All Clayton Kershaw needs is average. His stuff and his results far exceed normal, of course, but even a standard backing of run support is enough for the Dodgers’ ace to guarantee a victory.
The humble 25-year-old wouldn’t make such a boast, but this statistic will do it for him: as TBS reported on its broadcast, since 2011 the Dodgers had won all 35 games in which they’ve scored four or more runs in support of Kershaw. Following their 6-1 win in NLDS Game 1 on Thursday, that's now 36-0.
Four runs, mind you, is the exact average per-game output of a National League lineup this season, so Kershaw isn’t asking for much and doesn’t need much, not when he has a fastball that touched 95, a hook that kept spinning under Atlanta’s swings a slider that he consistently buried low. Even with less than perfect command in the early innings, he was still dominant, as Los Angeles pummeled the Braves.
Kershaw struck out six straight Braves in the middle innings and nine of the last 11 batters he faced. Overall, he finished the night with 12 strikeouts and just three hits allowed in seven innings.
The Dodgers’ lineup is not at full strength with Matt Kemp out for the playoffs, Andre Ethier relegated to pinch-hitting and Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford all having battled September aches and pains, but the team is invincible when it scratches together a few runs for Kershaw, which is, of course, the epitome of an ace’s job description.
Against Atlanta’s Kris Medlen, Los Angeles got two runs in the second in less than resounding fashion, with a Skip Schumaker sacrifice fly and an A.J. Ellis double on a ball that a speedier leftfielder than converted catcher Evan Gattis probably would have caught. The Dodgers’ third and fourth runs were delivered in more emphatic fashion, however, as Adrian Gonzalez crushed a home run to dead center. L.A. added two more runs later, but at that four-run threshold in support of Kershaw, it hardly was necessary to keep tracking.
In the other dugout, the Braves were reminded of the peril of their lineup construction. They led the NL in home runs this year but also strikeouts, a feast-or-famine approach prone to great streaks and protracted droughts. Against a heavy strikeout pitcher such as Kershaw, the Braves had trouble putting the ball in play and starting or sustaining rallies. Atlanta will have a more equitable pitching matchup in Game 2 -- Mike Minor opposing L.A.’s Zack Greinke -- as every game essentially becomes a must-win contest with the specter of Kershaw’s return in Game 5.