Dodgers and Giants meet again, but the ‘landscape’ remains unchanged

SAN FRANCISCO — A pendulum swing was possible this winter. The Los Angeles Dodgers have remained a regular-season juggernaut, but the San Francisco Giants were star-searching. It’s hardly been a new phenomenon in the Bay Area the last couple of years, but something had to give. At least one star had to eventually inject life into a franchise that had gone stale.

Shohei Ohtani was a pipe dream. Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a years-long pursuit filled with hope that quickly eroded once reality set in. By December’s end, both had signed in Los Angeles.

“Having those two guys in orange and black would change the landscape,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “I do think they look better in Dodger blue.”

The landscape remains unchanged. The Dodgers have yet another healthy lead in the NL West and have won 16 of their last 20 games. Their 6-4 extra-inning win over San Francisco on Monday dropped the Giants to five games below .500, continuing what has seemed to be an identity crisis since they toppled the Dodgers for the division three years ago.

And for as intense as nights like Monday still are — where the Dodgers twice rallied to tie the game in the late innings to force extras — they revealed where the gaps remain.

“It comes down to who executes and tonight we were able to get them,” Will Smith said.

Ohtani drove in a run and collected a pair of hits, but wasn’t the one to push the Dodgers over the top. Yamamoto delivered another performance to keep him and his record-setting $325 million contract trending well, though it was the three-run home run he gave up to Luis Matos on a hanging breaking ball that put the Dodgers in their second-inning hole. Buyer’s remorse wasn’t the tale of the day, but the Dodgers weren’t the ones needing the pendulum swing.

Instead, the periphery of the Dodgers’ roster managed to push a Giants club battered by injuries. Gavin Lux, relegated to the bottom of the order and second base by the star power around him, supplied one of the most impactful swings of his slow start this season with a score-tying double into the gap in the sixth inning.

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Will Smith hits a two-run RBI single that gave the Dodgers the lead in the 10th inning. (Neville E. Guard / USA Today)

An inning later, Kiké Hernández — unsigned until February 26, and with just two starts in the last week of games — came off the bench and delivered a score-tying solo home run on an Erik Miller changeup. Hernández has been around Los Angeles for runs like these and knows how things go here. Those not starting usually start getting loose in the middle innings. The matchups will find you. A quick scouting report on Miller (a fastball that plays up with his size and extension down the mound, with a changeup that plays off it), and he delivered the Dodgers’ first pinch hit home run of the season within two pitches.

“I was trying to catch something up front, be short to it, and lucky for me, he threw me a changeup, which is perfect for my bat speed and I was able to keep it fair,” Hernández said.

His swing mattered because the Dodgers kept things level. Their bullpen is in tatters at the moment, a domino effect of sorts that has included a pair of freak injuries to leverage relievers Evan Phillips and Ryan Brasier during warmups to go with shoulder trouble for the likes of Brusdar Graterol and Joe Kelly. Their two most trusted relievers, Daniel Hudson and Blake Treinen, are over 35 years old and have barely pitched in two years. One of their fifth starter candidates in spring training is suddenly a leverage reliever by default in Michael Grove, who found himself in the ninth inning of a tie game on Friday in San Diego. Alex Vesia, once seen as being on the roster bubble, has ascended Roberts’ list of trusted names.

It was Vesia, Grove, Hudson and Treinen who got the Dodgers to extra innings and it was J.P. Feyereisen closing it out after Smith’s two-run double off San Francisco’s Taylor Rogers in the 10th.

Feyereisen fits into a mix of the categories above. He also hasn’t pitched in close to two years after undergoing major shoulder surgery. A disastrous spring left him on the fringes of the roster and ultimately back in Oklahoma City after he was battered in South Korea. And yet, given the state of the bullpen, Feyereisen (and his 9.00 ERA) were given the save chance. It was over after a tidy three batters thanks to a well-turned double play from Lux. These are the chances that have to be given right now.

“I think with J.P, he was in rehab mode for quite some time,” Roberts said. “There’s a difference between rehab mode and competing at this level. So I think right now, once we sent him out, there was sort of — I won’t say challenge, but just kind of wanting to get back to who he is. The guy that’s going to be on the attack and pound the strike zone with all of his pitches. He’s shown that.”

For the Giants, Monday might’ve provided a chance to show their resilience. For the Dodgers, it wound up being more of the same.

“Honestly,” Hernández said, “I think we’re playing the way we’re capable of playing.”

(Top photo of J.P. Feyereisen celebrating after closing out the win against the Giants: Neville E. Guard / USA Today)

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