NLDS Game 1, Dodgers 6, Braves 1: Pay Kershaw the Dollars

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Here’s how well tonight went: Don Mattingly got a severe case of the stupids in the fifth, bunting Juan Uribe with two men on, and it doesn’t even register as a complaint because everything else went so well.

Normally, that sort of thing would matter. Tonight? Not at all, not when the first game of the NLDS was everything we hoped it would be and more — and that’s saying a lot considering how absolutely dominant Kris Medlen looked in striking out the side in the first.

But Medlen’s success didn’t last all that long, because he gave up three hits in the second, including A.J. Ellis‘ first double of the night — and a Skip Schumaker sac fly that pushed across the first run — two more in the third, coming when Adrian Gonzalez crushed a ball out of the park to dead center field, and another in the fourth when Mark Ellis singled home A.J., who had reached on his second double. After looking so good in that first inning, Medlen allowed 10 baserunners over just four innings, and every Dodger starter other than Schumaker ended up with a hit — and he walked and had that run-scoring sac fly.

As if Medlen struggling wasn’t bad enough, the Braves were busy shooting themselves in the foot, by which I mean, “having their outfield do all the dumb things everyone was afraid Yasiel Puig would do.” On Schumaker’s sacrifice fly in the second, center fielder Jason Heyward threw home attempting to get Puig even though it was clear he had no shot, allowing Juan Uribe to advance to second; Uribe then scored on Ellis’ double. Evan Gattis hilariously flopped on the play, as I showed via GIF earlier, and also got himself doubled off first on a ludicrously poor base-running decision.

I tell you, those Braves just need to learn to play the game the right way.

That meant that the Braves were down 5-0 to Clayton Kershaw, and that’s just never, ever a good place to be in, especially not on a night like tonight. The funny thing is, Kershaw appeared to be struggling with his curve for the first few innings, and he was still making the Braves look silly. How many times have we said that “he wasn’t at his best” this year, then still had him throw seven or eight shutout or one-run innings? If that’s not true greatness, I don’t know what is.

Kershaw struck out 12 Braves, the third-most whiffs in Dodger playoff history, including Heyward, Andrelton Simmons, Elliot Johnson, and Freddie Freeman twice apiece, and it’s difficult to accurately give him the accolades he deserves here. At one point he struck out six in a row; he finished his night off by whiffing nine of eleven. He didn’t have his best stuff, and he did that. It’s unbelievable.

Really, I’m not sure anything sums up the night better than this Braves fan reaction to one of Kershaw’s ridiculous pitches, helpfully supplied by DCLAguy:

Yeah, that’s right — we bask in your sadness. And the Dodgers are up 1-0, with Zack Greinke on the mound tomorrow.

All Hail the Legendary Clayton Kershaw

kershaw_dark_2013-04-17No, the game isn’t over. Yes, it’s 11-0 Dodgers, and I can’t imagine anyone really cares how it actually ends. So let’s take a moment to focus on the great Clayton Kershaw, who struck out eight over six scoreless innings to cap off what is almost certainly a second Cy Young award — and, if not for the fun narrative of “old knuckleballer” R.A. Dickey, should have been three in a row.

That lowers Kershaw’s ERA to 1.83, the first pitcher to finish below 2 since Roger Clemens in 2005 and just the 19th such season since the mound was lowered in 1969. He’s the first pitcher to lead the bigs in ERA for three seasons in a row since Greg Maddux did so between 1993-95, and just the third overall. (Lefty Grove did it four years in a row, between 1929-1932.) He joins Sandy Koufax as the only Los Angeles Dodger pitcher with a sub-2 ERA; along with Koufax and long-forgotten Nap Rucker, he’s one of just three Dodgers with five straight sub-3 ERA seasons.

In 33 starts this year, Kershaw allowed zero or one earned runs a shocking 19 times, and two runs or fewer 25 times. Between pitching and batting — you remember the homer against San Francisco on Opening Day, right? — he’s been worth about seven wins, which makes him one of the five or so best players in baseball, and he’s not even playing every day.

He is without question the best pitcher in baseball. He’s on pace to be one of the greatest pitchers in the history of the sport. He’s going to win the Cy Young; he’s very possibly going to finish in the top three in the MVP balloting.

If we’re taking for granted what he’s doing, then it’s us who is doing it wrong. He is Clayton Kershaw. He’s 25 years old. He is, to put it lightly, a legend in our own time. Appreciate it. And for heaven’s sake, pay the man.

Dodgers 4, Padres 0: Puig Smash

We should probably talk about Clayton Kershaw‘s 10 strikeouts over seven shutout innings, not only dropping his ERA down to 1.88 and virtually guaranteeing him the Cy Young award, but doing a whole lot to restore our confidence headed into the playoffs after a few less-than-usual outings. Or maybe A.J. Ellis‘ fourth-inning homer, providing all the runs the Dodgers would really need.

But really, who are we kidding? This is what we’re talking about, because, wow:

That blast from Yasiel Puig was the second-longest in Petco Park history — behind only an Adrian Gonzalez bomb in 2009 that went one foot further — and Tim Stauffer, I hope you know that was nothing personal, because, good lord. That’s the kind of ball that ends up on Puig’s Hall of Fame reel when he gets inducted in 2037.

