- Clayton Kershaw baffled the Brewers for seven innings on Wednesday afternoon, yielding only a run to put Los Angeles on the cusp of a second consecutive trip to the World Series.
Game 5 of the NLCS began with a bang: Milwaukee yanked starter Wade Miley after just one batter. On purpose. Their crafty bit of strategy ultimately didn’t pay off, as their bats never got going and their bullpen didn’t hold. Meanwhile, Clayton Kershaw threw a gem, and Los Angeles nabbed a win to put them within one victory of the World Series. Here are three thoughts on the Dodgers’ 5-2 win.
From Starter To Opener To… Tricky Gambit?
This season’s evolution in pitching strategy has led to the creation of a whole new language to describe the first man who throws in a game: starter versus opener versus initial out-getter. What Milwaukee pulled in Game 5 didn’t exactly fit any of those descriptions. It certainly wasn’t a conventional starter, nor was it the single inning opener pioneered by the 2018 Tampa Bay Rays, nor was it the one-time-through-the-order-and-maybe-then-some “initial out-getter” seen earlier this postseason from none other than the Brewers. The best comparison, instead, comes from Game 7 of the 1924 World Series.
The Washington Senators started right-handed Curly Ogden in that game. The New York Giants set their lineup accordingly. In the first inning, Washington pulled Ogden for a lefty, George Mogridge. New York’s attempt to play to the platoon advantage was gone, and Washington won.
Back to 2018. The Brewers had announced their starter as Wade Miley, a lefty on short rest. He walked leadoff man Cody Bellinger. And then… he was gone. Manager Craig Counsell yanked him for righthanded reliever Brandon Woodruff. (Miley would instead start Game 6, it was soon announced.) The converted starter who’d kicked off Milwaukee’s bullpen game in the NLDS opener, Woodruff allowed just one hit through the first four innings. He ran into a spot of trouble in the fifth—giving up a run on two hits—and was pulled in the sixth, giving up another run and leaving two men on for the ‘pen to inherit. With Milwaukee trailing 2-1, the first part of the gambit was over.
In practice, this resulted in essentially a regular bullpen game for the Brewers, with a brief bullpen session for their next starter tacked on at the beginning—and, of course, an opportunity to mess with the Dodgers. How’d that work? Well, Dave Roberts apparently might have had an inkling that something might be afoot here, because he started two of his better left-handed hitters, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy. But if nothing else, the move briefly jolted the game off-balance; it’s certainly something to talk about, even if it’s not seen for another 94 years.
playoff kershaw comes through
When we last saw Clayton Kershaw, he was being pulled in the fourth inning of Game 1, after an uninspired performance that involved giving up a home run to a relief pitcher. He made that feel like distant memory on Wednesday. Game 5 brought Good Postseason Kershaw, the opposite of the demon who’s been built over the years from an unwieldy blend of performance and narrative. Game 5 brought seven innings of one-run ball, with nine strikeouts and just three hits. Kershaw’s curveball, in particular, was working—21 pitches for eight swinging strikes, plus three called. When guys are putting together a swinging strike chart that looks like this, it’s got to be good:
And here’s what that looks like in non-chart version:
Christian Yelich has struggled at the plate throughout this series, and Game 5 was no different. The MVP frontrunner entered tonight 3-for-16, with none of those hits for extra bases. He similarly failed to produce in Game 5, including in some crucial situations. He lined out with a man on in the first inning; he struck out with two men in scoring position in the third; he flew out on the first pitch of the sixth; he grounded out in the ninth. The Brewers’ offense was subdued here across the board, particularly against Kershaw—but even against that backdrop, their best hitter’s continued lackluster performance seems striking. (In more ways than one.)