Baseball is strange.
This 4-3 Dodger victory wasted no time in being unusual. In the bottom of the first inning, Justin Upton hit a line drive off of Clayton Kershaw‘s hip. According to StatCast, the ball was hit at 107mph. At least this one didn’t get any teeth, but it was enough to make everybody nervous.
Kershaw’s command wavered in the first few innings as well. He was striking batters out, but he walked three batters through the first four innings. His curveball was working, but his fastball command was poor. It was fair to wonder if the comebacker was having an effect on him. Kershaw did look much better in the fifth and the sixth innings, after which he had thrown 100 pitches and had a shutout. Just another typical “Kershaw didn’t have his best stuff but still dominated” kind of start. The Dodgers contributed two runs to their cause, a fully constructed lineup managing to string some hits together against Padre starter Odrisamer Despaigne. Things were going pretty well.
Then the seventh inning happened and the game turned upside-down, then right-side-up again. First, let’s let Fangraphs describe it:
The vertical axis of the top of the chart shows the Padres’ likelihood of winning the game. If the line is higher, the Padres are more likely to win. If the line is lower, the Dodgers are more likely to win. The cause of tonight’s insanity was the spike in the bottom of the seventh and top of the eighth.
The events started with the questionable (in my mind) decision to leave Kershaw in. He didn’t have great command and had thrown 100 pitches. However, A.J. Ellis singled to lead off the top of the seventh, and Kershaw was left in to bunt him to second. Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig walked, sending Adrian Gonzalez up to the plate with the bases loaded and one out. The first pitch was outside and was called for a strike, and Gonzalez grounded into an inning-ending double play two pitches later. The Dodger half of the inning ended as Gonzalez was thrown out for arguing balls and strikes. What did Don Mattingly think of the situation?
(When the Dodgers were losing, this image was going to be the bulk of the recap. Now, it can just be a reaction shot which we can use pretty frequently, I think.)
Kershaw started the seventh inning by striking out Melvin Uption (his 11th and final strikeout of the game). However, he followed that by allowing a home run to Clint Barmes (?). Kershaw retired another batter and was then removed from the game after throwing 117 pitches. Yimi Garcia was brought in to relieve. On Garcia’s first pitch, Wil Myers hit a pop-up to the mound and, well, this happened:
The error is Garcia’s fault, since he should have not been standing in the way, but there are more factors at play. If Gonzalez was still in the game, maybe he would have taken charge instead of the out-of-position Justin Turner, and maybe the play would have been made. Derek Norris followed the error with a seemingly-inevitable two run home run, putting the Padres ahead 3-2.
The Dodgers righted the ship in the eighth inning, but had to dodge more mental mistakes to do it. Howie Kendrick led off the inning with a double and advanced to third on a Matt Kemp throwing error, then scored to tie the game on a Justin Turner single. Ethier singled, but Turner TOOTBLAN’d at second, significantly reducing the Dodgers’ scoring chances. The rally continued, and eventually culminated with Andre Ethier scoring on an Alex Guerrero bloop single, mere second before Ellis was tagged out at third.
Mattingly then called upon Chris Hatcher in a high leverage situation, his first appearance in nine days. Usually, I would have disagreed with the decision, but at least there was logic here. The Padres stacked tonight’s lineup heavily with right-handed batters for Kershaw and the inning started with Kemp, which meant that the Dodgers would have been well-suited to start with a right-handed pitcher. Juan Nicasio was presumably unavailable due to his fingernail issue, and Josh Ravin isn’t exactly reliable either. Kenley Jansen wouldn’t have gone two innings, and it’s a valid argument that the Dodgers would have been better off throwing him in the eighth than the ninth, but managers never, ever do that. By process of elimination, Hatcher was the guy.
Hatcher got the job done, mostly, but he still appeared to be struggling with his fastball command while throwing that same fastball too often (after using his slider to get through Kemp effectively). At least Jansen made the ninth quick and easy as he struck out the side. Even that caused a bit of heartburn, though, as his velocity was lower than usual (91-92). Through all of that, the Dodgers won the game 4-3 and increased their divisional lead over the Giants. The winning pitcher? Yimi Garcia, who had a 0.00 ERA today. That should tell you something about both of those “stats.”
Anyways, tomorrow’s game probably won’t be as stressful, even if the Dodgers don’t win. Zack Greinke will square off against old nemesis Ian Kennedy at 7:10 PDT.