(Probably) Final DodgersFYI Post On Clayton Kershaw and His Apologists

It’s all been said.  Here, here, here, and here.  Yet somehow, it’s worth saying just once more, after what HAS to be Kershaw’s magnum opus of choking, as well as his apologists’ (decreasing but still strong) defense of him, at the expense of others…

Circumstances for failure are always given AFTER the fact with Kershaw.  In the eyes of many, the blame will always fall primarily on someone or something else. Always.  Last night was more of the same.

Kershaw is the same age as Strasburg, pitched on the same amount of rest as Strasburg, and (for now) makes more money than Strasburg. Yet many have convinced themselves that having him pitch to more than one batter was inexcusable for Dave Roberts.

Dave Roberts, similar to Don Mattingly before him, was a baseball legend and a classy guy.  Now, he’s an ostracized pariah.  Sure, he had his flaws as a manager, as did Mattingly.  (MAN, did Mattingly have flaws!)  But neither of them deserved the amount of criticism, nor degree of rage, thrown in their direction, by the fans, by the media, and especially diehard Kershaw apologists disguised as journalists.  (Those on Twitter know who that third category is in reference to.)  But now, Dave Roberts will likely suffer the same fate as Mattingly.  Such is life for those who are Clayton Kershaw’s manager- Kershaw gets all the credit when succeeding, the manager gets most of the blame for “setting Kershaw up to fail” in October.  At this point, it basically comes with the job description of Dodger manager, and will come with the next one- if Kershaw is still even pitching for the Dodgers next year.

For the Dodgers sake, they’d better hope that the money they spent on re-signing Clayton Kershaw doesn’t take them out of the Gerrit Cole sweepstakes.  Until then, the Dodgers will get to watch the playoffs on TV like the rest of us, and wonder what might have been.  Again.

NLDS Game 2 Recap- Over and Over and Over and Over

 

kershaw

This picture isn’t from game 2- but it might as well have been.

Let’s forget the narrative, because it’s no longer a narrative- it is a fact.  Forget about how Clayton Kershaw does in the postseason relative to his regular season, which is no longer the best but still better than most.  Clayton Kershaw’s October performances are AT BEST comparable to a typical number three starter.  This is even more unacceptable, when considering that he opted out for more money, and got it.  A normally pragmatic front office gave him everything he wanted.  And in his first postseason performance of 2019, he gave them more of the same.

Stephen Strasburg, Kershaw’s counterpart in more ways than one, dominated the way he typically does in the postseason.  Once removed from the game- one of two highly controversial moves by Dave Martinez- Max Muncy did what he normally does, putting the ball into the seats, making the game a one run affair.  But the Nationals quickly got the run back, and while the Dodgers threatened in the ninth- thanks in part to Martinez’s other questionable move, intentionally putting the tying run (Muncy) on base- it was not to be.  Ironically, the unintentional walk of Will Smith to load the bases probably saved the Nats from another bullpen meltdown, as Corey Seager came up short.  Seager and Bellinger, and especially Bellinger, have been pretty disappointing in their postseason careers.

But again, this comes back to Kershaw.  I shouldn’t be surprised by now, but the reaction from the public at large continues to be very different from other athletes in similar positions.  At this point, it’s unavoidable even for them to point out how many times he’s been lousy in October.  But the kind of reaction isn’t nearly as rabid as we’d see for other athletes in a similar position.  In fact, Kenley Jansen, the greatest closer in Dodger history, has endured more wrath for a few bad months this season than Kershaw has heard in his entire postseason career!  And sorry, but it’s not enough that he’s the greatest regular season pitcher of his generation, or that he’s a great guy, or a great philanthropist.  Others have gotten more wrath for his failings (“Why was he left in so long?” “Why doesn’t the offense score more?” “Why wasn’t he the starter for game 7?”) than Kershaw himself has. Most Dodger fans and bigwigs throughout sports media are “sad”, “disappointed”, or “confused” about Kershaw’s failings.  Given the prestige, the expectations, and the contract situation, it’s not unfair to point out that Kershaw’s actually been lucky to not hear more- WAY more- how often he’s come up short.

