It always stings when the Dodgers manage to lose a Clayton Kershaw start, doesn’t it? Tonight, thanks to a little bad luck and a lot of puzzled bats, the Dodgers fell to the Pirates by a score of 3-2.
Kershaw was mostly dominant, as usual. He struck out eight batters in seven-plus innings. He walked two, both in the seventh with two outs. His stuff looked normal, except he dialed his fastball up to 96 on a few occasions. He even picked off two runners. Basically, he looked like Clayton Kershaw, which makes it a bit surprising when the box score shows that he gave up three runs. Games like this make seasons like Kershaw’s 2013 and 2014 and Zack Greinke‘s 2015 even more impressive.
Two of the Pirate runs scored in the third inning. Jordy Mercer started off with a single. Francisco Liriano missed a bunt on the first pitch, then swung away and hit a single of his own, just past Kershaw’s glove as he missed his patented behind-the-back comebacker grab by a few inches. Kershaw then retired Gregory Polanco and Josh Harrison in dominant fashion – Harrison on two sliders right at his back foot and a 96 mph fastball on the outside corner. The only player between Kershaw and a scoreless inning was Andrew McCutchen. The two battled to a 3-2 count. Kershaw just missed on a 2-2 curveball (credit McCutchen for laying off as the pitch went low). However, Kershaw hung a 3-2 slider. It was high enough that most batters would have fouled off the pitch or swung through it, but McCutchen hit it inside-out. The ball hit the chalk of the right field line for a double and both baserunners scored. One pitch, and the outcome of the game is different. One inch to the right, and the outcome of the game is different. At the same time, tip your cap. McCutchen is just so good.
The decision to not walk McCutchen was second-guessed, but I agree with it. For the most part, I am very anti-IBB. Aramis Ramirez, hitting behind McCutchen, is having a down year but at the least teams should try to pitch around a batter at first. If the pitcher ends up with count leverage, they should go after the hitter and try to end the threat. If Kershaw executed on that 3-2 slider, like he does 99 times out of 100, we wouldn’t be talking about this. The next time Kershaw faced McCutchen, he struck him out on three pitches.
The Pirates’ third (and deciding) run scored in the eighth inning. Kershaw allowed a leadoff double to Gregory Polanco (who made an incredible running catch in the bottom of the same inning). Chris Hatcher was brought in but he couldn’t prevent Polanco from scoring after a double by Aramis Ramirez, who was batting after McCutchen was intentionally walked with a base open. The exact same situation as the third inning, except this time with a walk, ended up scoring the winning run. Baseball is a funny game.
On offense, the Dodgers got going early on Francisco Liriano, plating a run in the first after yet another Justin Ruggiano leadoff hit. However, Liriano settled down in a big way. He struck out nine batters in seven innings, and at one point retired 16 Dodger batters in a row. The Dodgers did push across another run in the seventh, though they squandered an opportunity to put the game out of reach after Austin Barnes (pinch-hitting for Joc Pederson) grounded into a double play with the bases loaded to end the inning. Liriano has some of the best raw stuff in baseball, so it’s hard to be too worried about a great performance against the Dodgers’ bench depth.
However, it’s easier to be worried about Justin Turner. Turner has struggled since coming off the disabled list last month, but he has looked much better recently. Turner had to leave tonight’s game with left knee soreness, which is ambiguous enough to wonder about the severity. There was no obvious trigger for the issue on the field, so hopefully it’s minor. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Corey Seager spend some time at third base as a result of Turner’s injury, especially since Jimmy Rollins batted for the first time since September 6th tonight.