Dave McCullough recaps Game 1 of the NLDS between Los Angeles and Washington in which Justin Turner powered the Dodgers past the Nationals.
On paper, there was no better Game 1 pitching matchup than the two Cy Young candidates facing off in the Dodgers-Nationals game: Clayton Kershaw – quite possibly the best pitcher on the planet, and the possible winner of the NL Cy Young award – dueling with Max Scherzer, himself a former Cy Young winner and the National League’s winningest pitcher this season. However, this game only featured the marquee attractions for short outings, as both managers looked at the schedule and moved to keep their aces fresh for later playoff appearances.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts pulled Kershaw after just five innings. The ace had yielded eight hits and three runs, walking one and striking out seven. In the bottom of the third Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper reached base and potential MVP candidate Anthony Rendon delivered them home with a single to left field. Then in the bottom of the fourth, centerfielder Trea Turner plated Pedro Severino with a sacrifice fly. Kershaw departed with the lead after the fifth.
The Dodgers earned that lead via a home run by likely Rookie of the Year winner, and MVP candidate, Corey Seager in the first inning off Scherzer. The Dodgers then plated three more in the top of the third, first with a Chase Utley single that scored Andrew Toles, and then with a two-run blast by third baseman Justin Turner. Scherzer settled down after that and plowed through the sixth inning, ending up a with a final line of four runs allowed on five hits, no walks, and five strikeouts.
Nationals manager Dusty Baker sent three consecutive pinch hitters to the plate in the eighth inning, while Roberts countered with his closer, Kenley Jansen to face the last of these: Chris Heisey. Jansen struck out the pinch hitter to quell the threat in the 8th.
Baker went to his closer, Mark Melancon, in the ninth while trailing by a run. He quickly set down Charlie Culberson and Joc Pederson, but allowed a Yasmani Grandal single to right field. Howie Kendrick then singled up the middle, prompting Grandal to test Trea Turner’s arm in center field by going first to third. The catcher made it safely and Kendrick smartly advanced to second on the throw, forcing Baker (and Melancon) to walk the next hitter – Yasiel Puig – to bring Jansen to the plate with the bases loaded and two down. Needing his closer to finish off the game, Roberts sent his pitcher up to bat, where he promptly struck out.
In the bottom of the ninth Jansen needed to retire Turner, Harper, and Werth. He began the inning throwing 95 mph gas to the Nats rookie. Down 0-2 Jansen elevated his fastball to eye-level, and Turner chased the pitch up and out of zone, striking out. With one down, Harper strode to the plate. Last year’s NL MVP had a tough season, struggling with injuries most of the year, but he brought with him a 3-for-7 lifetime record against Jansen. However, he was quickly down 0-2 and fouled off a blazing fastball before lacing a hard liner right at Utley for the second out of the inning. Werth then strode to the plate and took a ball and a strike, seeking to make Jansen work a bit. However, Jansen then busted Werth inside, inducing a foul pop up, putting the count at 1-2. Werth then just missed a hittable fastball, fouling it straight back over the catcher’s shoulder. Having thrown 25 pitches, Jansen had shown no wildness – everything was hard, and in the zone. Werth battled off two more fireballs, just missing the sweet spot and drilling them foul, keeping the count at 1-2. Finally, Jansen went to the hook, and Werth swung through it, ending the game.
Both managers operated in this game with an eye on the remainder of the series. By lifting their aces early – Kershaw threw 101 pitches in his five innings, while Scherzer tossed just 91 on the evening – both clubs are positioned to bring back their best pitcher on short rest. In a best-of-five series, having a rested and ready ace for Game 5 – or maybe in relief in a tight Game 4? – gives both Roberts and Baker tons of options for the rest of the series.