Anyway, the 2019 Dodgers go to Washington now, where they will have two chances to earn a plane ride back.  At least we won’t have to talk about Kershaw’s shortcomings over there.  But Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger might be another matter.  We shall see.

 

From “Kershaw Dealing” to “Dealing With Kershaw”

What to do when the ego of a superstar begins to outshine his talent…

By now, we all know about Clayon Kershaw’s incredible resume, but by The Internet Laws of Criticizing Beloved Superstars, I will be sure to repeat it here.  He is-

  • The best regular season pitcher of his generation.
  • A likely first ballot Hall of Famer.
  • A world class philanthropist.

So, now that I’ve acknowledged his undisputed greatness, let’s get to the matter at hand…

Players getting booed, or getting criticized when they don’t do well, comes with the territory.  But there is a certain type of player, a superstar among superstars, that achieves a sort of transcendent status, in terms of reputation.  Part of it is societal- how else can to explain Andrew Luck being applauded as a profile in courage for retiring right before the season, taking an extra $25 million with him on the way out the door?  Can anyone with a straight face say that Cam Newton would receive the same type of response, had he done the same thing under identical circumstances?  Similarly, how is it that Dodger Stadium reigns down with boos towards a struggling Kenley Jansen, the greatest closer in Dodger history, while giving Clayton Kershaw, still very good overall but past his best days, considerable slack?  That question alone can account for a blog post- not just for baseball but for human behavior in general.  But this post will deal with Clayton Kershaw specifically, and the need for the Dodgers (and Dave Roberts specifically) to do what’s right for the team first, regardless of who it upsets.

Only Vin Scully has enjoyed a higher standing in the Dodger universe this decade than Clayton Kershaw.  On the field, no one else has come close.  Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig and a few others certainly had their moments, but it’s been Kershaw who has sat atop throughout.  For the most part, that’s been a good thing, but it hasn’t been as smooth as legend would have us believe.  We can go all the way back at least to 2012, still fairly early in Kershaw’s career but already achieving elite status, when he was having hip issues towards the end of the season.  There was speculation that he might need to have surgery.  Many thought that at the very least, he would have to be shut down for the remainder of the year.  Luckily, the problem wasn’t as bad as it initially seemed, and Kershaw continued to pitch effectively for the Wildcard-chasing Dodgers.  Some still criticized the Dodger organization, for putting the team’s short term aspiration ahead of their young star’s health.  That last point is critical, given what happened on the second to last game of the season, the night the Dodgers got eliminated.  Hanging on for dear life, the Dodgers had slated Kershaw to pitch the next day against the Giants, hoping that the last game of their season would mean something.  Ultimately, it didn’t, but that didn’t stop Kershaw from publicly declaring that he was determined to start the game- a game that meant little more than one in spring training, outside of individual stats.  The Dodgers ultimately won with a stellar performance from Kershaw, and no one made a peep about the unnecessary risk that Kershaw had taken.  Given that some had wagged their finger at the Dodgers for having him pitch when the games did matter, it seemed curious that no one would say anything about Kershaw, for pitching in one that didn’t.  A 24 year old making a public declaration, not to be questioned, was highly unusual.  In fairness, Kershaw didn’t suffer any further injury, and the whole thing was quickly forgotten about, to the extent it was ever acknowledged at all.  But it had become clear, even with “only” one Cy Young award at that point, that Clayton Kershaw was largely responsible for calling his own shots.

As the years went on and Kershaw continued to pile on the hardware- two more Cy Youngs and an MVP- his reputation grew, as did his control of it.  And while we all know about the subsequent postseason failings, Kershaw was almost as untouchable to the critics as he was to hitters, at least relative to other pro-athletes.  Don Mattingly, whose shortcomings as a manager have been well documented, took the brunt of the blame for Kershaw’s October performances, culminating in a 2015 New York Times headline that summed it all up- “Clayon Kershaw Takes The Loss, But Don Mattingly Takes The Criticism“- this site’s pleading earlier that day notwithstanding.  (For a trip down memory lane, click here.  In there is another recollection of Kershaw’s ultra-competitive nature, reaching levels that bordered on counterproductive.)  Mattingly certainly had his faults, but the way boos eventually reigned down for him and ONLY him, as Kershaw came up short, seemed excessively harsh.  Of course, that’s well in the past now, as Mattingly now finds himself managing the Marlins at the bottom end of the east coast- not to mention the bottom end of the NL East.  But as we find ourselves well into the Dave Roberts era now, Kershaw’s stubbornness, if not outright selfishness, might be a bigger issue than ever.

