Thoughts on Clayton Kershaw in Game 4

Dodgers had two choices: trust the brain or trust the gut.  They went with gut.

Last night, I incorrectly assumed the Dodgers would save Clayton Kershaw for a decisive and final Game 5 in DC.  It just seems like logical thing to do.  First, the Dodgers have to win the next two games to win the series, and Kershaw can only pitch one of those games.  All things being equal, I’d rather–if I were the Dodgers–have Kershaw pitch on the road in a tougher environment matched up against the Nats best pitcher, Max Scherzer.   Pitching him in Game 4 forces him to go on 3 days rest.  I wouldn’t ordinarily object to that, but Kershaw is still building back his stamina after missing most of the second half with an injury.  He only reached 100 pitches for the first time in Game 1.  Saving him for Game 5 might mean the Dodgers get 6 innings Thursday instead of 5 tonight–not insignificant consider the Dodgers bullpen is a little beat worn out and beat up.

Still.  This is the playoffs.  There’s an old axiom that you worry about tomorrow tomorrow.  It just feels wrong to keep your best pitcher on the sidelines, even if he’s only at 75 or 80 percent due to short rest.  The Dodgers season could end tonight; Dave Roberts doesn’t want that to happen with his best weapon still in the arsenal.  Maybe the thought of starting a 19 year old rookie, Julio Urias, in an elimination game sounds unconscionable to the Dodgers manager.

The most topical analogy  is Buck Showalter’s failure to use his best reliever, Zach Britton, in the Orioles extra innings Wild Card Game loss.  To me, this is fundamentally different.  I think Showalter made a grave mistake saving his best pitcher.  But in that situation, Britton was capable of pitching multiple innings.  With the game tied in the 11th, he could have pitched that inning, the Orioles could have scored in the top of the 12th, and Britton could have closed it out in the bottom of that inning.  Showalter could have avoided using his inferior reliever, Ubaldo Jimenez, altogether.  Here, the Dodgers have to start a pitcher other than Kershaw.  I think it’s best to do it at home, against Joe Ross rather than Scherzer.

Rich Hill will be available on Thursday night on 3 days rest as well.  Maybe the Dodgers plan on starting him then.  Maybe the equation is Kershaw (3 days rest) + Hill (3 days rest) > Urias (full rest) + Kershaw (full rest).  Maybe Roberts wants the option of Urias or Hill or some combination of the two.  Maybe he truly is worrying about tomorrow tomorrow and he has no plan.  Gut over brain.

I will say this.  As somebody pulling for the Nats, I feel better.  With Kershaw looming in Game 5, even against Scherzer, I was considering Game 4 a must win.  Now it feels like house money.  Win today, move on.  Lose, the team has a significant matchup advantage Thursday night.

A deciding Game 5 at home.  What could go wrong?

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Nationals take a 2-1 NLDS lead over the Dodgers

It was slow, and it was unbearable to watch, right up until the moment Ryan Zimmerman put the game away with the 2-run double in the top of the 9th.

Look, if you actually enjoy watching these games, you probably don’t care enough.  Playoff baseball is brutal experience, and Game 3 was especially agonizing.  You survived it, and your reward is getting to do it all again Tuesday night.

Gio Gonzalez is normally hard to watch because of his wildness and demeanor on the mound, but this is especially true in the postseason where each game, inning, and run matters so much more.  I’ve been dreading Gio’s first playoff start all season.  He came into today with spotty playoff track record as the starting pitcher each of the Nats last two elimination games.  My concern was justified.

Gio–again–couldn’t get out of the 5th inning.  There was a brief window of hope for him after a tough first inning, but a 2-run home run in the bottom of the 5th, cutting the Nats lead to 4-3, forced Dusty to go to his bullpen earlier than any of us wanted.  The Nats relievers worked through the 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th with the thinnest of margins until the Nats lineup blew the game wide open in the 9th.

Dusty gets credit for putting the right guys in the right spots.  He pulled Gio at the right time and let Sammy Solis and Shawn Kelley get the job done.  The Nats bullpen has been a huge strength this series.  They were heroes on Sunday too, bailing out Tanner Roark who also couldn’t make it out of the 5th inning.  The bullpen now has 12.1 innings of scoreless relief, but their luck will eventually run out.  It has to.  To keep their season alive, a starting pitcher will need to step up and deliver a good start.  We’re 0-3 so far.  It’s actually a little remarkable the Nats haven’t been swept considering that fact.  The acclaim goes to Dusty, the bullpen, and a Nats lineup that finally woke up.

There was a moment Sunday when it felt like the sand was running out of the hour glass.  A disappointing Game 1 led into an inauspicious beginning to Game 2.  The stadium seemed drained of life and we all started to imagine a repeat of 2014–g0ing to the West Coast down 2-0.  But the playoffs create unlikely heroes, and no one was more unlikely than Jose Lobaton, who didn’t even start Game 1, and wouldn’t be playing but for Wilson Ramos’ injury.  Lobaton’s 3-run home run might have saved the season.  Since that moment, the Nats have scored 13 runs in 14 innings–they only scored 9 through the entire 2014 postseason.

But now we turn to Game 4 and the pressure is on the Dodgers.  The Nats have their first ever 2-1 playoff series lead and a chance to clinch their first playoff series win.

Yet, even though the Dodgers face elimination, the pressure is on the Nats too.  Traveling back to DC for a 5th game would feel like a letdown.  Moreover, a Game 5 would be a dangerous rematch with Clayton Kershaw.  The Nats have the 2-1 edge right now, but if you expect any less anxiety, you’re gonna be disappointed.