Kershaw in line to save season vs. Cubs in Game 6
CHICAGO — It was not hard to spot Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw before Game 5 of the NLCS in Dodger Stadium. Uniform pants rolled up to his knees, his preferred look, Kershaw went through his pregame normal work in extra-normal circumstances.
All Kershaw has to do now is save the Dodgers' season.
Three-time NL Cy Young winner Kershaw threw seven shutout innings in Los Angeles' 1-0 Game 2 victory over the Chicago Cubs in Wrigley Field on Sunday, and with a similar performance in the same place in Game 6 on Saturday could force a Game 7. The Cubs have a 3-2 series edge after winning the last two games.
After pitching three times in six days, including saving the clinching Game 5 of the NLDS at Washington, Kershaw will have an extra day of rest this time.
“It's kind of nice,” Kershaw said Thursday. “Haven't had that in a while, so it's good. Should be ready to go.
“I think you do everything you can to try and keep it just like another start at the beginning. Then obviously the magnitude and the situation of the game kind of raises everybody's adrenaline. But trying to keep it the same right now.”
The Cubs took a 3-2 edge in the series by winning Games 4 and 5 in Los Angeles, when their somnambulant offense erupted for 18 runs and 26 hits — 13 hits in each game. Anthony Rizzo homered in Game 4 and Addison Russell had two-run homers in each game to snap playoff skids.
Rizzo had two hits in the first seven postseason games. Russell had one.
A quick repeat matchup normally plays into the hitters' hands, Kershaw said.
“The more you see somebody, the more familiar you get with them,” Kershaw said. “I mean, that's true for sure. So I don't think there's anything that you do to counteract it. There's no secrets, anyway, in the game right now. There's so much information. They know every pitch that I throw and every count and every situation. So it's just a matter of not really focusing on that and just trying to compete every single pitch and execute.
“You maybe have a little less margin for error facing them the second time, but just be better, I guess.”
The Cubs will advance to their first World Series since 1945 by winning one of the next two games. Game 7 would be Sunday.
Cleveland, which beat Toronto in the ALCS, is in its first World Series since 1948 and awaits the winner of the NLCS.
Chicago starter Kyle Hendricks, who opposed Kershaw in Game 2, led the major leagues with a 2.19 ERA this season and is among the favorites to win the NL Cy Young this year. Kershaw had a 1.69 ERA in 149 innings, 13 innings short of qualifying for the title after a back injury forced him to miss two months in the middle of the season.
“It's going to be the same environment as last (time), Kershaw again,” Hendricks said. “I'm excited in a sense to get another crack at it. It's obviously going to be fun. It should be a close game. It's definitely going to be important. But … you have to have simple thoughts, take the same approach as you would any other game.”
Cubs second baseman Javier Baez, whose three-run double in the eighth inning put the 8-4 Game 5 victory out of reach, is hitting .371 with a homer and seven RBIs in the series. He has the highest batting average of an NL player with as many as 20 postseason at-bats. Kris Bryant is hitting .343 with homer and five RBIs.
Third baseman Justin Turner has had the Dodgers' most production postseason, hitting .313 with a playoff high eight RBIs.
The team that has scored first has won each of the first five games of the series, and Los Angeles was the only team to score in Game 2, when Kershaw threw seven shutout innings and Kenley Jansen retired the final six in only 14 pitches in the 1-0 victory. Adrian Gonzalez's opposite field homer in the second inning was the only score.
“You'd much rather go home under these circumstances than any other, and you want to get it done as quickly as possible,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
“It's going to be a formidable event. Our guys will absolutely be ready for the moment, I promise you that.”