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Max Scherzer vs Clayton Kershaw lives up to hype; Nationals beat Dodgers, 5-2 in LA

The first matchup of three-time Cy Young award-winners in 12 years was all everyone hoped for, though the Nationals got to Clayton Kershaw early. Max Scherzer came out on top this time.

Washington Nationals  v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

An injury issue and DL stint for Rich Hill forced the Los Angeles Dodgers to reshuffle their starting rotation, so instead of a Clayton Kershaw vs Stephen Strasburg matchup in the second of three in LA on Saturday, we got Kershaw vs Max Scherzer in Friday night’s series opener in Dodger Stadium.

Both starters were three-time Cy Young Award winners. Kershaw had the lowest ERA among NL starters in 2017, 2.31, with Scherzer second, 2.51.

They finished second and fourth in FIP, Scherzer second, 2.90, to Kershaw’s 3.07, and had the lowest and fourth-lowest BAA in the NL last season, Scherzer at .176, Kershaw at .210.

Talk about marquee pitching matchups. Would it live up to the considerable hype?

It’s not just fans of the game who were excited for what noted was only the tenth head-to-head matchup between three-time Cy Young winners in MLB history, and the first such matchup since 2006.

Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts told MLB Network Radio on Friday afternoon that he too was looking forward to seeing Kershaw and Scherzer battle it out.

“I can’t wait to get to the ballpark,” Roberts said. “When Clayton pitches there is already a heightened sense of intensity with our ballclub, and now you bring in the Nationals.

Washington Nationals  v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

“It’s going to be a great night. You bring in Scherzer, so you get in my opinion the two best pitchers in baseball going head-to-head, so yeah, it’s great. We’ve seen these guys in the postseason a lot recently, and it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

More than just this game, Roberts said, it was an opportunity for hitters from both sides to get as much information as they could about the opposing pitchers.

“Whether it’s Clayton vs those guys, or our guys vs Scherzer,” he said, “we’re still trying to gather information. Every time you step in the box against a pitcher, you’re gathering information for potentially seeing them down the road. So you take those at bats and perform and try to win a baseball game, but also to keep it in mind how they approach you and hitter vs pitcher, pitcher vs hitter, it’s absolutely important.”

Nationals’ skipper Davey Martinez, before Scherzer’s previous outing, talked to reporters about how he’d approach his own ace if he was facing him during his playing days.

“I’d really zone in on trying to hit the first two pitches,” Martinez explained. “He wants to get ahead, so I’d try to be very aggressive.”

Both teams apparently had that approach as part of their game plan in the series opener in LA, with both Trea Turner (double) and Bryce Harper (RBI single) jumping on the first pitches they saw in the first from Kershaw, as the Nationals jumped out to a 2-0 lead, then Dodgers’ leadoff man Chris Taylor tripled to right on the first pitch from Scherzer in the bottom of the inning, but the Nats’ ace stranded him there, retiring three straight after a hit-by-pitch put runners on the corners with no one out in a scoreless, 16-pitch frame.

Michael A. Taylor was first-pitch swinging too, when he doubled to left field to lead off the fifth, snapping Kershaw’s streak of 11-straight batters set down, and he scored from third when Trea Turner dropped a safety squeeze bunt down after Scherzer singled to right field to put Taylor on third, 3-0.

Taylor lined a 2-2 curve to center in the sixth, driving Ryan Zimmerman in with the third hit of the inning, and his second hit of the game, 4-0, but the Dodgers rallied in the home-half of the inning, with a two-out walk and back-to-back singles leading to a run on Scherzer, 4-1. That was it for the Nationals’ starter in what ended up a 5-2 win.

Max Scherzer’s Line: 6.0 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 3 BB, 9 Ks, 106 P, 68 S, 3/4 GO/FO.

Clayton Kershaw’s Line: 7.0 IP, 9 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 0 BB, 4 Ks, 85 P, 64 S, 11/2 GO/FO.

“You saw two of the best pitchers go at it today,” Martinez told reporters after the series-opening win, “and Max did his thing. He was really good.”

As for the Nationals’ hitters, and their approach against Kershaw, Martinez confirmed what was obvious, the plan was to attack early in the count.

“We wanted to go in and attack him early,” Martinez said. “Get the ball in the strike zone and be ready to hit it and the boys went up there and did that.”

“I think that was their game plan,” Roberts said.

Washington Nationals  v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by John McCoy/Getty Images

“Knowing that Clayton is a strike thrower and get him before he gets you kind of was their mentality, and the leadoff double [by Turner] and the sac fly, driving in a run with the base hit, and then the double there by Zimmerman right there puts them up 2-0.

“They got on him early. For us, we had a chance to answer in the bottom half, first and third, nobody out, came up with nothing, came up empty. So that was a big part of the game.”

“They were ambushing,” the Dodgers’ skipper added, “and there were some balls that found some outfield grass, but the four runs right there, there was a lot of soft contact, and you can see, Clayton only punched four tonight through seven innings. They didn’t want to run a count, they were trying to get aggressive and put the ball in play. High risk and high reward. And so unfortunately for us it benefited them tonight.”

“We did the same thing to Max, Max was just able to pitch out of it,” Kershaw said.

“Two [runs] is tough. Usually you feel like you can come back from two, but against a guy like Max it’s going to be tough.”

“I was able to get some big outs there early,” Scherzer said.

“Throw up some goose eggs early, especially when our offense came out aggressive and was able to score a couple runs, that gave me some breathing room there early.”

“I thought our offense did a good job of getting the pitch count up, getting Scherzer out in six innings and giving us a chance with their guys out of the pen,” Roberts added, “... but there were some opportunities that we had that we just couldn’t capitalize, and when you get a guy like Scherzer, it’s tough to win like that.”

Scherzer was clearly pumped for the matchup from the start, and more so, Martinez said, after he connected for a hit in the fifth.

“Yeah, I mean, isn’t that obvious?” Scherzer told reporters, as quoted by MASN’s Mark Zuckerman.

“I mean, yeah. I’ve always said you don’t measure yourself against the worst. You measure yourself against the best.”

This time, Scherzer and the Nationals came out on top.