Even Padres beat writers were floored:

You know what, when you do that, you can flip the bat all you damn want.

And of course Ronald Belisario actually managed a strikeout for once, and Brian Wilson closed it out in a non-save situation, and the 89th win of the year allowed the Dodgers to keep pace with the Cardinals (who beat Milwaukee) and gain a game on the Braves (who lost to the Cubs), and that’s all wonderful and good. But mainly: PUIG.

Stephen Fife Lives

fife_2013-06-08At the end of August, in response to a slew of inquiries about why in the world the Dodgers would try out Edinson Volquez rather than give Stephen Fife another chance, I looked at how awful the previous six weeks or so had been for him, including a disastrous stint in the minors when the Dodgers tried to have him work out of the bullpen.

While Volquez has shown signs of utility as a starter with the Dodgers, Fife was recalled as a reliever and… it hasn’t been pretty. He allowed six of the 11 men he faced to reach base on September 6 in Cincinnati, then made Ricky Nolasco‘s disaster start look even worse against the Giants on Saturday by allowing five earned runs in three innings.

So is it just that he’s not a reliever? Is his shoulder barking again? Something else? We’re about to find out, because Fife gets another shot to start as he’ll be taking Clayton Kershaw‘s spot tomorrow night against the Diamondbacks. As Ken Gurnick reports, this is only about giving Kershaw some extra rest late in a long season:

The club believes Kershaw, who already has thrown a Major League-high 223 innings, needs the extra rest as a precautionary measure, especially with the chance of pitching deep into October. He has allowed two earned runs in each of his last two starts, his most recent coming Friday night against the Giants.

…and really, I’m totally fine with that. As you’d expect, the reaction from many fans is “the division isn’t clinched yet, why are we resting guys, Don Mattingly is the worst, blarp-a-bloo!!” but the problem here is really with the offense. If this team is going to make noise in October, it’s going to be because Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig and Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford and friends are all healthy and productive, and whether or not they’re behind Kershaw or Fife really shouldn’t matter at all.

The division is getting clinched either way, so don’t worry about that. We’ve all seen that Kershaw hasn’t been quite himself lately, and with 223 innings already on that arm, the primary focus is making sure he’s at full strength to start Game 1 of the NLDS. As Tony Jackson notes, this also serves the purpose of lining Kershaw up nicely to make that start, too.

Kershaw will instead start on Saturday in San Diego, so after Zack Grienke tonight and Fife tomorrow, Nolasco finishes off the Arizona series on Thursday, and Volquez is likely to face off against his old team against the Padres on Friday.

Reds 3, Dodgers 2: Swept Right On Out of Town

ramirez_homer_2013-09-08So here’s the good news: Clayton Kershaw went seven innings against the Reds tonight, and he allowed just three hits and only two runs. I’m pretty sure that if we’d been given that option prior to the game, most of us would have taken it; it’s difficult to look at that outcome and think “man, Kershaw wasn’t great.”

But man… Kershaw wasn’t great, except that perhaps the simple fact that he was able to hold the Reds to such little run production on a night where he looked so off is the true indicator of his greatness. Two of those three hits were home runs by Jay Bruce, and his command was really a mess all night long, particularly with the curve.

Kershaw hit two Reds, walked three more, and tossed in a balk (a more than questionable one, but still) for good measure. Kershaw had just one clean inning, and even walked opposing pitcher Homer Bailey during a mess of a third inning that briefly had the bases loaded with one out, avoiding disaster only when Joey Votto‘s smoked line drive found Adrian Gonzalez‘ glove. It’s another in a run of somewhat disappointing Kershaw starts — still fantastic for any other human being, but less so for the best pitcher alive — and it’s starting to get a little concerning.

Also concerning? A fourth loss in a row (for the first time in four months, to be fair), and a three-game sweep at the hands of what might be a playoff opponent. Chris Withrow followed Kershaw by blowing away three Cincinnati hitters, making eight strikeouts in 10 hitters faced by the rookie since the team left for Colorado. Unfortunately, it wasn’t Withrow who stayed in for the ninth, nor was it Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t been seen since Monday.

It was Ronald Belisario, and while I like Belisario more than most… you don’t lose games with your best watching from the sideline, and you never wait for “a save situation” on the road. I mean, if you’re a major league manager, you do, but you shouldn’t. A single and a double (and a lousy relay throw) later, the Reds were coming home with the winning run and the Dodgers limp back west.

It should be noted, of course, that Bailey was outstanding and the umpire’s strike zone was generous, yet Hanley Ramirez still plated both runs with a double and a homer. But other than a sorely needed two-hit night by A.J. Ellis, that’s all the offense could muster, and a resurgence from the bats back home would be welcome just about any day now.

Once again, the Dodgers head back home from the Eastern time zone without a day’s rest — and in this case, without a day game — and immediately welcome the Diamondbacks, who are still 11 games out after losing to San Francisco in extra innings.