By Jon Weisman
The Dodgers have one big mountain to climb this weekend in the National League Championship Series, and in the process would surely benefit from Clayton Kershaw climbing a smaller one.
In 13 career playoff starts, Kershaw has completed the sixth inning 10 times, the seventh inning three times and beyond … not at all.
While Kenley Jansen is more than ready to go two innings in relief tonight, every extra out Kershaw might provide could be a benefit. And pitching on five days’ rest against a Cubs lineup he just shut out over seven innings, all is possible.
Two of Kershaw’s seven-inning starts came on short rest, when the Dodgers were glad for any effective innings they could get from their ace. He obliged, allowing one run in Game 4 of the 2015 National League Division Series before going that one better this week in NLCS Game 2.
The other was the opening game of the 2013 NLDS, when Kershaw struck out 12 while throwing a career postseason-high 124 pitches in a 6-1 victory over Atlanta.
Before Kershaw went on the disabled list this summer, length was one of his many calling cards. Nine times from April to June, Kershaw got at least one out in the eighth inning and seven of those times, he finished the eighth.
Prior to Game 5 of the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers called on a legend from the very recent past. Vin Scully, from a luxury box at Dodger Stadium, declared “It’s time for Dodger Baseball!” to a surprised and giddy crowd.
— Cary Osborne
By Jon Weisman
It’s a small change in the batting order, but at the same time, the Dodgers’ most significant of the postseason.
Against Cubs lefty Jon Lester tonight, Dave Roberts has moved Kiké Hernández to the leadoff spot, with Carlos Ruiz batting fourth, Howie Kendrick fifth, Yasiel Puig sixth and Adrián González seventh.
In his first postseason appearance of 2016, Hernández walked twice and lined out against Lester in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, and Roberts said he liked the quality of his at-bats.
“And I think that since he’s come back for this series, his pitch recognition is much better,” Roberts added. “I feel comfortable with him trying to get on base instead of worrying about trying to drive runs in — and also to put Howie in the middle of things. I think that to be able to get a hit with guys on base, I feel very comfortable with that.”
Ruiz is starting at cleanup for the first time as a Dodger and the first time at all since May 16 with Philadelphia. Ruiz is 2 for 7 with a homer in the playoffs, including an 0-for-2 start against Lester.
Three of the most important numbers in the National League Championship Series have been three, four and five. Those numbers represent the three spots in the Chicago order that Dodger pitchers have dominated.
Chicago’s 3-4-5 hitters are 2 for 32 in this series.
In Game 1, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist and Addison Russell went 1 for 12 at the plate with a walk.
That same trio went 0 for 9 with a walk in Game 2.
The Cubs changed things up in Game 3 and went Zobrist, Rizzo and the hot Javier Baez and still managed to only go 1 for 11 with a walk.
The lone hits were a Zobrist double in the five-run Cubs eighth inning in Game 1 and a broken-bat infield single from Rizzo in the ninth inning in Game 3.
By Jon Weisman
“Go as hard as you can for as long as you can, and we’ll figure out the rest.”
That’s the mantra Dave Roberts has sent to his starting pitchers. Sure, seven, eight innings would be nice, but that’s no longer the barometer. For that matter, the homespun charm of a quality start started sounding all too quaint around the fourth of July.
“There’s not been really one formula for us to win the baseball games that we’ve won,” Roberts said today, before Game 3 of the National League Championship Series. “So this postseason, it’s more for me just kind of sending the message to the starters to go out there and leave it all out there.”
Rich Hill, who in the regular season with the Dodgers never went fewer than five innings and had seven perfect frames September 10 at Miami, epitomizes this approach. In this postseason, he has struck out 13 batters in seven innings over two starts, including six in 2 2/3 innings on three day’s rest in the final game of the National League Division Series against Washington.
By Jon Weisman
Clayton Kershaw has thrown 218 pitches since the playoffs began October 7, 117 of them in the five days preceding his start today in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.
That’s a hearty if not quite outrageous amount, buoyed by the fact that Kershaw hasn’t had any physical complications since his return from a herniated disk in September.
“Fortunately for us, the back hasn’t been an issue since he’s come back,” Dave Roberts said, adding that the Dodgers are mainly monitoring his overall usage.
