Winning the final two games of a best-of-7 series on the road is a tall task, but the Dodgers have their best man on the case for the first of those two. Clayton Kershaw gets the start on Friday night in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, in rematch of Game 2 against Michael Wacha and the Cardinals.
Kershaw went to high school in Highland Park, Texas, roughly 181 miles from Wacha's high school, Pleasant Grove in Texarkana. Wacha also went to Texas A&M, where Kershaw committed three years earlier but didn't go because he signed out of high school with the Dodgers.
"A lot of power arms, it seems like, coming out of Texas. I don't know what it is," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said on Thursday. "I don't know if it was growing up and watching Nolan Ryan and watching Roger Clemens and those are the guys you want to be like, but it seems a lot of the guys that come out of there are really accomplished, aggressive, big, strong power guys."
Kershaw has been effective with his other pitches, specifically the slider and curve, examined by Alex Skillin at Beyond the Box Score:
During his first start against the Cardinals last Saturday, Kershaw stuck to the same type of strategy he used during the regular season, throwing his slider 36 times and his curve on 24 occasions. The results were there—14 whiffs and just 12 balls put in play over 60 total pitches—even if the Dodgers ended up losing.
Wacha peppered the Dodgers with an average fastball of 95.2 mph, topping out at 98.7 in Game 2, per Brooks Baseball, but his changeup is the pitch to watch. Cliff Corcoran described Wacha's arsenal for Sports Illustrated:
Wacha accomplishes all of this with three pitches, a mid-90s fastball, an upper-80s changeup and a mid-70s curve. Of those three, the changeup is the monster, typically resulting in either a swing-and-miss or a groundball. In fact, per the data at BrooksBaseball.net, of the 47 changeups Wacha has thrown in his two starts this postseason, only six have been put in play, and those six all resulted in ground balls. It seems the best strategy against Wacha’s changeup is to take it and hope it’s a ball, something hitters have managed to do 15 times in his last two starts.
The Dodgers are expected to have both Hanley Ramirez and Andre Ethier in the lineup for Game 6, something they didn't have in Game 2. But at what effectiveness, especially with Ramirez, who was moving gingerly at the plate and in the field in all three games at Dodger Stadium. He scratched together a couple of hits in Game 3, but struck out four times and hit two weak ground balls in the next two games.
Mattingly is hoping the rest, over 48 hours between games, will help Ramirez.
"I'm hoping this gives him a little bit of relief. But I do think it's something that until he stops actually trying to swing a bat and twist and things like that, this thing's not going to fully heal," Mattingly said. "Since I feel like he's going to continue to play like this, hopefully it's getting a little bit better. He's not doing something that it's all of a sudden going to get worse."
Of the 12 teams in MLB history to win a best-of-7 series after trailing 3-1, four have done so by winning the final two games on the road: 1958 Yankees (in Milwaukee), 1968 Tigers (in St. Louis), 1985 Royals (in Toronto), 2003 Marlins (in Chicago) and 2004 Red Sox (in New York).
But they can't win Game 7 without winning Game 6. With Kershaw on the mound, it's hard for the Dodgers not to feel confident.
Game 6 info
Time: 5:37 p.m.