CHICAGO – (Wire Service Report) – Four hours before Game 1 of the NLCS on Saturday, Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw was stretching down the first base line, about 50 feet into the outfield grass. Manager Dave Roberts was beside him, on his haunches.
They were not counting the blades of grass.
Ninety minutes later, a reassured Roberts announced Kershaw as his starter for Game 2 on Sunday.
As if there was any question.
The Cubs used Miguel Montero’s pinch-hit grand slam with two outs in the eighth inning for an 8-4 victory in the first game of the NLCS, their fourth win in five postseason games. Now it is up to three-time Cy Young Award winner Kershaw to even the series against Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks.
Kershaw will make his second start of the postseason after helping the Dodgers into the NLCS with his first career save. He got the final two outs of a 4-3 victory over the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday.
Starting pitchers normally throw a bullpen session three days before their next scheduled start, so in a way Kershaw was sticking with his routine when he replaced Kenley Jansen with a runner on first base and threw seven pitches to get out of the ninth inning Thursday.
In a way.
“Intensity might have been just a hair different, but I think I would guess just the quantity was probably pretty similar, I would say,” Kershaw said drily.
Kershaw was 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA this season, but he pitched only 149 innings because of a back injury that kept him out for about 10 weeks. The light workload may work to his advantage against a Cubs team that was second in the league in the regular season in runs (808) and on-base percentage (.343).
“The Cubs’ lineup is pretty solid, obviously,” Kershaw said. “They have some guys in there that had some pretty amazing seasons, and they’re the best team in baseball for a reason.
“The one thing that stands out (offensively) is just the on-base percentages of those guys. I think that they’re constantly working counts, getting into good hitters counts, getting on base. That’s something that is difficult for a starting pitcher. You want to limit the damage, but at the same time you can’t go for four innings, a hundred pitches. So you got to figure out how to get these guys out with quality pitches quickly. And it’s not an easy task.”
Kershaw did not face the Cubs this season but is 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA against them in eighth career starts. He is 1-2 with a 3.00 ERA in three starts in Wrigley Field. The Cubs will counter with right-hander Kyle Hendricks, who along with Cubs Game 1 starter Jon Lester is among the top candidates for the 2016 NL Cy Young award. Hendricks, 16-8 with a major league-leading 2.13 ERA, was knocked out of Game 2 of the NLDS when he was hit on the right forearm by a line drive off the bat of Giants outfielder Angel Pagan with two outs in the fourth inning. But X-rays were negative, and what could have been a serious injury was averted.
Hendricks gave up two runs and three hits in eight innings to beat the Dodgers 7-2 at Wrigley Field on June 2.
“You fall back on your routine, fall back on what you know to do and the confidence that you built throughout the whole year,” Hendricks said of his preparation.
“And it’s just like any other game. I’m going to go out there, same simple thoughts, trying to make good pitches, and hopefully my confidence can show through.”