When Dave Roberts texted him the news Wednesday night, Gabe Kapler knew he’d have to adjust his team’s approach.
Roberts alerted him that it would be right-hander Corey Knebel, not southpaw Julio Urías, opening Game 5 of the NLDS.
Roberts told reporters before Game 5 that LA made the move to give the Dodgers the best chance at winning. The Giants, he said, are the best team in MLB at exploiting platoon advantages, and having an opener could make finding those matchups more difficult.
Kapler had previously said SF would stack the lineup with right-handed hitters against Urías like they’ve done all season. Kapler wasn’t blindsided, but Knebel as an opener is a wrinkle.
“It’s understandable,” Kapler said of the opener strategy. “I don’t think it was unexpected. Certainly changed the way we looked at the game, but nothing out of the ordinary.”
That right-handed stack included second baseman Donovan Solano. Instead, Tommy La Stella will start at second and will likely get subbed out when Urías enters to avoid lefty-versus-lefty situations.
La Stella exited two NLDS games with Achilles soreness and may have been limited to one pinch-hitting appearance anyways. Letting him swing in the first instead of in the seventh or eighth makes a negligible difference.
Following La Stella in the lineup are two right-handed hitters, Darin Ruf and Buster Posey, followed by lefty Brandon Crawford. The matchups alternate right-left-right from there. Balancing the lineup could decrease the impact of the opener strategy and allow SF to retain platoon pinch-hitting options late in the game.
Los Angeles will likely bring Urías in after Knebel’s open, but could also tap other hard throwing, right-handed options like Joe Kelly or Brusdar Graterol.
Trying to predict exactly how a game will play out is a futile effort though, especially when all options are possible in a do-or-die game. Kapler and the Giants will just have to “read and react” as usual.
Below are the full starting lineups:
Tommy La Stella, 2B
Darin Ruf, LF
Buster Posey, C
Brandon Crawford, SS
Kris Bryant, CF
Mike Yastrzemski, RF
Wilmer Flores, 1B
Evan Longoria, 3B
Logan Webb, RP
Mookie Betts, RF
Corey Seager, SS
Trea Turner, 2B
Will Smith, C
Justin Turner, 3B
Gavin Lux, CF
Cody Bellinger, 1B
Chris Taylor, LF
Corey Knebel RP