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Dodgers-Giants Sets New Standard for Clash of the Titans

No matter how Game 5 goes, Dodgers-Giants already has a compelling case for the best non–World Series playoff matchup in MLB history.
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When the Dodgers and Giants square off in Thursday’s Game 5, it will bring an end to the first postseason series between the two longtime rivals. It will also conclude perhaps the greatest playoff matchup in league history—non–World Series edition.

Until 1969, there were no division or championship series—the teams with the best record in the American and National Leagues were simply placed directly into the World Series, which is arguably a more fair system but inarguably a far less exciting one. In the 53 years since there have been just eight instances of 100-win teams squaring off in a playoff series before the Fall Classic. In many ways, this one between the Dodgers and Giants has already topped the rest.

Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Cody Bellinger (35) hits in to a fielders choice to San Francisco Giants first baseman Darin Ruf (33) in the third inning during game four of the 2021 NLDS

Cody Bellinger and Buster Posey 

The first instance of 100-win teams meeting before the World Series came in the 1971 ALCS, when the Orioles (101–57) swept the A’s (101–60) in what ended up being a snoozefest of a series. Baltimore pitching allowed just seven runs in three games, and Oakland did not hold a lead beyond the sixth inning of Game 1. The Orioles went on to lose the World Series to the 97-win Pirates in seven games.

The next meeting of two 100-win clubs came five years later in the 1976 NLCS. This one was another sweep, as the Reds (102–60) took down the Phillies (101–61) en route to winning their second straight World Series title. The following year saw the Yankees (100–62) and Royals (102–60) meet in the ALCS, where they would break the sweep trend as New York overcame a 3–2 deficit in the ninth inning to win the decisive Game 5, 5–3. The Yankees went on to beat the Dodgers in six games to win the franchise’s 21st championship.

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Another 41 years passed before we saw 100-win teams square off again in October, and it happened twice. In 2018, the Red Sox (108–54) beat the Yankees (100–62) in the ALDS, then took down the Astros (103–59) in the ALCS before beating the Dodgers in the World Series. Boston went 11–3 during the playoffs in one of the most dominant wire-to-wire seasons in MLB history. The same thing happened in 2019, when the Yankees (103–59) swept the Twins (101–61) in the ALDS before losing to the Astros (107–55) in the ALCS in six games.

This Dodgers-Giants series is even rarer in that it’s pitting the two teams with the best records and run differentials against each other before the Fall Classic—let alone in the first round. That’s happened only twice before: the 1976 NLCS and 2018 ALCS. And no other series had featured clubs with as many combined regular-season wins (213) as these two. With so much hype coming into the series, it’s fitting that it’s going the distance, particularly since only one of the series mentioned above has done so and three of the seven were sweeps. The contrasting styles of each game further adds an element of intrigue to the most competitive matchup in this year’s divisional round.

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Both Giants wins have been shutouts, including Game 1’s 10-strikeout gem from Logan Webb, who’s slated to start Game 5. San Francisco won Game 3 at Dodger Stadium on the strength of 13 outs from three relievers and some stellar defense (and perhaps a bit of assistance from the wind).

The Dodgers’ bats have done their best Jekyll and Hyde impersonation, scoring nine runs in Game 2 and seven in Game 4. They’ll send out Julio Urías in Game 5, whose seven postseason wins are tied with Madison Bumgarner for the most by a pitcher age 25 or younger. The Dodgers are 19–3 in the last 22 games started by Urías. The Giants with Webb? They're 19–2 in his last 21 starts.

In short, something has to give. Major League Baseball’s flawed playoff structure pitted the two best teams in the league against each other in the best-of-five first round. While it’s easy to say we’ve been robbed of two extra games because of it, let’s be thankful we’re getting a do-or-die game at all—as history shows us, that’s usually not the case.

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