The Los Angeles Dodgers came into Tuesday with their first match point in the National League West race, if you can call it that. A win against the Arizona Diamondbacks would give Dave Roberts’ team their division crown back, after a one-year hiatus.
The clincher was a 4-0 win at Chase Field that game the Dodgers their ninth division title in 10 years.
Fittingly, the only pitcher on the staff who’s been a part of this successful, 10-year run was on the mound for this clincher. Did anyone expect anything less than an absolutely vintage Clayton Kershaw performance out in the desert?
The three-time Cy Young winner, making his third start since a return from the injured list, looked untouchable for basically the entire night and even got a little extra juice going to take care of his known nemesis, Christian Walker, pumping his hardest pitch of the year with a couple of fastballs at 93 miles per hour.
An Arizona offense that came in hot following a 12-run output on Colorado on Sunday quickly realized that the hole was a little deeper against this Dodgers’ pitching staff.
Tyler Anderson led a shutout performance on the opener with seven strong innings, and his fellow southpaw followed it up without a hitch. Dave Roberts was even able to preserve Kershaw’s arm a bit, as the former MVP completed seven innings with only 82 pitches, allowing a couple of singles, and a first-inning walk.
With this outing, Kershaw lowered his season ERA to 2.44, and also got over that 100-innings tally for 2022. In a season with some uncertainty about how this rotation will look like in the postseason, it is extremely encouraging to see the big left-hander back and healthy for a deep October run.
On the offensive side, everyone wanted to get in on the fun
It was Joey Gallo who sort of put to bed early on, any second-guessing about this team’s ability to clinch the division in their first try, as the Dodgers’ left-fielder showed off his power with a mammoth of a two-run home run, that traveled 438 ft. to right-center.
Freddie Freeman saw that blast from Gallo and added another four feet with this leadoff bomb in the third inning, traveling 442 feet over the pool in right-center.
Max Muncy didn’t quite hit the moonshot of the previous two sluggers, but also went deep in the seventh inning to continue his second-half surge, and also match Freeman’s 20th homer in the year.
Those three bombs, plus Kershaw’s masterful performance probably made this whole night seemed a lot more casual than it was, with what’s in the end not the biggest of leads, even though it felt like it with the Diamondbacks failing to muster a single extra-base hit against the Dodgers’ starter.
This sense of security really came in play as soon as Kershaw left the mound. Dave Roberts went to Caleb Ferguson and after a couple of the first three batters reached base, the Diamondbacks all of a sudden found themselves with the tying run on deck, and their first at-bat with a runner in scoring position, luckily a double play came just at the right time to end the frame and keep this a smooth game through and through.
Of the many lessons that last year taught this team, perhaps one of the biggest ones was that none of this should be taken for granted. Regardless of how great you are on paper, and even how great you play through the year, a division title isn’t guaranteed, and it’s an accomplishment that should be celebrated.
In the past few seasons prior to 2021, the celebration of the division title had become a little more subdued, and perhaps one of the silver linings of last year, was to appreciate this more, all while understanding it is far from the final goal, and there is plenty of work ahead.
The Dodgers will now play to clinch the first seed in the NL and all of baseball, before getting ready and healthy for the NLDS.
Home runs: Joey Gallo (17), Freddie Freeman (20), Max Muncy (20)
WP — Clayton Kershaw (8-3): 7 innings, 2 hits, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts
LP — Merrill Kelly (12-6): 5 innings, 5 hits, 3 runs, 5 walks, 8 strikeouts
The Dodgers now go for the series sweep, with Michael Grove taking the ball on Wednesday night (6:40 p.m., SportsNet LA), against the veteran Zack Davies.