MLB playoffs: Dodgers will use Corey Knebel as an opener in NLDS Game 5 vs. Giants

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Thursday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants will meet for the 24th and final time in 2021. The two historic rivals will wrap their National League Division Series matchup with the decisive Game 5 at Oracle Park. Loser goes home, winner faces the Braves in the National League Championship Series. Here’s how you can watch Game 5.

The original pitching matchup for Game 5 called for righty Logan Webb, the star of Game 1, vs. lefty Julio Urías. That is no longer the case. Thursday afternoon the Dodgers announced righty Corey Knebel will get the start instead.

Knebel, typically a one-inning high-leverage reliever, will serve as an opener, with Urías presumably replacing him in the second or third inning. Los Angeles used an opener in Game 3 of last year’s NLDS (Dustin May), then brought Urías in from the bullpen. He threw five innings of one-hit, one-run ball in the series-clincher over the Padres and was awarded the win.

Urías has bullpen experience and Knebel opened four games during the regular season, so these aren’t unfamiliar roles. The Dodgers are doing this because the Giants stack the top of their lineup with righty hitters against lefty starters. Knebel throws a wrench into that plan and gives Los Angeles a matchup advance. This was the Giants’ starting lineup against Urías in Game 2:

  1. LF Darin Ruf, RHB
  2. CF Kris Bryant, RHB
  3. RF Austin Slater, RHB
  4. C Buster Posey, RHB
  5. 1B Wilmer Flores, RHB
  6. SS Brandon Crawford, LHB
  7. 3B Evan Longoria, RHB
  8. 2B Donovan Solano, RHB
  9. Pitcher’s spot

Ruf and Slater typically platoon with the lefty hitting Mike Yastrzemski and LaMonte Wade Jr. while Solano platoons with the lefty hitting Tommy La Stella. Put those lefty bats in the starting lineup so they can face Knebel and either they have to face Urías later in the game, or the Giants have to empty their bench early to lift them for pinch-hitters.

I think the Giants are best off going with their righty heavy starting lineup in Game 5, dealing with Knebel in the first (and maybe second) inning, and then having the lineup they want out there against Urías. That leaves all their lefty hitters on the bench available for pinch-hit duty against a predominantly right-handed Dodgers bullpen.

One thing is for certain: using Knebel as an opener either means the Dodgers will look like geniuses, or look stupid for overthinking it. It is a move ripe for second guessing.

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