The Dodgers beat the Cubs in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series, 1-0, on Sunday night to even the best-of-seven series at one game apiece. It flew by, taking easily less than three hours to complete as what looked destined to be a pitcher's duel delivered on every level.
Here are nine things to know:
1. Clayton Kershaw quiets critics with a gem
Kershaw looked every bit like the best pitcher in the world (because he is) on this night. He was perfect through 4 2/3 innings before a Javier Baez single in the fifth inning broke it up. Still, he would only allow two hits -- both singles -- and one walk through seven scoreless innings, picking up the victory.
Kershaw couldn't go deeper because he threw in Game 5 of the NLDS on Thursday. Sure, the workload was akin to a side session -- that's why he was able to start in Game 2 -- but those were some very high-stress pitches and that's not the same as throwing a bullpen in an empty stadium.
So Kershaw's postseason ERA drops to 4.39, which is still a far cry from where he sits in the regular season, but he looked every bit the Kershaw we're used to seeing on this night and it would be surprising if the Cubs knocked him around next time he pitches in this series (if there is a next time and I'm 99.9 percent sure there will be one).
2. Kershaw did end on a close call
With a runner on base and the Cubs trailing the Dodgers 1-0 in the seventh, Baez sent a two-out shot to deep center and it landed safely in Joc Pederson's glove while he stood on the warning track. It wasn't that close to a homer, but Kershaw's reaction off the bat was a bit of "oh crap, don't do this to me now."
3. It was an excellent two-way duel as well
Kershaw was, of course, opposed by NL Cy Young candidate Kyle Hendricks. How good was this billing on paper?
From Elias: Kershaw (1.69 ERA) vs Hendricks (2.13). Last postseason duel of 2 starters with ERAs that low? Bob Gibson vs Denny McLain in '68— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 16, 2016
It lived up. Mostly.
Hendricks wasn't as sharp as Kershaw, but that's hardly an insult. He only gave up three hits and one run in 5 1/3 innings. Why the quick hook? Because Kershaw was dealing and Cubs manager Joe Maddon knew they couldn't afford to allow another run to have a shot at winning the game.
The other reason was Hendricks was uncharacteristically wild. After a beautiful first in which it looked like he might have shutout stuff, Hendricks struggled with strikes. He fell behind to hitters often and ended up walking four. He only walked five in the final month of the season (31 IP). The last time he walked four in a game was on June 24 and it only happened twice all season.
Overall, though, the starters delivered. Also consider their competition from the bats. Kershaw is a lefty, as we know, and the Cubs were the best NL team against left-handers this season by some metrics. Likewise, the Dodgers were the best NL team against right-handed pitching (Hendricks is a righty, for those unaware) by some measures.
So not only did the pitchers throw well against capable offenses, they did so in the face of those offenses' strengths.
4. The lone run was a home run
You hear so much from the old schoolers about small ball and manufacturing runs in close games, but more often than not in these close postseason games, the difference is a home run. It's the easiest possible way to score when the pitchers aren't going to allow a string of hits. One swing is always easier than three or four.
On this night, it took this excellent piece of hitting from Adrian Gonzalez:
That's not a mistake pitch. It's Gonzalez staying through the away pitch and driving it hard, slightly to the opposite field. Outstanding approach and execution.
5. No, that shouldn't have been an infield fly rule
This happened to end the top of the sixth inning after Hendricks was pulled with two baserunners on:
That's nothing more than a heads-up play by Baez, as he continues to show his ability to be good at almost everything this postseason. Of course, I still had people on Twitter after the game trying to "prove" that infield fly rule should have been called. In a shocking development, they were Dodgers fans.
First of all, in the infield fly rule definition, it says "not a line drive" when discussing that it must be a fly ball. Line drives don't have to be hit hard, guys. The fly ball definition says "high into the air." Would any reasonable person say that ball was "high?"
Next up, there's a portion of the rule that says a player cannot intentionally drop a line drive. Such as a liner is smoked right at a player and won't be hitting the ground any time soon, but it hits his mitt and he realizes the situation and drops it. No, contact isn't required, but taking a ball off the short hop (you can even say "letting it drop" if it makes you feel better) isn't dropping the ball. If an outfielder decides to pull up and let a fly ball drop, he didn't drop the ball. There's a difference.
If the Dodgers fans who think this call was botched would have been happy with an infield fly rule call had Baez missed the ball and seen it go through his legs, well, they are lying. They would have been livid. That pretty well sums it up, right?
All that should be said about that play is:
- Good job, Baez
- What in the world were you doing, Adrian Gonzalez?
6. Aroldis Chapman has pitched in every game this postseason
The Cubs' closer is, for lack of a better term, a mercenary this season. He's a free agent after the year and all indications are that the Cubs will let him walk. So why not just use him every chance they get? He's now thrown 5 1/3 innings in six appearances. He's struck out nine, but allowed four hits and two walks. He's been good but not untouchable.
Expect the trend of him being used heavily to continue, though all three games in L.A. would probably be a bit surprising.
7. Kershaw could come back on short rest for Game 5
He only threw 84 pitches and the Dodgers have shown they aren't scared with having him come back one day early in the postseason. Every scenario checks out.
If the Dodgers are down 3-1, they need Kershaw to stave off elimination.
If it's 2-2, Kershaw could get them a 3-2 lead with two games to go.
If it's 3-1 Dodgers, they could close the Cubs out at home. Plus, if the Cubs come back to force a Game 7 in this scenario, Kershaw is available out of the bullpen.
Something to keep in mind here as the postseason rolls on is that due to Kershaw's extended absence with the back injury, he only threw 149 innings in the regular season. He's way lower than his arm is used to in a calendar year.
8. The Cubs are still fine
When you enter a series against the Dodgers, the Kershaw starts can generally be assumed to be going the Dodgers' way. I know that hasn't happened much in his career to this point, but he's always capable of doing what he did on Sunday night.
As such, it you're looking at Game 2 and 5 as the losses, the Cubs need to win four of the other five. They took care of business in Game 1 and could very well take Games 3 and 4. They'd then need to win just one of the final three games of the series to advance to the World Series.
9. So are the Dodgers
You go on the road to face a 103-win team, what are you looking for? A split. The Dodgers got their split with the win in Game 2. Stealing Game 1, which they almost did, would have been gravy. They didn't have to get both, they only had to get one and they got it. Mission accomplished. And now they head home for Games 3-5 in Dodger Stadium.
So, wait? Both teams should be happy?
I'm not necessarily saying that. I'd only say "happy" when the series is over and won, but there can be a contentment in the two games played so far and each team has a reason to be feeling very good about itself. For the Dodgers, they play very well at home and got a road win. For the Cubs, they haven't lost three in a row since the All-Star break and they have at least two games without Kershaw starting coming up.
Basically, it's still a five-game series for the chance to go to the World Series. The Dodgers haven't been since 1988 and the Cubs haven't been since 1945. Anyone interested in seeing that?