Cy Kershaw, Best Pitcher In Baseball

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Like you had any doubt: for the second time in three years, Clayton Kershaw is your National League Cy Young award winner. It arguably should have been three years in a row. BOW BEFORE HIM.

Kershaw’s win gives the Dodgers their 11th award, with the other nine before him being Sandy Koufax (1963, 1965, 1966), Mike Marshall (1974), Fernando Valenzuela (1981), Orel Hershiser (1988), and Eric Gagne (2003).

Kershaw is, without any question or doubt, the single best pitcher in baseball. He’s on a Hall of Fame trajectory. Please pay him all of the dollars for all of the years now, thank you.

NLCS Game 6: Cardinals Lots, Dodgers Less

Well, that was horrible. I mean, really, truly horrible. It was awful, atrocious, unbelievable, terrible, whatever else you want to call it to the point that I have absolutely no interest in breaking it down. Other than “Dodgers bad,” what can you really say? What a complete letdown and disaster from every angle.

Clayton Kershaw suddenly forgot how to miss bats, and Don Mattingly seemed to forget that the rules of baseball allow for relief pitchers after it became clear Kershaw wasn’t going to figure it out. (The strike zone was lousy, yeah, but it was like that for both teams all series.) Every ball the Cardinals hit, it seemed, found a hole. Mark Ellis couldn’t play defense. A.J. Ellis really couldn’t play defense. Even if they could, Michael Wacha and friends held the Dodgers to two hits, and one was merely a first-inning single by Carl Crawford that he barely beat out.

And yes, as you’ll surely read, Yasiel Puig had a pretty rough night on defense. Other than the fact that the first poor throw was nearly as much on Adrian Gonzalez as it was him, his other two errors were deserved. I won’t pretend otherwise. I also won’t pretend as though it really was more than an incidental side note to the game, because, well, you know. Just keep that in mind when fools go overboard on it.

2013 really was a great year, you know. We should probably remember that, and I’ll have something to say about that tomorrow. Tonight? Bottoms up, or whatever helps you forget this game ever happened. Numb the pain. That was awful.

The Key To A Dodger Miracle: Two Lefty Starters Lined Up

kershaw_all-star_2013-07-16As the NLCS takes a travel day, the odds are still stacked against the Dodgers. They have to win each of the next two games, while the Cardinals need only win one, and they need to do it in St. Louis, where they dropped each of the first two games. It’s far from impossible that a team this good can manage to win two road games in a row, but it’s also going to be extremely difficult, especially with how limited Hanley Ramirez has been and the incredibly up-and-down nature of the offense as a whole, particularly with Michael Wacha & Adam Wainwright looming.

But if there is one thing that Dodger fans can hang their hats on, it’s this: Clayton Kershaw in Game 6, Hyun-jin Ryu in Game 7. That’s not just because it’s “the best pitcher on the planet and also a very good pitcher,” but also because if the Cardinals want to advance to the World Series, they’re going to be staring at two lefty starters in a row to do it — and we know that’s their primary weakness.

For example, Viva el Birdos on what lefties are doing to St. Louis first baseman Matt Adams:

Adams has gotten badly exposed against the Dodgers’ pitching, and their left-handers in particular. Adams had a strong platoon split in an admittedly not huge sample size in MLB: he has a 61 wRC+ for his MLB career against lefties, but hits right-handers for a 138 wRC+. Even taking the sample size into consideration, it seems likely that Matt Adams poses a serious liability against lefties. With Allen Craig out with a serious injury, the Cardinals don’t have a lot of choice about what they do at first base. The current plan seems to involve burying Adams at 6th or 7th in the order and crossing our collective fingers.

They go so far as to suggest perhaps starting David Freese at first (a position he has exactly one career start in) to save Adams for big pinch-hitting spots against righty relievers, though that seems unlikely to happen. (It’s also a good reminder that for all the injury woes the Dodgers have had, losing Craig — along with earlier injuries to Jaime Garcia, Rafael Furcal, & Chris Carpenter — has been a huge blow to St. Louis.)

It’s not just limited to Adams’ 2-for-14 against lefties in the playoffs, either. Matt Holliday is 2-for-12. Matt Carpenter is 2-for-13, with a triple. Yadier Molina is 1-for-9 with a walk. Jon Jay is 2-for-9. It can’t be ignored that most of those plate appearances came against guys like Kershaw, Ryu, and Pittsburgh lefties Francisco Liriano, Justin Wilson, & Tony Watson in the first round, because those are all extremely quality pitchers, but St. Louis troubles against lefties have been a season-long concern. And, obviously, it’s not like the Dodgers don’t have plenty of offensive questions themselves.

But if the Dodgers are going to make a miraculous comeback, it’s going to start with pitching, especially if Zack Greinke really is available to back up Ryu in relief in Game 7. Having two lefty starters lined up, especially with how fantastic Ryu looked in Game 3, is just about the best possible position to be in to take advantage of St. Louis weaknesses.

NLCS Game 2: Cardinals 1, Dodgers 0, A Different Kind of Pain

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That wasn’t quite the five hour when-will-this-end-my-soul-hurts slog of Game 1, but it wasn’t a whole lot better, either.

