Column: It has to be Clayton Kershaw in Game 4, but it’s also a shame that it must be that way

Dodgers pitcher Clayton Kershaw is seen during the ninth inning of Game 3 of his team's National League division series against the Washington Nationals.
(Jeff Gross / Getty Images)
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On an endless Monday afternoon with Chavez Ravine bursting at the pavilions with gasps and groans, the Dodgers and their fans tried everything.

Dave Roberts emptied his bullpen and nearly emptied his dugout while extending the game to more than four hours of sweaty madness.

Their fans hustled out of work to exhaust heir lungs chanting for Corey Seager and growling for Yasiel Puig and booing just about everybody else.


Seemingly every bit of playoff energy and strategy was poured onto the sun-baked field and the Dodgers still weren’t good enough to survive, losing, 8-3, to the tough and savvy Washington Nationals to fall behind two games to one in a best-of-five National League division series.

Now what?

Now Kershaw.

After a six-month ballet of revolving stars, after billing this season as the ultimate collective effort, the Dodgers will turn the spotlight for the possible final act on exactly one set of shoulders, and exactly where you’d expect.

Nine innings from their 10th early postseason elimination in 10 appearances since their last World Series in 1988, the Dodgers are once again laying their October upon Clayton Kershaw.

He will be given the unenviable task of pitching on short rest, fronting a weary bullpen and fighting a bad back, all to fulfill his seemingly unchanging Dodgers destiny.

All signs indicate that the Dodgers will announce Tuesday morning that Kershaw will be the starting pitcher just four days removed from his five-inning victorious outing against the Nationals in the series opener, the weight of their world on his left arm, and wasn’t this October supposed to be different?

Didn’t the Dodgers build this team specifically so no individual player — particularly Kershaw — would have to bear the pressure of being its star? Hasn’t this team survived all season with the collective will of many instead of the isolated performance of a few? Heck, wasn’t the entire turning point of the summer when they went 38-24 while Kershaw was on the disabled list with a back injury?


Even earlier this week, in words that Dodgers executives loved to hear, Kershaw even admitted his thrill at the load being lightened.

“Yeah, in the past I think I’ve definitely felt that pressure more. … This year’s been a little different for me,” he said. “I think it’s really kind of hit home for me a little bit as I’ve come back [from injury] that I can definitely be a part of this and definitely help and definitely be a factor in winning. But I don’t have to be the factor.”

Well, scratch that.

A team with supposedly many moving parts will be riding into another elimination game on one giant wheel. It is the same wheel that carried them through the last three failed postseasons. The Dodgers are again out of options and asking their ace to save them.

“Obviously, you’d like to see your big guy,” said Seager late Monday after he had another extra-base hit (double), drove in another run, and continued to be one of the bright spots on an offense that is hitting .220 in this short postseason and averaging three runs per game.

Obviously, it has to be Kershaw, even though he originally might not have been the Dodgers’ first choice. Before Monday’s game, the Dodgers considered using 20-year-old Julio Urias in a possible Tuesday elimination game because they figured if they had to win two consecutive games, why not let the kid pitch at home and give Kershaw his full rest on the road in a winner-take-all Game 5?

But then Kenta Maeda happened, one day after Rich Hill happened. The two new Dodgers pitchers acquired to lessen Kershaw’s burden have each flamed out, with Maeda barely surviving three innings Monday while allowing four runs on five severely hit balls. This follows Hill’s four runs allowed in less than five innings on Sunday.


Cue October memories of Chad Billingsley, Ricky Nolasco and Brett Anderson.

The esteemed Dodgers bullpen is wiped out. The Dodgers need a pitcher in this first elimination game who can eliminate hitters for at least six innings. They can’t risk ending their season with their best player sitting on his hands. They need Kershaw.

With Kershaw’s postseason record in three short-rest starts over the past three seasons, there is plenty of hope, as the Dodgers have won two of those three games while he’s recorded a 1.89 earned-run average with 23 strikeouts and four walks. In fact, nobody in baseball in the last 10 years has gone at least seven innings in a three-day-rest postseason start like Kershaw did last year against the New York Mets.

He can do this. But it’s a shame the Dodgers keep putting him in a position to have to do this. If they had won Monday, he wouldn’t be pitching Tuesday. This is just one reason you won’t see Nationals ace Max Scherzer anywhere near the Dodger Stadium mound, as he can now resist all starting pressure and wait for a possible Game 5.

Kershaw doesn’t have that luxury here. He’s seemingly never had that luxury here, and there are other numbers that say the Dodgers are darn lucky he has carried them this far.

Since baseball’s wild-card playoff system was invented in 1995, pitchers starting playoff games on three days’ rest or less are 35-40 with a 4.35 ERA. When their team is facing elimination, those harried pitchers are 9-18 with a 4.34 ERA.

Kershaw is clearly an outlier on short rest. But as past postseasons have rudely proved, the change in routine sometimes affects him in later October starts. And as he continues to recover from the herniated disc in his back, this short start will be somewhat of an unknown, as he struggled to survive the five innings last week while allowing eight hits and three runs.


Kershaw was summoned to a brief meeting with Dodgers General Manager Farhan Zaidi after Monday’s game. He emerged from the room with a visible exhale as he was perhaps relieved at what is believed the news that he was starting Game 4.

Later, he was one of the last Dodgers to leave the clubhouse, but refused to address his status, smiling and saying only, “If Doc [Roberts] didn’t talk, there’s nothing to say.”

Roberts didn’t confirm it, but Roberts didn’t have to confirm it, as Dodgers fans have known this all season.

With a season on the line, a ball that has been shared by so many once again belongs only to Clayton Kershaw.

Get more of Bill Plaschke’s work and follow him on Twitter @BillPlaschke



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