Kershaw has never let on that his arm has been fatigued in any previous postseason, but Roberts suggested that the lefty’s midsummer absence might have given him a little something extra this October.
“I think that the velocity’s played up,” Roberts said, “and he’s holding velocity. His pitch mix is right on point. … There’s a lot of bullets left in that arm this season.”
By Jon Weisman
Carlos Ruiz and Kiké Hernández will make their first 2016 postseason starts for the Dodgers, on a day the team confirmed that Clayton Kershaw will be the starting pitcher in Sunday’s Game 2 and Rich Hill in Game 3 at Los Angeles on Tuesday.
Ruiz had a two-run homer and RBI single off the bench in the National League Division Series, while Hernández will be making his 2016 postseason debut, taking the Chase Utley/Charlie Culberson spot at second base.
Dave Roberts cited Hernández’s athleticism, versatility and “the potential slug” for bringing him back into active duty.
“It was a tough decision with Charlie, but I think (Kiké) could pay a huge benefit for us,” Roberts said.
Otherwise, the Dodgers have their regular postseason lineup against a left-handed pitcher, with Yasiel Puig and Howie Kendrick subbing for Josh Reddick and Andrew Toles.
By Jon Weisman
The eight position players the Dodgers have used in their three previous National League Division Series games against right-handed starters will take the field tonight for Game 5 in Washington against Max Scherzer.
Over six innings in Game 1 six days ago, Scherzer walked none, hit one (Justin Turner) and allowed only five hits, but two of those hits were home runs. That’s basically the one vulnerability for Scherzer, who led NL pitchers with 31 gopher balls.
Including his final three regular-season starts, the 32-year-old Scherzer has given up seven homers in his past 23 2/3 innings.
“I think there’s a lot of confidence,” Dave Roberts said this afternoon of the Dodger offense. “Obviously, when you face Scherzer, whether you faced him a few days ago or you haven’t, this guy’s got elite stuff. He’s a big-game pitcher. Our guys realize that. But having known that we have gotten to him before, and recently, I think that that bodes good for us and our psyche.
By Jon Weisman
Two critical factors in favor of Julio Urías starting today’s Game 4 of the National League Division Series fell away Monday.
No. 1 was that the Dodgers lost, making today’s game an elimination game. No. 2 was that the Dodger bullpen, already on its heels after Saturday’s postponement and Sunday’s 3 2/3 innings, was forced to throw 131 pitches Monday after Kenta Maeda’s fourth-inning exit.
Whatever you might speculate about Clayton Kershaw’s durability at this point, his typical outing is longer than a typical outing for the 20-year-old Urías. With that in mind, the Dodgers decided to put their best pitcher out there today.
One whom, it must be added, has actually thrived on three days’ rest, with a 1.89 ERA in 19 such innings over three starts.
“With Clayton, we had complete certainty from the training staff (and) doctors that health wasn’t a factor,” Dave Roberts said. “Obviously, it’s a game we need to win. One, Clayton gives us the best chance to win, and two, he gives us the best chance to go deeper into a game.”
Basically, the Dodgers need to play 18 innings of winning baseball over the next three days. The Dodgers will start attacking those innings with Kershaw, and then use the remaining 10 pitchers on their staff (except, one supposes, for Kenta Maeda) to cover the rest.
By Cary Osborne
Washington Nationals’ Game 3 starter Gio Gonzalez has shut down the Dodgers in each of his last two meetings — 14 innings, one earned run. And we know about the Dodgers’ struggles against left-handed pitching.
But the Washington left-hander is not invincible, even if left-handed batters hit just one home run against him all year and OPSed .633 against him, compared to right-handers and their .756 OPS.
Atlanta got to Gonzalez pretty good on September 6, touching him up for eight hits and six earned runs. The Braves alternated left-handed and right-handed hitters in the first six spots in the lineup, and lefties went 6 for 9 against Gonzalez in that game.
However, in the 10 games in which Gonzalez allowed four runs or more, nine of the lineups he faced were predominantly right-handed.
There are three keys for Dodger hitters in this matchup, though: get ahead in the count, get on the fastball and get some runs early.