Three thoughts on a breezy NLDS Game 2—the Dodgers won, 3-0, to take a 2-0 series lead as the teams head to Atlanta—that featured Clayton Kershaw at his finest and Yasiel Puig kissing Charlie Culberson…
Welcome to Mannywood
The Baltimore Orioles made the playoffs three times from 2012, the year of Manny Machado’s debut, to 2016, his penultimate full season with the club. But owing to an injury in 2014, when the Orioles went all the way to the ALCS, the four-time all-star had played in only seven playoff games before Game 1 on Thursday. He hadn’t done much of anything, with just four hits in 23 at-bats, and the NLDS opener was more of the same; he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the Dodgers’ 6-0 win. But L.A. traded for Machado to do big things in the postseason.
On Friday he finally did, smacking a first-inning Aníbal Sánchez meatball on 3-0 over the leftfield fence. (Including the homer and a fourth-inning groundout, Machado now has four taters and eight hits in 17 career at-bats against the veteran righthander. Not bad.) Sánchez would have been better off not throwing that get-it-over cutter as Machado had already homered twice this year on 3-0 counts; I pity the Braves scout whose job it was to take note of such things.
Clayton … Maddux?
Clayton Kershaw, as we’ve known him, is a master of the punchout. Even with a slightly diminished strikeout rate during 2018 (whiffing 23.9% of the batters who faced him as opposed to the 31.9% figure he had averaged from 2014-17), he K'ed six or more hitters in 16 of his 26 starts. But the Kershaw on display Friday night was a master instead of efficiency and soft contact, striking out only three. He didn’t need whiffs!
After Ronald Acuña scorched the night’s first pitch to the leftfield wall for a double, Kershaw allowed just one more hit, a weak infield single by Ender Inciarte, while retiring 24 Braves and keeping Atlanta off the scoreboard the rest of the way. Eight innings was the longest Kershaw had ever gone in the postseason, and it took him only 85 pitches to do so. Not bad at all, and another rebuttal to the contention that the greatest pitcher of his generation can’t pitch in October. (His four scoreless innings in relief in Game 7 of last year’s World Series have probably been forgotten by now, but… they happened.) His dominance tonight has to make Dodger fans giddy.
Where have Atlanta’s bats gone? The Braves finished fifth among NL teams in runs, second in batting average, fifth in on-base percentage—and they managed a whopping nine hits and no runs in their two games out west. (The Braves hadn’t been shut out in consecutive games since 2014.) While it would be a mistake to draw any broad conclusions from two bad games, the unpleasant fact for the Braves is that some of the pixie dust wore off the offense down the stretch, with the Phillies’ and Nationals’ more calamitous second halves providing Atlanta cover. Nick Markakis, who went 0-for-3 batting cleanup, had an .877 OPS in the first half and a .701 figure in the second half… Freddie Freeman’s post-break OPS (.827) was also more than 100 points lower than his first-half number (.938)… Ozzie Albies OPSed .834 before the break and .714 after it… I could go on.
The charm of a five-game series is that everything can change immediately; unfortunately for the Braves, they were better on the road than at home in 2018, and they’re staring down Walker Buehler (1.65 ERA in his last five starts) in Game 3. Gulp.