Each of the first three seasons of Dave Roberts’ season brought incredible regular season success- thanks largely to Kershaw- followed by decent but underwhelming postseason success- also thanks largely to Kershaw.  Particularly jarring was Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when the Dodger Ace blew a four run lead, and couldn’t redeem himself when the Dodgers scored an additional three runs.  Finally, after nearly a decade of October performances that didn’t come close to his regular season ones- yes, 2009 counts, too- the narrative of Clayton Kershaw’s postseason failings went beyond Cardinal fans, Giant fans, and so-called “haters” at large, and started to seep into the mainstream.  Yet still, much of the baseball world wanted to somehow lay the primary share of blame at Dave Roberts’ feet.  Because Kershaw pitched so brilliantly in relief during Game 7 after Yu Darvish got shelled and the game was practically out of reach, Roberts got retroactively criticized for not lining up Kershaw to pitch Game 7.  Never mind there would have likely been no NEED for game 7, had he done his job in Game 5.  Never mind that Yu Darvish had been acquired, in part, because the Dodgers had been criticized for relying so heavily on Kershaw in the past.  Somehow, once again, the superstar among superstars had to be protected by a group of people that acted more like his own PR team, than impartial analysts.

After the Dodgers lost the World Series again in 2018, some speculated that Kershaw, who had been absolutely shelled in the World Series by the Red Sox, was on his way out of LA.  Many were resigned to the idea that he’d never be a postseason hero for the Dodgers, and perhaps it was time to go elsewhere.  Once he opted out of his contract, it seemed like the door was likely about to close on his Dodger career.  Not so, it would turn out.  Andrew Friedman’s front office, with a well-earned reputation about making cold, calculated decisions if it made sense for the Dodgers long term (Dee Gordon, AJ Ellis, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp twice, etc.), uncharacteristically offered Kershaw MORE guaranteed money than the contract option would have given.  Just to be clear, this might still BE the right baseball move- time will tell.  But it’s certainly a riskier one than Friedman normally makes.  (See: Greinke, Zack)

All this history brings us to Friday night, September 6th, with Clayton Kershaw pitching an uncharacteristically subpar game against the Giants.  Recall nearly seven years ago, and however many paragraphs ago in this blog post, how a potentially less-than-healthy Kershaw insisted on pitching against the Giants, during a game that meant nothing.  Some things, it seems, never change.  Friday night’s game didn’t quite mean nothing, but with the NL West wrapped up in all but name, and the Dodgers likely to be the highest seed in the National League, there wasn’t any extra pressure in the air, either.  Yet when Dave Roberts went to take Kershaw out, understandably, to preserve him for more critical situations, the pitcher, visibly annoyed, openly questioned his manager’s decision.  Nothing new there.  What was knew was after getting to the dugout, Kershaw threw a quick but unmistakable tantrum, pointlessly kicking the cooler as hard as he could, and risking a foot injury that he didn’t need, and one that his team couldn’t afford.

kershaw2.png
What was the reaction to this outburst, which could have put him on the IL yet again?  Well, for starters, here’s what it wasn’t- no one in the public eye griped about an entitled baseball player, showing up his manager in public.  There was no lamenting of “today’s athletes”, making all the money without the accountability.  Nothing about selfish antics, putting his team at risk.  Nope- just a few jokes on the Internet about Kershaw getting into “postseason form” and a few additional laughs, on account of the cooler winning the battle.  (Dave Roberts wouldn’t even go THAT far, saying the cooler was going to be going on the IL.  He knows his players.)  And honestly, this might be less of a “Kershaw getting a pass” moment, than a “he was lucky he didn’t get hurt” moment.  But for someone who is constantly lauded as not just a great pitcher, but a great leader, and someone achieving an iconic status that even most stars with a championship seldom reach, he should be held to a higher standard.  But it seems like no one wants to have that discussion.  If anything, given that the Dodgers are STILL in search of their first title since Ronald Reagan was in office, he certainly should go out of his way to be as publicly supportive of Dave Roberts as possible.  If not?  It shouldn’t matter- the Dodgers need to do what’s right for the Dodgers first, even if that means risking the alienation of their franchise’s most recognizable player.

