Familiar Narrative For Clayton Kershaw in Game 2, as Nationals Defeat Dodgers, 4-2, to Even NLDS at 1-1

on Oct5
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The postseason has always been a seesaw sensation for Clayton Kershaw. Some games are great, and vintage Kershaw is unveiled. But when the Dodgers have fallen with him on the mound, the painful memories of playoff past get revived and the old rhetoric of his inability to pitch under pressure is reborn.

Kershaw allowed three runs in the first two innings on Friday night, and the Washington Nationals defeated the three-time Cy Young Award winner, 4-2, to even their best-of-five National League Division Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers at 1-1. 

The conversation of Kershaw’s playoff imperfections will likely be all that’s discussed among Dodgers’ fans on Saturday. Not the sensational start by Stephen Strasburg, or the dormant Dodgers offense. 

The Dodgers are not Moses, and the postseason is not the Red Sea. The other playoff teams will not part at their feet, providing a clear path to their first championship in 31 years.

After recording a franchise record 106 wins and securing a seventh consecutive NL West Division title in 2019, they are now just two losses away from perhaps the greatest disappoint in franchise history. 

It all began innocently in Game 2. Justin Turner-plagued with back problems in recent weeks—couldn’t handle a first-pitch grounder down the third base line.

The leadoff double was cashed in four batters later, when former Dodger Howie Kendrick recorded a redemption RBI that gave the Nationals a 1-0 lead. Kershaw limited the damage by striking out Kurt Suzuki to end the inning, but the lesson was learned: don’t give Washington extra outs, not with Stephen Strasburg on the mound. 

In the second inning, buried beneath an avalanche of hit-by-pitches, walks, and hard contact, Kershaw allowed two more runs, and the Dodgers found themselves down 3-0 before fans could find their rally towels.

As it turned out, three runs was all Strasburg needed. The San Diego native was perfect through four innings on Friday and retired the first 14 batters he faced before Will Smith lined a single to center field for the first hit of the game. 

They scored their first run an inning later, when pinch-hitter Matt Beaty roped a single to right field, advanced to third on a double by Joc Pederson, and scored on a sacrifice fly by Turner.

With the tying run at the plate in A.J. Pollock (whose had success against Strasburg), the 31-year-old right-hander rose to the occasion and snagged a comebacker to end the threat.

For six sensational innings, Strasburg was virtually unhittable. Throwing a combination of change-up, fastball, and curveball, he struck out 10 batters in all manners and fashions: swinging, looking, check-swinging, it made no difference to Strasburg. 

Meanwhile, Kershaw was a shell of his former self in Game 2. Sure, a late-inning homer for Max Muncy off the Nationals bullpen made the final score look a lot closer, but that doesn’t take away from the sloppy start by Kershaw. 

His once elite fastball barely eclipsed 90 MPH. Nowadays, his best two pitches are his slider and curveball, when they’re on, he can still be lights out, but when it’s not, like you saw in Game 2, its pedestrian at best. 

Nevertheless, Kershaw should not be left alone in isolation to shoulder the blame for this game. The Dodgers offense averaged an NL-best 5.47 runs per game during the regular season. They scored only two in Game 2. 

As I wrote on Thursday after their 6-0 victory in Game 1, it’s only one game. But beneath the backdrop of bad Octobers for the Dodgers and their ace, the blaring message that comes from this loss means so much more. 

These current Dodgers will always be haunted by the ghosts of October past until they rewrite the script and change the narrative. As they head into hostile territory in the Nation’s Capital this weekend, these next two road games will offer them the opportunity to begin to do just that. 

The reality for the Dodgers was always going to come. The regular season—albeit historic—was never going to be the narrative of this team. It was always going to be about the postseason and hoisting the Commissioner’s Trophy.

Stephen Strasburg deserved to win this game. The Dodgers did not. They let an opportunity to take a stranglehold on this short series slip away and the heartbreak of previous playoff disappointments crawl back into their psyche. They’ve gone all year without a setback, without a reminder of how the final game of the past two seasons ended. Now, they will be tested, and how they respond is how they’ll be remembered.

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