The Dodgers bullpen saved us from having to live through story after story about Clayton Kershaw‘s struggles in the postseason at least until next time, as they shut down the Nationals offense over the final four innings and made the early offensive outburst from the Dodgers hold up for a 4-3 victory in Game 1 of the NLDS.
Clayton Kershaw didn’t have it today, it’s as simple as that. The fastball was up a tick or two to 95-96 mph and the curve was working all night, but the slider was just mixing cement most of the time and his command was atrocious. The command was what hurt Kershaw dearly, as it caused him to get behind in the count and miss over the plate with his pitches, allowing the Nationals to take advantage.
Of course, he could still do stuff like this…
…but those moments were fewer than normal for him.
Kershaw barely got through five innings, throwing 101 tough and stressful pitches. He struck out seven batters, which speaks to how the stuff is still there, but also allowed eight hits and a walk. Kershaw was lucky to only surrender the three runs he did give up, as he was in major trouble in every inning but the first.
Fortunately, the offense gave him enough cushion against Max Scherzer for the lead to remain intact the whole game. They struck quickly in the first behind a Corey Seager solo shot to dead center for a 1-0 lead.
In the third, they put up a crooked number, though it also happened to be their last runs of the game. Andrew Toles led the inning off with a single, and after a successful Kershaw sacrifice, Chase Utley singled to center to drive in Toles and put the Dodgers up 2-0.
After Seager narrowly avoided grounding into a double play, Justin Turner made sure that was a pivotal moment, as he blasted a towering two-run shot to left for a 4-0 lead.
Scherzer settled in after that and he managed to finish six innings, striking out five and giving up only five hits, but allowing the aforementioned four runs. Then came my greatest nightmare, as multi-inning lefty reliever Sammy Solis shut the Dodgers down for two frames, and then he handed it off to Mark Melancon — who actually got into a bases loaded jam — who also pitched a shutout in his one frame.
Overall, the Dodgers only got eight hits and two walks even after the early outburst, but they made them count thanks to the long ball and it ended up being barely enough.
The early runs held up, of course, because the Dodgers bullpen got the job done, which is something previous Dodgers teams couldn’t say in the playoffs. Joe Blanton got two outs in the sixth before walking a batter and being replaced by Grant Dayton, who got out of the inning. Dayton started the seventh and got another out but also walked a batter, being replaced by Pedro Baez. Despite his previous post-season failures, Baez actually got a perfect inning of work, getting through the seventh and one out in the eighth before being replaced by Kenley Jansen for a five-out save.
Jansen struggled with his command at times, but ended up protecting the one-run lead, giving up only one hit while striking out three to end a long and stressful game on a happy note.
That said, not everything was exactly ideal. Dave Roberts started out shaky tactically, but gradually improved over the season went along, and by the end I was definitely happy with the job he’d done. Unfortunately, there were a bunch of confusing things that popped up in this game.
For starters, he allowed Kershaw to hit for himself in the top of the fifth.
Not sure about this unless you think you're getting two more innings out of Kershaw, which you probably aren't.
— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) October 7, 2016
I didn’t understand it because he was struggling something mighty at the time, so it wasn’t a typical inning of Kershaw where you can practically put up a zero on the board. Thus giving away a free out for what might’ve actually been a worse pitcher in the fifth, and he did allow two hits in the inning, was a bit confusing.
Another confusing move was the usage of Blanton and Dayton.
I think Dave's done a great job this year and improved as year went along, but he just used his two best non-closer relievers for four outs.
— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) October 8, 2016
Going early to those two is the right play, in my opinion, but while other managers are getting the most outs possible out of their best relievers, I don’t understanding getting just four outs from those two in this scenario where the bullpen has to get 12. At least it worked, I guess.
Speaking of moves that didn’t make sense but at least didn’t hurt, Roberts pinch-hit Howie Kendrick for Toles, presumably because of a lefty-righty matchup.
1) Toles is killing the ball. 2) Dodgers are up one and Toles is a far superior defender. 3) ??? 4) Profit.
— Chad Moriyama (@ChadMoriyama) October 8, 2016
Nursing a one-run lead, it would seem to make sense to keep your best defender in left, much less the guy that is scalding the ball, over a hitter who struggled to close the season. And for what? A handedness matchup? Probably the most puzzling decision of the day.
On the other side, the best move was probably double switching Charlie Culberson in the game when Baez entered in the bottom of the seventh, as Culberson arguably saved the game when he fielded a short-hopped throw from Grandal to get Daniel Murphy stealing second.
Did I mention the Dodgers are up 1-0 over the Nationals in the NLDS? Cause that’s all that matters anyway.
Game 2 between the Dodgers and Nationals will take place at 10:00 AM HST/1:00 PM PST/4:00 PM EST on Fox Sports 1. The matchup on the mound will be Rich Hill (2.12 ERA/2.38 FIP/2.56 DRA Overall, 1.83 ERA/2.11 FIP Dodgers) facing off against Tanner Roark (2.83 ERA/3.83 FIP/4.45 DRA). Of course, all of that is up in the air depending on the weather, which reportedly could have an impact on the game.