible success story, but someone who was playing overseas two years ago. 

In the biggest innings of the season, the Giants turned to Camilo Doval. He had as much talent as anyone on that field, but he's still a rookie who was out of the playoff picture just five weeks ago. The Dodgers brought Kenley Jansen and Scherzer out of their bullpen.

"The Dodgers pitched really well in this series and pitched really well in this game, and you've got to tip your cap to the work that they did," Kapler said. "They beat us."

With the 2-1 win, the Dodgers, after 168 games, finally caught the Giants. They spent all summer chasing them and finished one game behind in the standings. Over 24 meetings this year, the Giants won 12 times and the Dodgers won 12. The Giants got the extra win they needed in the regular season, the Dodgers did so in October. 

It was as close as a season series could possibly get, and that intensity was magnified by the fact that these are two longtime rivals, not only having one of their best regular-season races, but following that up with their first-ever postseason series. The rivalry is all the way back, and it's about as strong as ever given how well both of these franchises are set up moving forward. 

"It was just great every time we played those guys," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. "It's just bringing that rivalry back to life, really playing for relevance, and that was great."

Roberts now moves on to NLCS for the fifth time in six seasons, while the Giants are set to try and pick up the pieces and then get right back to work. They have succeeded in bringing a winning culture back to Oracle Park, and they have proven that they work around the margins better than anyone. 

 

The Dodgers went with an opener in the biggest game this rivalry has ever seen because Roberts was looking to steal a few matchup advantages away from Kapler and a staff that has made that an art form thanks to players like Flores and Ruf. Kapler's moves were supplemented by grit, unselfishness, and intangibles that helped the Giants stun the baseball world. 

After the loss, he said this group showed more trust in one another than any team he has ever been part of as a player, coach or manager. "I've never seen it like this," Kapler said of the team-first mentality. He said the Giants will build on that, first and foremost.

"We're going to build on this season and be better because we have that foundation in place," he said. "That foundation of trust and unselfishness."

To turn that into a championship, the Giants will ultimately need more high-end talent. They were reminded of that over the last four games as the Dodgers lined up behind Betts and Scherzer and Walker Buehler. Hell, even Cody Bellinger is a former NL MVP.

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The Giants have those types on the way, and one has already arrived. The biggest silver lining of the NLDS loss, by far, was the emergence of 24-year-old Logan Webb, who looks capable of competing with the Dodgers' aces for next year's Cy Young Award. He looks ready to take the ball next Opening Day as the Giants try to defend their division title, and he sounds ready to take on a leadership role. 

As Webb finished up on the podium, he was asked about where this rivalry is headed. His voice got firm and the focus that was on display in two NLCS starts was clear in his eyes.

"This won't be the last time we play them in the playoffs," he said.  

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