Clayton Kershaw, of course, was everything. He was just fantastic, as good as you could hope for, really. He shook off a leadoff triple to Matt Carpenter to breeze through the first, then allowed only two more baserunners the rest of the way — one of which, Carlos Beltran, was erased with a double play. The only other man to reach was David Freese, who led off the fifth with a double… moved to third on an awful A.J. Ellis passed ball… and scored (after a Matt Adams whiff) on a Jon Jay sacrifice fly. That’s it. Even the one run allowed wasn’t even earned.

In 15 innings, he and Zack Greinke struck out 15 and allowed two earned runs. That’s how you draw it up. And yet the Dodgers have two losses.

That’s because Hanley Ramirez didn’t play, and Andre Ethier didn’t play, and Matt Kemp hasn’t played — we’ve seen this movie before — and Michael Wacha was just as good as Kershaw. Wacha struck out eight over 6.1 scoreless, and even managed to wriggle his way out of a fifth-inning mess where Kershaw’s single, followed by a Carpenter throwing error and an Adrian Gonzalez intentional walk loaded the bases with two outs for Yasiel Puig. In a tense, well-fought plate appearance, Puig worked the count full before striking out on ball four. (Arguably five.) Puig whiffed in all four of his plate appearances, after going 0-6 in Game 1. This is a problem. A big one.

For the sake of inclusion, I suppose we need to talk about Don Mattingly‘s decision to lift Kershaw after only six innings and 72 pitches, taking him out for Michael Young with Nick Punto on first base in the seventh. The firestorm this brewed among fans was immediate and direct, matching or exceeding the vitriol for anything Mattingly did in Game 1. And I get it, really; Young is terrible, and you’re taking out the best pitcher in baseball while he’s well on the way to a complete game.

That being said, the problem for me wasn’t really the call there, because I get it, even if I don’t love it. It’s almost as if people forgot the Dodgers were losing. You have only nine outs remaining to play with, and you don’t want a pitcher to eat one of those, especially against a tough lefty reliever. If anything, my problem with it is that Young is awful and that I would have gone with Scott Van Slyke — no, even though Kershaw is a good hitter for a pitcher, we’re not really going to argue that he’s a better hitter than an actual hitter — but the truth is, it’s not something that really made much of a difference. The Dodgers got shut out, remember, so when Kershaw left is really immaterial. (Ronald Belisario and J.P. Howell threw shutout innings behind him, anyway.)

If anything, the short day might make Kershaw available for some bullpen work in Games 3 or 4, which depending on Greinke and the panic level, might deprive Ricky Nolasco of a start. But again, now I’ve just spent 250 words on something that didn’t matter. This loss goes on the offense that couldn’t solve Wacha or the St. Louis bullpen, not Mattingly, not Kershaw (obviously), and not anywhere else. After scoring in the third last night, they’ve now gone 19 innings without a run. They ended today with five straight strikeouts.

You don’t score runs, you don’t win. Simple as that — and now the Dodgers head home down 2-0, with Kershaw and Greinke spent and Adam Wainwright waiting. Not… great.

NLDS Game 4: Of Course You Start Ricky Nolasco

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First things first: I was at last night’s game, and it couldn’t have been better. I mean, being at Dodger Stadium is almost always fun, but during the first home playoff game in four years, with a sold-out crowd, a couple of homers, and all of the offense? Just wonderful. The only downside? Cell service is even worse than I’d heard, just about unusable. Well, that and the two guys behind me insisting that “small ball is the best” and that Don Mattingly should have called for a bunt every single time everyone got on base. Clearly, they didn’t see my shirt.

Anyway, thanks to Eephus for holding the fort down here and for those of you I met in person, and I’ll be back there tonight to hopefully see a clinching celebration. But who will be on the mound? Ricky Nolasco is scheduled to start, and Rick Honeycutt said last night that he would, but I — and others, clearly — have been hearing that Clayton Kershaw was (and maybe still is?) very much in the mix for the start.

Which, it should go without saying, I was strongly against as soon as the Dodgers won Game 3. If you’re down 2-1 and headed into an elimination game, then, sure, you want your best on the mound. And I get the argument that says to finish it up here in Los Angeles rather than risk going back to Atlanta for a Game 5.

But there’s obviously a lot of repercussions beyond that. Kershaw has never pitched on three days rest, and while that’s not to say he couldn’t do it, this doesn’t seem like the opportune time to test it out. That would also mean that if you win, Kershaw wouldn’t be available for Friday’s Game 1 of the NLCS unless you had him start on three days rest a second time.

Besides, you’re going to need Nolasco at some point, and he hasn’t started since Sept. 25. (He did throw an inning of relief after that.)  In an NLCS where you’re likely to need four starters, Game 4 would come on October 15, meaning he’d be on 19 days rest if he doesn’t go tonight. If and when that goes poorly, it’d be hard to blame him.

The other concern is if you use Kershaw tonight and lose, and while he’s the best pitcher in the game, I think we all saw this season how many times he can pitch wonderfully and not end up with a win because of it. That means you have Zack Greinke in Game 5, and if he gets the job done, Game 1 of the NLCS is either Kershaw on short rest again… or Nolasco… or Hyun-jin Ryu, who was awful last night.

I get that it’s dangerous to plan too heavily on the NLCS when you still have to finish off a dangerous Braves team, so you can’t look ahead too much. But you basically have a situation where you need to win one of the next two games (and tonight’s opponent being Freddy Garcia). Kershaw will start one of those two games. Let’s make sure it’s the one where he’s on full rest and not affecting his availability for the next series.

I believe that the right choice will be made. But am I 100% sure? No, not yet.