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Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers sweep Brewers to advance to NLDS

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For four innings Thursday, the Dodgers, the juggernaut expected to plow through the short-handed Milwaukee Brewers in the best-of-three wild-card round at Dodger Stadium, looked vulnerable with a chance to advance to the National League Division Series.

They couldn’t figure out right-hander Brandon Woodruff, one of the few healthy quality pitchers left for Milwaukee, as Clayton Kershaw masterfully performed to keep them in the game. Then the gulf between the teams — perhaps the biggest between playoff opponents in major league history — abruptly surfaced in the fifth inning of the Dodgers’ 3-0 win. All it took was one mistake.

It should’ve been a routine double play to end the inning. With runners on first and second, AJ Pollock hit a bouncer to third baseman Luis Urías, who made a fine play, then stepped on the bag before making an on-the-run throw to first base for the third out. But the ball short-hopped first baseman Jedd Gyorko. It bounced in and out of his glove. The Dodgers had life and they pounced.

Austin Barnes, the Dodgers’ No. 9 hitter, followed and laid off a 1-2 fastball Woodruff thought was strike three. Plate umpire Quinn Wolcott called it a ball. Two pitches later, he hit a perfectly placed ground ball up the middle to score Chris Taylor from second base for the game’s first run. Next, Mookie Betts lined a two-run double — his third double of the series — down the left-field line.

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It was all the cushion Kershaw needed.

Kershaw, carrying over his regular-season resurgence, sliced through a feeble offense that batted .223 during the 60-game regular season. The left-hander recorded a playoff career-high 13 strikeouts in eight innings, becoming the first Dodgers starter to pitch into the eighth inning in 2020. He walked one batter. He needed just 93 pitches. He faced 27 batters and one saw a 2-and-0 count. He also passed Roger Clemens for the fourth-most career playoff strikeouts in history.

“This was great,” Kershaw said. “This was a fun night for me.”

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With the win, the Dodgers completed a two-game sweep and moved on to the NLDS to face either the St. Louis Cardinals or San Diego Padres. Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas. The team will travel to Texas on Friday.

Dave Roberts initially said Kenley Jansen’s Game 1 performance lacked “teeth.” After looking at the tape, the Dodgers manager saw more positives.

“With the expanded playoffs, it’s kind of like now the postseason is starting,” Kershaw said. “But, nonetheless, we still had to do our job. We still had to get there and now we get to get going.”

With Kershaw on the mound, Thursday could’ve marked the first time five former MVP winners — Kershaw, Betts, Cody Bellinger, Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun — played in the same postseason game.

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That possibility was erased when Braun, the 2011 NL MVP, aggravated an oblique injury in Game 1, further hindering a depleted Brewers roster that was already without one of its two best relievers, Devin Williams, and one of its two best starters, Corbin Burnes, because of injuries sustained during the final week of the regular season.

But the Brewers still had Brandon Woodruff. The right-hander, an All-Star last season, finished the regular season with a 3.05 earned-run average. He compiled more than 11 strikeouts per nine innings. And he enjoyed previous success opposite Kershaw in the playoffs; he had four strikeouts in two innings of relief and hit a home run off Kershaw in Game 1 of the 2018 NLCS.

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Highlights from the Dodgers’ 3-0 win over the Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2 on Thursday.

He presented a challenge to even the best offense in the sport. He allowed one hit and had eight strikeouts in the first four innings. He added a ninth strikeout to start the fifth before things went south. Bellinger, fooled by a changeup, flared a single to center field with a lunging swing. Taylor lined another single to bring up Pollock. Within a few minutes, the Brewers were in trouble.

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Betts’ double chased Woodruff. The right-hander, still fuming from Wolcott’s call on the borderline pitch, screamed expletives at the umpire as he walked off the mound. The tirade got him ejected. In the end, the question became who would pitch the ninth for L.A.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts emerged from Game 1 on Wednesday discouraged by Kenley Jansen’s performance. The closer produced the three outs he needed in the ninth inning to seal the win, but Roberts thought Jansen didn’t look good.

He said Jansen’s stuff lacked “teeth.” He was alarmed when he threw an 86-mph cutter, five mph below his regular season average. Once Jansen walked Jace Peterson, a .227 career hitter, Roberts had Brusdar Graterol warming up in case the Dodgers’ two-run lead was put in further danger.

Terrance Gore might not have a big role in the Dodgers’ postseason plans, but manager Dave Roberts knows the influence a base-running specialist can have.

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But Roberts changed his tune Thursday. Roberts claimed he thought Jansen’s performance was better than his original evaluation after watching the video. Asked if he offered the different take simply to instill confidence in Jansen, Roberts emphasized he was sincere.

The manager, however, acknowledged that Jansen’s dip in velocity over his last four outings is “not a good trend.” He said it wasn’t the result of a physical ailment. Before Game 1, Jansen worked on his mechanics on the Dodgers bullpen.

Roberts insisted Jansen, the most decorated closer in franchise history, “absolutely” remains the team’s closer. But he didn’t close Thursday. Instead, Graterol, the hard-throwing rookie right-hander, drew the ninth inning in a save situation. His first pitch was a 102-mph fastball. He threw 14 more pitches to get the three outs for his first career save.


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