The Dodgers’ third World Series in the last four years starts just like the previous two did. Clayton Kershaw will be on the mound for Game 1 (5:11 p.m. PT, Fox), this time against the Rays on Tuesday night.
The enormity of the Dodgers’ eight-year playoff run, in the era of three — and sometimes four! — postseason rounds, has made Kershaw a constant October presence in our lives.
His prevalence in Dodgers franchise history can be expressed in one stat:
Tied in second place for most postseason starts in Dodgers history are Burt Hooton and Rich Hill, each with 11 starts. Clayton Kershaw, who tops said list, will be making his 11th Game 1 start on Tuesday night.
Kershaw’s 11 Game 1 starts will tie him with Greg Maddux for second all-time in MLB history, one behind Jon Lester.
But the Dodgers aren’t as reliant on Kershaw as they have been in past years. Their playoff chances aren’t torpedoed if he isn’t at his best, like they would have been in the bulk of this eight-year run. He took the loss in his lone appearance in the NLCS, in Game 4, and the Dodgers ended up winning anyway.
This year, Kershaw has been on his game, having his best year in three, or maybe four seasons. In 13 starts, counting the regular season and postseason, Kershaw has a 2.44 ERA with 85 strikeouts and 10 walks in 77⅓ innings. That will play.
Given that ace Walker Buehler started on Saturday (and won’t be available until Game 3 of the World Series), and that the Dodgers’ other three starters all pitched in Sunday’s NLCS finale, Kershaw was the only choice to start Game 1 of the Fall Classic.
“Obviously the timing of things and how we’ve used our starters, but also who he is and what he’s done. It’s the biggest of no-brainers, and to have him start Game 1, something he’s done before, just makes us feel that much better about it.”
There is concern with Kershaw, given that he was scratched last week from a start with back spasms. Kershaw on Monday said his back felt fine, though in fairness he probably would have said the same thing had he been in a full body cast during the media session.
Keeping a shorter leash on Kershaw, if necessary, shouldn’t be as big of a burden on the Dodgers bullpen in the World Series, with two off days built in to the schedule, unlike the seven-day endurance test that was the NLCS.
On the other side, Tyler Glasnow starts for the Rays.
Kershaw and Glasnow have different styles, though both rarely throw a changeup, just 4.7 percent of the time during the regular season for Glasnow, and 0.2 percent for Kershaw (he threw it twice, per Baseball Savant). It’s just that Glasnow’s changeup is nearly the same speed (91.1 mph) as Kershaw’s fastball (91.6), while the right-hander’s fastball averages 96.9 mph.
Here are the numbers for both this postseason, including matching 2-1 records.
Game 1 starters this postseason
It won’t just be Kershaw and Glasnow, of course. The bullpens will be relied upon heavily throughout the series by both teams.
The Dodgers have allowed 3.67 runs per game this postseason, including holding the Braves to seven total runs in the final three games of the NLCS to complete LA’s first 3-1 series comeback. The Rays in their 14 playoff games have allowed 3.50 runs per game. These are the two best marks among all teams that lasted past the wild card round. It’s not a surprise that Los Angeles and Tampa Bay are the last two teams standing.
“I think if you look at an entire staff, there might not be a team in baseball that prevents runs better than those guys,” Roberts said. “You can look at numbers on the surface. But as far as the way they can match up, and really get advantages. They’re all about run prevention.”
When the Rays allow three or fewer runs in the postseason, they are 7-0, but when allowing four or more, Tampa Bay is 2-5. The Dodgers are 8-0 when allowing three or fewer runs, and 1-3 when they don’t.