Dusty Baker was excited about the pitching matchups in Los Angeles in this series; last night’s between Max Scherzer and Brandon McCarthy, which lived up to the hype, and the series finale, in particular, with Clayton Kershaw vs Stephen Strasburg head to head for the first time in their careers.
“It’s going to be outstanding,” Baker said of the whole series on Monday.
“McCarthy is throwing the ball well and then we’ve got Scherzer, and then Stras — the big getaway day, against their big boy over there, Kershaw.
“I urge everybody to come out and watch the game.”
Washington took the first two games of the three-game set in LA, putting themselves in a position for the first series sweep of the Dodgers since 2008, and the first sweep of a series in Dodger Stadium in Nationals’ franchise history (2005-present).
Baker said last night, however, that he knew the Nationals were in for a battle against the Dodgers’ ace.
Kershaw started the day (7-2) in 12 starts this season, with a 2.28 ERA, 11 walks (1.19 BB/9), 92 Ks (9.98 K/9) and a .208/.237/.361 line against in 83 IP, and he was (10-2) in 14 games (13 starts) against the Nationals, over which he had a 2.02 ERA, 17 walks (1.72 BB/9), 104 Ks (10.52 K/9) and a .190/.230/.301 line against in 89 innings pitched against the Nats.
Strasburg was (7-1) in 11 starts this season with a 2.91 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 21 walks (2.54 BB/9), 81 Ks (9.81 K/9) and a .206/.265/.332 line against in 74 1⁄3 innings this season.
He was (1-1) in five career starts against the Dodgers, over which he had a 3.06 ERA, four walks (1.11 BB/9), 32 Ks (8.91 K/9) and a .231/.268/.322 line against in 32 1⁄3 IP.
Baker said last night it was important that the Nationals took the first two games in LA.
“Especially with the mighty Kershaw going tomorrow and that’s going to be a great game tomorrow,” he said.
“And it’s just especially tough to see here during day games here at Dodger Stadium, cause I’ve played many, many, many games — day games here in Dodger Stadium, and it’s tough to see, so I might be wrong, but I don’t anticipate too many runs, going to be a low-scoring game — I hope I’m wrong on our end, but it’s going to be a great series finale tomorrow.”
Baker was not wrong.
Kershaw blinked first, giving up a solo home run in the second, on a first-pitch fastball to Ryan Zimmerman that went out to the corner in left field in Dodger Stadium, 1-0.
He was not as sharp as usual early, walking two in the first three innings, just the third time he’d walked more than one in 12 starts in 2017. Anthony Rendon took his second and Kershaw’s third walk in the top of the fourth.
Strasburg tossed four scoreless on 57 pitches, striking out six and allowing just one hit, and after he struck Logan Forsythe out to start the bottom of the fifth, he was up to seven Ks total and five straight strikeouts overall.
A 1-2-3 fifth had Strasburg up to 10-straight Dodgers’ set down and 13 of 14 retired after Adrian Gonzalez’s two-out single in the first.
Strasburg was up to 12-straight batters retired after he battled Clayton Kershaw in a nine-pitch at bat to start the sixth, and he retired Chris Taylor in another tough battle, before Corey Seager jacked a 2-1 fastball, sending a solo shot to center for a game-tying home run, 1-1.
Strasburg struck Adrian Gonzalez out with a 3-2 curve after the home run, but the ball got by catcher Jose Lobaton, who let a first-pitch curve to Yasmani Grandal get by him too, putting the go-ahead run on second.
Grandal brought Gonzalez in with a line drive to left field that a diving Ryan Raburn couldn’t reach, 2-1 LA.
Strasburg was done after six innings of work. Kershaw tossed a scoreless seventh, but was lifted before the eighth.
That was it for the starters.
Pedro Baez worked around a leadoff triple in the top of the eighth, and Kenley Jansen earned a four-out save as the Dodgers took the finale.
Both managers talked after the game about what they saw as the turning points.
“When you lose by one, especially 2-1, you point to — we made a couple of errors that caused Stras to throw more pitches,” Baker said, “and then he struck out Gonzalez, and then the wild pitch, and then he gets on — cause that would have been the third out, and then he advanced to second on another wild pitch, and then they get the big hit.”
“He’d have had plenty of gas to go out there and pitch the seventh,” Baker said, but what ended up being a 35-pitch sixth ended Strasburg’s outing.
“Then we had a leadoff triple and we didn’t score him,” Baker continued. “So, when you’re playing close games like that against a great pitcher, two great pitchers, it’s usually a mistake here or a mistake there is the difference in the game.”
Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts pointed to Kershaw’s at bat, which took up nine of Strasburg’s 35 pitches in the sixth, as the turning point.
“There are certain points in the game that change the momentum and Strasburg was in a groove and really pitching well,” Roberts explained.
“Breaking balls, getting ahead of guys and we really didn’t get many good swings, but that nine-pitch at bat from Clayton changed the momentum to our side, and [Chris Taylor] to follow up that at bat with another quality at bat — for me, I believe that that bled into the Seager at bat where Corey ended up homering.”
Roberts said he was happy with his hitters’ approach against Strasburg, but Kershaw’s at bat, in particular, turned things around when they hadn’t gotten much done up to that point.
“I don’t think that we were giving away at bats, I think Stephen was good today, and I think that he was facing Clayton today and elevated his game.”