Division lead up for grabs as Dodgers host Rockies
LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers will send their longtime staff ace to the mound Tuesday in a key National League West clash, while the Colorado Rockies will have their difference maker poised for another second-half masterpiece.
September matchups with a division title on the line do not get much better than three-time Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw against outside Cy Young contender Kyle Freeland in a must-see duel of left-handers.
The Dodgers will enter Tuesday with a half-game lead on the Rockies after beating their division rival 8-2 on Monday in the opener of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium.
“In September (great matchups) get elevated because of the situation,” Rockies manager Bud Black said. “(Tuesday) is a good one just because our guy has been pitching great and their guy has been pitching great for about 10 years. What can you say? The left-handedness is pretty cool too.”
Freeland is not only 15-7 with a 2.96 ERA this season, he is 9-2 at Coors Field with a 2.36 ERA. Numbers like that should give him extra credit in the Cy Young chase, but he probably is not going to get enough of it to edge out other award contenders like Aaron Nola of the Phillies, Max Scherzer of the Nationals and Jacob deGrom of the Mets.
In three starts against the Dodgers this season, Freeland is 1-1 with a 2.79 ERA.
Kershaw has been there and done that when it comes to a late-season Cy Young Award drive. He has gone through two separate disabled-list stints this season, and even though he hasn’t looked like a no-hitter waiting to happen like in recent years, he has been plenty good enough.
Kershaw is 7-1 with a 2.39 ERA in 15 starts since returning from a back injury that wiped out three weeks in June.
“I think that people want to look at, I guess, the strikeout percentage, but if you look at what he’s done and how efficient, how successful he is, he is our ace,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “He’s doing it a little bit of a different way, but he might argue that. He’s still an elite pitcher and he’s our No. 1.”
Kershaw will be tasked with facing what Roberts called one of the best top of the orders in the game from Rockies leadoff man Charlie Blackmon to DJ LeMahiey, Nolan Arenado and cleanup hitter Trevor Story. In the fourth inning Monday, though, Story left the game with an apparent back injury.
That foursome has been the heart and soul of the Rockies for a few years now. Freeland at the top of the pitching rotation has turned the Rockies into a title contender. But even though Colorado has appeared in a World Series, it has never won an NL West title.
After Tuesday, the Rockies have just one more chance on Wednesday to create some space between them and the Dodgers.
The offense in L.A. is currently being powered by a focused Yasiel Puig, who was named NL player of the week, mostly for a two-game flurry over the weekend in St. Louis when he hit five home runs in two games. But Joc Pederson emerged Monday to hit a pair of home runs.