If the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to win an unprecedented sixth consecutive National League West title, they are going to have to go an extra day in the season to do it.
The Dodgers will play host to the Colorado Rockies on Monday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, with first place in the division at stake during game No. 163. Both teams finished the 162-game schedule with matching 91-71 records.
The last time a team other than the Dodgers won the NL West was in 2012 when the San Francisco Giants were champs. Even though the Rockies were NL champions in 2007, they have never won an NL West title.
Monday's game, between teams with red-hot offenses, will not necessarily be a winner-take-all affair. While the winner does advance directly to Thursday's NL Division Series, the loser still will live to see another day in Tuesday's NL wild-card game.
Tasked with holding back all that offensive potential on Monday will be two young right-handers. The Rockies' German Marquez (14-10, 3.75 ERA) will square off against Dodgers rookie Walker Buehler (7-5, 2.76).
The preview to Monday's game in Los Angeles was not necessarily a three-game series between the teams two weeks ago when the Dodgers swept the Rockies. A more specific preview happened May 21, when the teams played at Dodger Stadium.
Marquez and Buehler put on a show that day that was worthy of a playoff game. They had nearly identical lines, with both giving up one run and two hits in seven innings. Buehler's six strikeouts were one more than Marquez.
The Rockies ended up winning that game 2-1 on Carlos Gomez's RBI infield single. It was the first time the Dodgers and Rockies had faced each other this season.
That May 21 game also showed the resiliency of Buehler, who was hit in the back of the ribs by a 108 mph Trevor Story comebacker. He still pitched two more innings in the game and even made three more starts before going on the disabled list with a microfracture in his rib cage.
Buehler essentially missed the next five weeks, but as of July 31, he has posted a 1.70 ERA in his last 11 starts. In one of those, on Sept. 19, he struck out a career-high 12 Rockies batters.
He has been so steady to close out the season that the Dodgers even positioned Buehler to start Monday, if necessary, after they clinched a playoff spot Saturday. Buehler has a 2.61 ERA and a 0.97 WHIP in five starts against the Rockies this season.
"It would be huge," Buehler said about potentially pitching the Dodgers to another division title. "That's the goal. It's a long time from when we set that goal to now. It kind of all culminated, but at the same time it's still a regular-season game, and is Game 163, which was odd, but we don't go home if we lose and get a day off if we win."
Marquez enters on as impressive of a run as Buehler. In Marquez's last 12 starts, dating to July 29, he is 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA. Although none of those outings were against the Dodgers, he was 2-0 in three starts against Los Angeles with a 2.57 ERA in 21 innings.
"It seems like we'll have a tough series or whatever, a tough stretch, and we'll always come back stronger," the Rockies' DJ LeMahieu said, according to the Denver Post. "That's how it's been all year. This is a group of winners, honestly, it's a group of winners that keeps coming back. When our back's against the wall, we play our best. I don't expect that to change."