The Dodgers have a chance to head home with an even National League Championship Series, but will have to do something against the Cubs in Game 2 at Wrigley Field on Sunday night that they haven’t done in 28 years — win an NLCS game on the road.
Saturday night’s loss to the Cubs was the Dodgers’ ninth straight LCS loss on the road, the longest such streak in MLB history, which for these purposes dates back to 1969 and the advent of divisional play.
Before Saturday, there were three losses to the Cardinals in St. Louis in the 2013 NLCS, three losses to the Phillies in Philadelphia in the 2009 NLCS, and two losses in Philadelphia in 2008.
The last time the Dodgers won an NLCS game on the road was in Game 5 against the Mets in 1988, thanks in large part to this three-run home run by Kirk Gibson:
It is relatively normal for a game with Clayton Kershaw on the mound to feature the major league leader in ERA. But in Game 2, that isn’t Kershaw, but rather Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs, who at 2.13 was nearly a third of an earned run better than the No. 2 finisher, Game 1 starter Jon Lester.
Kershaw led the majors in ERA from 2011-14, the first pitcher in history to do so for four consecutive seasons, then fell to third place in 2015 with a 2.13 ERA. Kershaw had the lowest ERA again in 2016 at 1.69, but thanks to missing 10 weeks with a herniated disc in his back fell 13 innings shy of qualifying for the ERA title.
*side note: had Kershaw pitched 13 more innings he could have allowed 10 more earned runs and still finished with the best ERA in baseball.
Kershaw starts Game 2 five days after his last start, which was on short rest, but it’s hard to consider this outing a normal regular rest start since Kershaw also mixed in a NLDS-clinching save on his throw day, retiring the final two batters to close out the Nationals on Thursday in Game 5.
The Dodgers waited to see how Kershaw felt after recovering from his Thursday outing to officially name him Game 2 starter on Sunday. Not that it was a difficult decision.
"If he feels good, then it's a no-brainer, it's just more of just getting assurance that he feels good physically, which he does," manager Dave Roberts said on Saturday. "So it's one of those things, obviously, when you get a chance for Clayton to pitch Games 2 and potentially 6, that's a good thing for us and, yeah, it's full go."
Kershaw threw only seven pitches against the Nationals, but there is also the factor of the adrenalin of pitching in the game, plus the pitches he threw warming up when comparing that outing to what otherwise might have been an ordinary between-starts bullpen session.
"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 Saturday. " I'm not going in with any restrictions. There's no excuses at this point. So we're just going in trying to get a win."
There was some doubt surround Hendricks because he left his Game 2 start in the NLDS in the fourth inning after getting struck by a line drive on his right forearm. But X-rays were negative and he was cleared to pitch, with a right forearm contusion.
"[There was] definitely a little concern. Anytime something happens to your arm, your throwing arm, it's not ideal," Hendricks told reporters on Saturday. "So, once I came out, once X-rays were negative, I felt a lot better about it. I knew it was going to be a bad bruise type of thing, get through a couple days and it wouldn't be a problem."
NLCS Game 2 info
Cubs lead Dodgers, 1-0
Time: 5:08 p.m. PT
TV: Fox Sports 1 (Joe Buck, John Smoltz, Ken Rosenthal)
Local radio: 570 AM (Charley Steiner and Rick Monday)
National radio: ESPN Radio (Dan Shulman, Aaron Boone)