Dodgers manager Dave Roberts on Saturday didn’t explicitly say that Clayton Kershaw would start Game 1 of the National League Division Series. But he made it clear that that’s how things are lined up, which would be the 12th career Game 1 start for the iconic left-hander now in his 16th major league season.
The Dodgers will open the NLDS at Dodger Stadium, hosting the first two games on Saturday, October 7 and Monday, October 9. They will face the winner of the wild card series between the Brewers and the third NL wild card team.
Roberts told reporters in San Francisco that it is “pretty much a no-brainer” Kershaw will start Game 1 of the NLDS, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.
More on that, from Jack Harris at the Los Angeles Times:
“It’s pretty academic,” Roberts said. “I expect him to come out of this feeling well, given his demeanor and how he felt after the game. And if that’s the case, then it seems like pretty much a no-brainer.”
Roberts has said for weeks that Kershaw and Bobby Miller would start the first two games of the Division Series, but before Saturday night had not revealed the order of the rotation.
Kershaw starting Game 1 would be his fourth Saturday start in a row. He’s been given at least five days rest in all eight starts since missing six weeks with left shoulder inflammation, and didn’t pitch into the sixth inning until Saturday in San Francisco, when he allowed two runs in 5⅓ innings, with five strikeouts.
Even with diminished velocity and at times shaky command since returning from the injured list, Kershaw has still prevented runs at an impressive rate, with a 2.23 ERA in 36⅓ innings, with 32 strikeouts but 16 walks.
“Whenever it is, I’m just excited to get to do it,” Kershaw told reporters in San Francisco on Saturday night, per SportsNet LA. “With the way this year kinda went, I didn’t really expect to be in this spot, for a lot of reasons. But it’s here, and if that happens, I’ll be ready.”
“With the way this year kinda went, I didn't really expect to be in the spot for a lot of reasons. But it’s here and if that happens, I’ll be ready.” Clayton Kershaw on opening the series in the playoffs. pic.twitter.com/2B77WBKuNy— SportsNet LA (@SportsNetLA) October 1, 2023
Kershaw’s 12th Game 1 start would tie the major league record co-held by Jon Lester and Justin Verlander, though it’s likely Verlander will add to his total for the Astros at some point next week.
If Kershaw starts next Saturday, it will be the sixth time he starts the Dodgers’ first game of the postseason, having done so every year from 2013-17.
Miller has been groomed for taking on increased responsibility in the postseason, having been pushed deeper into starts for the last two months in preparation for this role. Miller will finish second on the Dodgers in innings pitched despite not pitching in the majors until May 23.
He’s pitched at least six innings in eight of his last nine starts, with 5⅔ innings in the other start. Miller has completed seven innings three times in September; the rest of the staff has only two such games (Ryan Pepiot, Lance Lynn) over the last six weeks.
Miller this season has a 3.89 ERA, 3.53 xERA, and 3.56 FIP in 21 starts, with 115 strikeouts and 31 walks in 120⅓ innings. He fanned a career-high nine batters on Tuesday in Colorado and has a 28.3-percent strikeout rate in September.
A combination of performance and opportunity earned Miller the Game 2 start. The Dodgers lost Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin to elbow surgeries, and Julio Urías was arrested on September 4 and is currently under MLB investigation under the league’s joint domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse policy.
Unsurprisingly, Roberts has not committed to a playoff pitching plan beyond Kershaw and Miller. And he has some time to make those decisions, as the Dodgers will have off days after both Games 1 and 2 of the NLDS. Game 3 of the Division Series isn’t until Wednesday, October 11.