Dodgers win NL West tiebreaker to claim division title; Rockies will face Cubs in wild card game
They may have needed 163 games to do it, but the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed their sixth consecutive National League West division title with a 5-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies.
As a result of Monday's two tiebreaker games, the NL playoff picture is finally set with the Dodgers hosting the Atlanta Braves in Game 1 of the Division Series on Thursday, while the Rockies travel to Chicago to face the Cubs in a one-game wild-card playoff tomorrow.
The Dodgers finish the regular season 92-71, the Rockies 91-72.
Breaking down the tiebreaker:
The game: Cody Bellinger's two-run homer off Rockies starter German Marquez broke a scoreless tie in the bottom of the fourth and provided all the offense the Dodgers needed for rookie right-hander Walker Buehler.
Max Muncy followed with a two-run homer of his own an inning later and effectively close the book on Marquez, who struck out nine in 4 ⅔ innings.
Buehler, meanwhile, held the Rockies without a hit for the first 5 ⅓ innings before giving up a clean single to Charlie Blackmon in the top of the sixth. That was the only hit he allowed before leaving to a standing ovation with two outs in the seventh. He walked three and struck out three, throwing 93 pitches.
Buehler even helped his own cause with an RBI single in the top of the seventh.
Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story hit back-to-back home runs off Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen to start the ninth inning, but it was too little too late.
State of the Dodgers: Winning the division title will give the Los Angeles a welcome two-day break at home before the Division Series begins at Dodger Stadium.
Ace Clayton Kershaw (9-5, 2.73) will start Game 1 on full rest. Manager Dave Roberts said he plans to have Hyun-Jin Ryu go in Game 2, with Buehler available to take the mound for Game 3 in Atlanta.
State of the Rockies: Colorado had to lean heavily on its best starters to even get to the point of playing for the division title. In the wild-card game vs. the Cubs, they could start their ace this season, lefty Kyle Freeland (17-7, 2.85 ERA), on three days' rest. Or they could counter with No. 4 starter Antonio Senzatela (6-6, 4.38) and have the bullpen ready to take over at any sign of trouble.
Although a loss is never easy, the Rockies can take comfort in the fact that they finished the regular season with nine wins in their last 11 games. They'll face Cubs left-hander Jon Lester in the wild-card game – which should be somewhat encouraging because they have the National League's highest OPS against lefties (.798).
Man of the moment: Walker Buehler. The Dodgers managed the workload of their prized rookie right-hander throughout the season to give him the opportunity to perform in games of this magnitude. He came into Game 163 with a total of 146 ⅔ innings under his belt.
Although he appears destined to finish third in the NL Rookie of the Year award voting, Buehler has played a huge role in the Dodgers' success. In 24 appearances (23 starts) he compiled a stellar 2.62 ERA – and he pitched perhaps the game of his life (so far) in the team's biggest game of the season.
Follow Gardner on Twitter @SteveAGardner