There may have been a time that Kershaw’s incredible stats gave him the “right” (for lack of a better word) to be given the benefit of the doubt.  But given all the postseason shortcomings, his less reliable performances lately and all the innings of wear and tear, those days should be over.  And if Clayton Kershaw pitches like the “real” Clayton Kershaw again?  Great.  But if not, Roberts should have no problem with using an early hook whenever he feels appropriate, regardless of what the media, the fans, and even Kershaw himself think.  Besides, if Kershaw is left in for too long, we all know who will be getting the blame for the decision.  But Dave Roberts should take comfort in knowing that Billy Martin famously benched Reggie Jackson in the middle of a game in 1977, much to Jackson’s chagrin, yet the Yankees were no less for it.  Also, between the Dodger superstar and the Dodger manager, only one of them has a World Series ring.  And it’s not Clayton Kershaw.

The Contrarian Take- Why Mike Trout’s Contract Is Ridiculous

Dr_Evil(After becoming Mike Trout’s agent,
Dr. Evil finally got the payout he’d been searching for.)

Seeing the overwhelming consensus on Mike Trout’s contract from the now-well entrenched stats community in Major League Baseball, one would think it would be silly to even mention the POSSIBILITY that the Angels made a big mistake today.  With a headline that seems to imply HE’S taking the contrary position, The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh writes, “Mike Trout Isn’t Worth $430 Million—He’s Worth Much More“.  A blogger for Nate Silver’s 538 website assures us that Trout’s contract is “a bargain”.  ESPN’s Sam Miller goes full Dr. Evil, telling us Mike Trout is worth one BILLION dollars.  And never lacking for confidence, Keith Law suggests anyone with lazy (aka “different than his”) opinions should smash their “phone with a strong hammer“.  (I wrote mine on a computer, so I guess I’m safe.)  Opinions like this can be seen all over the Internet, as the old school types that would shake their heads at such an absurd guaranteed contract for a single player have been virtually ridiculed out of existence.  Fortunately for them, however, I’m still here!

Before continuing on about just how ludicrous this contract will likely end up seeming in a few years- I’ve been wrong enough times in my life to add qualifiers- let me acknowledge several facts, so I don’t seem like a COMPLETE Internet troll.  For one thing, Mike Trout is almost unarguably the best player in baseball these days, and likely has been throughout nearly his entire career.  Relative to Manny Machado and Bryce Harper’s recent $300+ million deals, Trout’s $460 million is a bargain.  And, for what it’s worth, he does come across like a genuinely good, down-to-earth human being, not someone who’s been carefully crafted by some PR firm to seem like “just one of the guys”.

trout

You’d be smiling, too

“What it’s worth”, though, is a whole let less than $460 million.  For starters, Trout’s being praised for handling his extension with “class”.  Come on.  As a human being, he appears to be the real deal, but his quiet handling of this contract is hardly evidence of this- only someone with no restraint whatsoever would go blabbing to the media if they were negotiating the most expensive contract in North American team sports history!  But that’s neither here nor there.  The problem is that there is far more to consider, when making such a huge financial commitment, than the reasons given for why Mike Trout is worth all of this money (or more).  There’s no need to understand the fancy WAR stats to acknowledge the greatness of Mike Trout. (Full disclosure- I do not understand the fancy WAR stats.)  The problem with today’s advanced stat valuation is that it puts more worth into wins “above replacement” than it does into ACTUAL winning- something the Angels have not been particularly good at in recent years.  I’m not blaming Mike Trout for Anaheim’s lack of winning in recent years- far from it- but that’s exactly the point.  What good is paying so much money for one single player, without building a team around him? It’s not Mike Trout’s fault the Angels have been woefully absent during postseason baseball- well…outside of his one and only playoff appearance a few years back, which was pretty lousy.  But giving him all this money is not going to do much good, if the rest of the guys in his clubhouse get to visit their homes during the All Star break.

