Time to find out what Kershaw, Dodgers are made of
Giants pitcher Tim Hudson already has uttered the line of the postseason, asking, "talent can take you a long ways, but what do you have between your legs?" So, it was altogether fitting when a Dodgers player labeled Friday night's Division Series disaster, "a sledgehammer to the nuts."
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Giants pitcher Tim Hudson already has uttered the line of the postseason, stating “talent can take you a long ways, but what do you have between your legs?” So, it was altogether fitting when a Dodgers player labeled Friday night’s Division Series disaster “a sledgehammer to the nuts.”
That it was, a 10-9 loss to the Cardinals that could not have been more shocking, considering that it stemmed from a barrage of hits against the best pitcher on the planet, Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw. But Kershaw’s catcher, A.J. Ellis, had the right idea when he spoke briefly to teammates afterward, imploring them to move forward rather than dwell on a blown 6-1 lead.
Ellis reminded the Dodgers that twice they dropped series openers to the Giants in September. The first was a 9-0 rout. The second was a 5-2 defeat in 13 innings. Both times, the Dodgers rallied to win the series, and they ended up winning the NL West by six games.
It’s certainly fair to ask whether Friday night’s loss will be different, whether the Cardinals will remain, in the words of FOX analyst Tom Verducci, the pebble inside the Dodgers’ shoe. The game, after all, was full of sideshows: from the Yadier Molina-Adrian Gonzalez dust-up over Yasiel Puig getting hit by Adam Wainwright, to the questions about whether A) the Cardinals were stealing signs at second base or B) whether Kershaw was tipping pitches out of the stretch.
The Dodgers need to forget about all of it, prove that they are more than a collection of talented individualists, rally as a team. They showed that kind of fight early in this game after Puig got drilled. They also showed it late, rallying from a 10-6 deficit to advance the tying run to third base in the ninth, only to see the game end with Puig striking out against the mammoth heat of Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.
Do not even ask if the Dodgers can recover from such a devastating loss. The old baseball cliché is true: Momentum rests with the next day’s starting pitcher. Zack Grienke might not be Kershaw, but he’s a former Cy Young winner who finished eighth in the NL with a 2.71 ERA this season. Then again, his opponent, Cardinals righty Lance Lynn, was ninth at 2.74.
The next question, assuming the Dodgers win one of the next two games, will be whether to start Kershaw in Game 4 on three days' rest. A disconsolate Kershaw was in no mood to even consider the possibility afterward, saying, “I’ll always want to pitch, but obviously it’s hard to think about right now. Who knows if they’ll want me to pitch? We’ll see what they decide.”
The Cardinals are Kershaw’s nemesis, but one way or another, he will need to face them again if the Dodgers are to win this series. Incredibly, he is the first pitcher to give up seven or more runs in back-to-back postseason games, including his loss to the Cardinals in Game 6 of last year’s NLCS. This, from a winner of four straight NL ERA titles.
What is it about Kershaw and the Cardinals? He allowed only two hits in the first six innings Friday, solo homers by Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter. But he opened the seventh by allowing four straight singles, and once he began pitching out of the stretch, his world began to shatter. The Cardinals scored eight times in the inning, transforming a 6-2 deficit into a 10-6 lead.
Analyst Harold Reynolds stated repeatedly on FOX that the Dodgers needed to change their signs, explaining that the Cardinals might be picking them up from second base. Cardinals left fielder Matt Holliday, who capped the eight-run seventh with a three-run homer off reliever Pedro Baez, vehemently disputed Reynolds’ charge in my postgame interview with him. One Dodgers pitcher said he didn’t know if the Cardinals were picking up signs, but added, “They’re notorious for trying.”
Ellis acknowledged as much.
“We know the Cardinals are always looking for that competitive advantage. We appreciate that about them. They compete even when they are on the bases,” Ellis said.
“We try to do our best to mix things up, be unpredictable, try to set up late to not tip off anything. I don’t think we can credit anything that they did to stealing. Just give them all the credit for the way they swung the bat.”
Kershaw refused to make any excuse, specifically addressing the question of whether he was tipping pitches by saying, “I think that discredits their team. It’s just a cop-out.”
As usual, Kershaw is right, and there is nothing the Dodgers can do but move forward. Figure out a better plan against Carpenter, who followed his homer in the sixth with a three-run double in the seventh that knocked Kershaw out of the game. Determine whether Kershaw is tipping pitches or if the Cardinals are stealing signs, and address it.
Yes, the game was a sledgehammer to the you-know-what, but now comes the moment of truth. As Hudson said, talent can take you a long way. But if the Dodgers are who they think they are, they won’t remain doubled over.