What the hell, man. What the hell?
I mean, what do you even say about that? For six innings, Kershaw was cruising. I mean, cruising. Even with everything that happened, he had 10 strikeouts and zero walks, which is objectively outstanding. Yes, he’d allowed two homers, but they were also the only two hits he’d allowed. Zero other Cardinals had reached base. Entering the seventh, there was no reason to think anything would go wrong. Don Mattingly didn’t have anyone warming, nor should he. Kershaw was sailing along everything was great.
And then, a single. Another. And another. The first four Cardinals singled, and it was a combination of some of them being hit hard, and all of them being hit in the right spot. It’s not all BABIP, because at least three of those hits were struck solidly, but that zero of them happened to go to an infielder, that’s your BABIP. Kershaw came back to strike out Pete Kozma, and we felt better. But then Jon Jay singled to make it 6-4, and I started to think, well, maybe it’s time you go get J.P. Howell.
Mattingly didn’t — he’s going to get killed for leaving Kershaw in, but hear me out — and Oscar Taveras struck out. This was a bad inning, but it wasn’t a disaster inning, not yet. With the bases loaded and two outs, Carpenter came up again. On the eighth pitch of a hard-fought at-bat, Carpenter doubled. Three runs scored. The lead was gone, and then when Pedro Baez came in to immediately allow a three-run Matt Holliday homer, it was really gone.
So let’s dig into this, in three parts:
1) What the hell happened?
I wish I had a good answer, but this all happened so quickly. It was an extremely hot night at Dodger Stadium, more suited for August than October, and it’s not hard to speculate that the weather took a toll on both pitchers, though Kershaw’s velocity didn’t seem to be taking a hit. Fatigue isn’t only about velocity, though, and it’s possible that Kershaw wasn’t hitting his spots in a way that was difficult to see on TV. Harold Reynolds kept repeating his idea that Kershaw was tipping his pitches, but that was roundly refuted by people I respect more than Reynolds, which is to say, everyone. (Gary Sheffield, of all people, threw some shade on it.)
Another theory was that since Kershaw hadn’t allowed a base runner all night — remember, the two hits were each homers — that he wasn’t used to pitching out of the stretch. This also doesn’t really fly for me, because he’s been doing that his entire life. Somehow, I don’t think he forgot in the span of 90 minutes. If anything, it seemed that Kershaw suddenly abandoned his breaking pitches to throw fastball after fastball. Brim checked and said that 20 of the 29 pitches were fastballs, which is about 14% higher than usual. Why that is, I don’t know, but if you can guess fastball, it makes it a lot easier to hit it because there’s less chance you’re wrong and it’s that slider.
What we should also remember, but almost certainly will not, is that the Cardinals have a few hitters. Carpenter is a star. Holliday has been. Yadier Molina and Jhonny Peralta have had good, long careers. Kershaw is the best pitcher alive, but those guys aren’t necessarily easy outs, either.
I’m sure we’ll hear more after the game, but the first reaction seems to be “heat fatigue” plus “weird pitch selection” plus “major league hitters” plus “BABIP,” all colliding at the wrong time.
2) Should Mattingly have yanked Kershaw earlier, or not brought in Baez?
Maybe. Probably? But not certainly, I don’t think. Both outs in the inning were via strikeout. He had two strikes on Carpenter. He was certainly starting to falter, but he wasn’t giving up doubles after homers after scorched liners, either. I get that the inclination is to kill the manager, and I would have probably had Howell in to face Carpenter myself, but I also more than understand that if Mattingly is choosing between the best pitcher in the world and the pile of awful that has been the non-Kenley Jansen bullpen, that he’s sticking with his ace.
I get it. I don’t totally agree with it — again, I’d have had Howell in for Carpenter — but I get it. As for Baez, with righties Randal Grichuk, Holliday, Peralta, and Molina coming up, that’s no place for Howell. You would have preferred Brandon League? Brian Wilson? Jamey Wright? That Baez is inexperienced in the playoffs means nothing; just look at Brandon Finnegan in KC.
3) Is Kershaw unable to handle playoff pressure and/or the Cardinals?
No. Stop. This is stupid. Kershaw pitched very well against the Cardinals twice this year. He’d absolutely cut through them for six innings tonight. Just stop. This is going to be the world’s dumbest, stupidest narrative.
Adrian Gonzalez ended up hitting a two-run homer to make it 10-8. Ellis got on in the ninth, got to third on Andre Ethier‘s double, and came in on a Dee Gordon groundout to make it 10-9. That set up what was really a truly fantastic Yasiel Puig /Trevor Rosenthal matchup that ended with Puig swinging through a 100 mph pitch. Sadly.
This one’s bad. This one’s real bad. It only counts for one loss, and that’s all you can tell yourself. The Dodgers still hit Adam Wainwright really hard, and they still have Zack Greinke on the mound tomorrow. Those are both good things, I guess. But man… what a kick in the beans. I just don’t have a better way to phrase that. Ugh.
On the plus side, I guess, we’re not talking about that Gonzalez / Yadier Molina thing, are we?