SAN FRANCISCO – Gabe Kapler called it the “catch of the year”.
Buster Posey said it was one of the best catches he has seen in person.
Kevin Gausman sees it as a turning point in the Giants’ remarkable 2021 season.
Not only did Mike Tauchman bring back a potential walk-off home run by jumping in front of the wall of Dodger Stadium, he also swung the momentum of the Giants-Dodgers rivalry in San Francisco’s favor.
After the Giants lost four straight games to the Dodgers to open the season, Tauchman’s robbery of future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols made it possible on Jan.
“It was huge,” said Gausman before Game 1 of the NLDS at Oracle Park. “Of course, to make it to this place at Dodger Stadium it had been a huge streak to come back and win this game.”
That Tauchman was even in the game for the Giants reflected the different styles used by Kapler and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. The outfielder, acquired in a trade that sent Wandy Peralta to the Yankees in April, competed as a pinch-hitter against right-handed Blake Treinen and stayed as part of a double substitution that made him a defensive replacement for left outfield Alex Dickerson did.
The move gave the Giants a move advantage against Treinen, gave Kapler a spot in the strike order to use Evan Longoria in a big pinch hit on the bat later in the game, and also improved the team’s defense. Tauchman, who was designated for deployment on July 28th after releasing a .566 OPS in 166 At-Bats, knocked out Treinen, but the move was one of many Kaplers that season who ultimately played a big role determining the results of. played several Giants wins.
It was also the kind of strategic move that Roberts didn’t have to think about much this year.
With a line-up filled mostly with hits like Corey Seager and Justin Turner starting against right- and left-handed pitchers, the Dodgers don’t make nearly as many direct substitutions as a Giants team that has a hockey-style line change becomes when an opponent brings in a relief mug.
“It seems like our entire squad, maybe not in one game, but over the course of a few games, our entire squad will likely be used,” said shortstop Brandon Crawford. “Whether it’s a pinch punch or comes from the bullpen or whatever it is.”
Crawford and Catcher Buster Posey are two of the few NLDS Game 1 Giants starters who can count on being in the Game 2 lineup when the Dodgers turn to southpaw Julio Urías. On opening day in 2020, Kapler even met right-handed infielder Donovan Solano for Crawford when Roberts challenged left-handed Adam Koralek out of the bullpen.
The Giants veteran shortstop has found its way out of a short-lived and undesirable move, but at most positions around the diamond, the Kapler era has shown a rotation of players that depends on the handedness of an opponent’s starting pitcher.
“He’s done a great job with this team,” Roberts said of Kapler. “So what it tends to mean in this series, there are tendencies, there are trends, but when you get into the postseason where everything is magnified more, it’s a little less predictable.”
The Giants made a slightly unpredictable move with their Game 1 lineup, as Kapler could have started left-handed beating outfielder Steven Duggar and LaMonte Wade Jr. moved to first base to add an extra left-handed to Dodgers starter Walker Buehler to squeeze, but the club decided to leave Duggar on his bench and start Wilmer Flores at first base.
The decision puts Flores, who released a .972 OPS in September, onto the line-up, while Kapler saved Duggar and his left-handed outfielder Alex Dickerson for pub gigs against a Dodgers bullpen that is heavy for right-handed people.
Kapler, Giants President of Baseball Operations Farhan Zaidi, and other top decision makers spend a lot of time determining how their staff will be deployed before each game. Roberts, on the other hand, had to plug a hole created when Max Muncy dislocated his elbow with a pull between Matt Beaty and Albert Pujols in first base, but the Dodgers’ starting line-up in Game 2 on Saturday might look the same as the iteration of Fans saw in game 1.
“I think the Dodgers have great faith in both their bank and their bullpen, but their starting line-up is a group that could obviously see the entire game and that wouldn’t be a surprise either,” Kapler said on Friday.
To win the NLDS, the Dodgers rely on their steady stars and daily starters, who for the most part will play every inning of every playoff game. The Giants need Crawford and Posey to shine, but to defeat the Dodgers they also need the same performances from substitutes that made up their 107-winning season.