Even if the Angels do have success in the early part of Trout’s contract- unlikely as that may be- what are they going to do with all those years at the end of it?  (“Adjusting for inflation” with baseball contracts is a hot topic these days, but if I’m right about ONLY one thing, it’ll be this- that will be coming to a halt sooner, rather than later.  It HAS to!)  And as great as Mike Trout is, let’s not act like he, nor the “experts” praising him, are infallible.  In the former category, we have Clayton Kershaw as a recent example of the last baseball player who could do no wrong, being deemed worth any amount of money given to him.  While he has led the Dodgers to numerous postseason appearances, he has come up short repeatedly- as has been well documented- and is now injury-prone and on the wrong side of 30.  (The Dodgers may regret extending HIS contract this offseason, although that’s for another discussion.)  In the latter category, we have Jason Heyward, another young outfielder (supposedly) in his prime a few years back, who the stats community deemed a “steal” for the Cubs at the time.  Never had the WAR stats and the traditional stats been so at odds, but the sabermetric community, who by then had fully infiltrated baseball’s front offices, INSISTED that Heyward was more than worth it. As it would turn out, the most well known sports professional who turned out to be correct about Heyward was…Joe Buck!  Of course, the Cubs famously won the World Series in 2016, but to the extent Heyward was a key contributor, it was due far more to his “locker room talk” (no, not that locker room talk) during a rainout, which motivated the Cubs to victory. Irony of ironies- he DID have a unique skill, after all, but it was one that not even the stat guys could measure- the gift of gab.

So as of now, the Angels don’t appear much closer to postseason appearances, let alone success, than they were prior to Trout’s massive contract.  And without winning, the Angels’ marketing department will not be able to make up for his massive paydays- all 12 years of them- as MLB doesn’t have the kind of marketing ability that the NBA does for individual players. Not even close.  And, while baseball might not be “dying”- regardless of whatever Bud Selig was doing during his feckless time at the helm- it’s certainly not healthy enough to continue handing out these contracts, which are enabled by the cable bubble, that is enabled by the financial bubble, which is due to burst any day now.  But that’s also for another discussion.  (For those interested, click here.  Or here.  Or here.  Or)

Update- Not even a full three hours after this was posted do I have to issue a modification.  I shouldn’t have JUST labeled the sabermetric community as being so in favor of this deal.  Their onetime arch-nemesis, Bill Plaschke, has fully endorsed it, as well.  The unconditional love for Mike Trout is even MORE transcendent than I originally stated.  It’s truly incredible that no one of prominence will even acknowledge the POSSIBILITY that this deal is risky.

What Is It About Clayton Kershaw?

Given that Clayton Kershaw has received a one year extension on an already seemingly-bloated option- the total price tag is $93 million for 3 years- it’s somewhat baffling.  When Friedman traded Matt Kemp in 2014, it was “business”- they thought he was on the wrong side of 30, injury prone and overpaid. Kershaw has virtually the same baggage, but the Dodgers decide to reward him for what he HAS done. (At least through each September.) What gives??

kershaw1We all know Clayton Kershaw is a great guy, and one of the greatest regular season pitchers of all time.  We also know that AT TIMES, he’s just as great in the postseason.  But we are now at a point where for the past DECADE- and yes, 2009 counts- he has been considerably worse in October than he is in the prior six months.  We also know that he has back problems, and those don’t tend to get better at age 30.

To be sure, Kershaw has an increasing number of detractors, but nothing close to what just about every athlete on earth of his stature would receive, for continuously coming up short when it mattered most.  Chad Billingsley (remember him?) became persona-non-grata with most Dodger fans in 2008, after one bad postseason series against the Phillies.  (He did have some fervently loyal fans in the blogging community at the time, but it was a comparatively small portion of the fanbase, especially back then.)  With Kershaw, though?  With a still impressive number of defenders/apologists, it’s always someone or something else- the Cardinals, the 7th inning, the manager, bad luck, poor defense, poor offense, etc. etc..

