SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The Los Angeles Dodgers want no part of a wild-card game or the long flight that would come with it.
The plan: another NL West crown.
Max Muncy and his free-swinging Dodgers mates are headed for a one-game showdown against Colorado to determine the division winner back home, jumping on the San Francisco Giants from the start Sunday in a 15-0 win for a weekend sweep.
The Rockies routed Washington 12-0 at Coors Field, setting up a tiebreaker at Dodger Stadium on Monday that the home team has every intention of taking. The winner gets the division and hosts Atlanta in the best-of-five Division Series starting Thursday; the loser is on the road for the NL wild-card game Tuesday against the loser of Monday’s Brewers-Cubs NL Central tiebreaker.
“We’d rather win the division than be the wild card,” Matt Kemp said. “We’re going to play it like any game we’ve been playing this last month. We’ve been playing each game like a playoff game. We’ve got to keep it going. I don’t think we want to go to the East Coast to play a one-game playoff, we’d rather have a series to play and play that series.”
Walker Buehler will start for the Dodgers (91-71) as the defending NL champions try for a sixth straight West title.
Rich Hill (11-5) pitched two-hit ball for seven innings to keep the playoff-bound Dodgers on a roll. The lefty found out when he woke up just before 8 a.m. Sunday he would start, having gone to bed early for him to ensure enough sleep for the possibility he would be pitching.
“The biggest thing is that everybody continues to go up there and give that effort, no matter what the situation is,” Hill said.
Manny Machado, Kemp and Muncy all joined the hit parade as Los Angeles left nothing to chance in Game No. 162. Kemp had a two-run double and RBI single among his three hits, while Muncy and Brian Dozier each hit two-run homers.
Los Angeles followed up an 18-hit performance Saturday with 16 more to finish with 43 in the three-game series.
Now, on to game No. 163.
“It’s a game where obviously it’s not do-or-die, but I think that it’s a must-win game,” manager Dave Roberts said. “To win the game and get a couple days off, to host the division series is very important.”
Chris Taylor drew a walk from Andrew Suarez (7-13) to get the Dodgers going Sunday, Justin Turner followed with an RBI double and the rout was on. Dozier’s drive and a two-run double by Kemp highlighted a seven-run third inning.
The Dodgers clinched baseball’s final playoff berth by beating the Giants 10-6 on Saturday and celebrated with champagne in the visiting clubhouse — then all attention turned to winning another division title.
So Roberts switched from Buehler to Hill (11-5), who delivered. He completed a 5-0 September and won for the sixth time in seven outings beginning Aug. 24. The lefty retired the first 10 batters in order before Joe Panik’s single in the fourth.
Hill’s curveball has been clicking in recent weeks since he tweaked his delivery with a grip adjustment.
“In recent memory, this is as good as I’ve seen him throw the baseball,” Roberts said. “… He understood how important this game was.”
Los Angeles needed a stellar showing in its final series.
The Dodgers fell out of the division lead with a 7-2 loss Wednesday at Arizona before taking all three from the injury-plagued Giants (73-89) to close out the final weekend of the regular season. A sixth straight division title by the Dodgers would be the third-longest streak since divisions started in 1969 behind Atlanta’s 14 consecutive from 1991-2005 and nine in a row by the Yankees from 1998-2006.
San Francisco went a majors-worst 5-21 in September but improved on its last-place 2017 finish of 64-98 by nine wins.
“No question that’s the last way we wanted this thing to go out,” manager Bruce Bochy said.
Muncy’s pinch-hit homer gave him 34 for the season and the drive splashed into McCovey Cove beyond the right-field arcade. That marked the 44th splash homer by a Giants opponent, fifth by a Dodger and first by an LA player since Cody Bellinger on Sept. 13, 2017.
Hunter Pence went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts in what was likely his final game with the Giants after 6 1/2 years. There were pins and signs reading “GR8FUL.”
Pence received big cheers from the sellout crowd as he ran to the outfield some 20 minutes before first pitch and he waved and clapped in appreciation.
Then out in AT&T Park’s vast right field for perhaps the final time in a Giants uniform, he tipped his cap every direction to the rousing ovation. He did the same with his batting helmet before stepping in to lead off the bottom of the first.
A Pence highlight video showed before the bottom of the ninth.
“Pure joy. I really just feel a tremendous amount of joy for this organization, these fans, the stadium,” Pence said. “It’s been just unbelievable to play here. You never know, I could come back … but it is unknown and it really was just amazing.”
While the Giants drew 3 million fans for a ninth straight season and 17th time in the ballpark’s 19-year history, the 3,156,185 attendance was their lowest since 3,037,443 in 2010.
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