And for the record, none of this is “hating”- Kershaw is likely a first ballot Hall of Famer, and deservedly so.  If not for him, the Dodgers wouldn’t HAVE all these opportunities to reach the postseason to begin with.   It’s just very peculiar that in the often overly critical world of sports, Kershaw continues to receive pass after pass from so many in the fanbase, in the media, and apparently, even in the Dodger front office.

goodbyeSo we’ll see what the future holds for Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers.  And hey, it’s entirely possible that the Dodgers WILL win a World Series with Kershaw as a part of the rotation- but at best, he will probably no longer be leading it.  That honor should now go to Walker Buehler.  And $30+ million a year for a #2 starter is an awful lot of money.  Lucky for the Dodgers, they can afford to find out.

2016 Dodgers Recap- A Different Formula Produces A Similar Result

In recent months, we’ve gotten a lot of comparisons to 1988, and they’ve been apt- the Dodger team from this year, like the team from that year, seemed to be powering ahead, against all odds.  In some ways, they seemed an even MORE unlikely winner.  They were also the greatest bullpen-by-committee playoff team in Major League Baseball history, because they were the ONLY bullpen-by-committee playoff team in playoff history.  It is amazing that they got this far, and even more amazing to consider that a few bounced balls here, a blown call there, and it really MIGHT have looked more like 1988, instead of 2008, or 2009, or 2013, or 2014, or 2015.  But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

But getting back to the similarities between this squad and the one from 1988, in some ways, that is the most concerning thing here- part of the REASON for the Dodgers futility after that season was because the team was not built on a strong foundation.  The very thing that made them so endearing is the same thing that made them so fleeting- they just weren’t built to last.  This team has a little bit more hope for its future, with Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, perhaps Andrew Toles, and a few others.  But will it be enough?  A lot of the guys who have been so good for the past few years are in their mid-30’s.  This team was built by the front office with strong duct tape, but how much longer can that duct tape hold?

Most troubling of all is the starting rotation.  In fact, who is the starting rotation?  The bullpen was incredible for a long stretch of time, but even in today’s era, having to regularly depend on them before the 7th inning is a really bad sign for the long term.  If the 2017 Dodgers have to heavily rely on Adam Liberatore and Joe Blanton again, they are in deep trouble.

la-sp-dodgers-cubs-nlcs-game-6-20161022-008

source: LA Times

And I’m sorry, but we have to talk about Clayton Kershaw.  He’s the greatest regular season pitcher in baseball, but how many more years are the majority of Dodger fans going to point their ire in other directions when he comes up short?  It’s the manager.  It’s the lack of offense behind him.  It’s Andrew Toles’ error.  STOP.  A large section of the fanbase never forgave Chad Billingsley, after one ineffective, weak start against the Phillies.  And here we are, after four straight years where Kershaw did not dominate from beginning to end, and most fans want to look everywhere but towards Kershaw himself.  This isn’t to say that Kershaw needs to be roasted like so many before him- not just Billingsley, but Jonathan Broxton, George Sherrill, Brandon League, etc.- but it’s time to mix in some criticism with the endless praise.  He is the most heralded pitcher in baseball, as well as one of the highest paid.  He needs to pitch like it from beginning to end.

As for what next year and beyond hold?  It’s difficult to say, but as of now, it feels like if the Dodgers recipe for success in 2016 is not sustainable.  The Cubs have a young, strong core that should be together for some time, especially by the standards of today’s wheeling-and-dealing environment.  Unlike the Dodgers, the Cubs wouldn’t have had to do much more in the offseason, had they not advanced.  Looking within the NL West, even the Giants, with their awful bullpen, seem to have a pretty good core themselves.  Andrew Friedman and Fahran Zaidi deserve a bit of a mulligan, with the job they did under some trying circumstances, and Dave Roberts looks like he’s here to stay, which is a good thing.  But the front office can’t expect to transact their way to a World Series- their short-term moves worked about as well as anyone could have imagined for the second half of the season, and they STILL came up short.  We’ll see how their plan is for building sustainable success for the future.  And for crying out loud, Guggenheim, get the team on television already!

’til next year…

NLCS Game 2 Recap- Kershaw and Jansen Pass Their In-Game Physicals, Dave Roberts Finds His Rabbit’s Foot

The Dodgers needed that.  The fans needed that.  The ANNOUNCERS needed that.  After playing so many ~4:00 hour games that it started to feel like standard practice, the Dodgers played a relatively tidy but nevertheless drama-filled 1 run game- that’s “1 run game,” as in 1 TOTAL run for the entire game.  Adrian Gonzalez’s home run provided the Dodgers with the only one they’d need, against starting pitcher Kyle Kendricks.

The reason why this paltry offense was adequate for the entire game was largely due to the pitching heroics of Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen.  In Game One’s recap, this blog said the following

It’s impossible- not nearly impossible, but completely impossible- to imagine the Dodgers advancing, without at least decent performances from Kershaw and Jansen, throughout the rest of the series.”

kershawAsk, and ye shall receive.  Far from being decent, Kershaw and Jansen were downright dominant, hitting their spots, and for the most part, keeping the Cubs off balance.  To be sure, there were a few good swings against Kershaw in the later innings, but in some respects, it seemed part of his game plan- he’d been used so much recently, he needed to keep his pitch count down, meaning that he had to pitch to contact more than usual.  Trusting his defense, combined with a little bit of luck- and a LOT of luck, on that final warning track shot from Javy Baez- Kershaw was masterful, and gave the Dodgers a much needed win, with a huge assist from Kenley Jansen.

And how about that Jansen?  Not even three full days after he’d thrown the last of a career high 51 pitches to the Washington Nationals in Game Five of the NLDS, Jansen looked as dominant as he had all year for TWO full innings of work, and had done so against one of the best offenses in all of Major League Baseball.  Even more incredibly, he was getting ready to throw in the seventh inning, before Kershaw talked Dave Roberts out of taking him out of the game- which brings us to where the rabbit’s foot comes into play.

roberts_maniacal

                Why so serious?!

Jerry Hairston Jr. mentioned on Twitter how Kershaw would always “win” arguments with Don Mattingly to remain in the game.  It’s completely understandable why the best pitcher in baseball would have the right to stay in, if he felt he could get the job done.  And of course he always believes that he can, because if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be the best pitcher in baseball.  On the other hand, it puts the manager in a really difficult position.  If the job gets done, we sing Kershaw’s praises.  If it does not, it’s the manager’s fault for not doing his job, in seeing how “obvious” it was (after the fact) that Kershaw had nothing left in the tank.  Game 2 of the NLCS initially looked no different than a few other recent postseason shockers, only this time, Javy Baez’s rocket launch towards the outfield did not land in the gap, or over the wall, but safely in Joc Pederson’s glove.  The baseball gods were in Dave Roberts’ favor, and with the maniacal laugh that he let out at the end of the inning, it was clear that he knew it.

Back to LA

To the extent that there is such a thing as a “must win” Game Two in a Best-of Seven series, this was it for the Dodgers.  The Dodgers going back to L.A. down 2-0, knowing that Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t be pitching for at least two games (even with short rest), would have been a next-to-impossible task, with a starting rotation that has not been particularly effective so far.  But now that the series is tied and they’re going back to their home turf, there is a real chance this turns into an all-time classic, poised to eventually head back to Chicago.  But at Dodger Stadium, the Boys in Blue better get more out of their starting pitching, as it’s unlikely they can win more than one bullpen-by-committee game against the team with the most wins in Major League Baseball.  They’ll also need some middle relief to step, as Kenley Jansen will not be able to go for six out saves every night.  Then again, with all the improbable outcomes we’ve seen over the past few months since Kershaw initially went down, it’s foolish to dismiss anything at this point.  I’m half-expecting Mickey Hatcher to circle the bases at some point.

’til Tuesday…