Clayton Kershaw will make the 26th start and 33rd appearance of his rocky postseason career in Game 2 of the wild-card round against the Milwaukee Brewers on Thursday. He’ll take the mound fresh off a bounceback 2020 regular season.
His stuff, notably his velocity, improved from the previous two years. His 2.16 ERA was seventh among pitchers who logged at least 50 innings. He was the Dodgers’ ace. How does he explain the rejuvenation? Did it all come down to being healthy? He says he doesn’t exactly know.
“I wish I had an answer,” Kershaw said. “I'd be able to repeat it better. But I'm hopeful some of the things I've done because I've been kind of beat up in the past have prepared me to kind of maintain what I've got going on right now."
Kershaw carries a baffling 4.43 ERA in nine previous postseasons. His last appearance, in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS against the Washington Nationals, was a disaster. He’ll look to turn the tide Thursday 12 years after making his playoff debut as a reliever in 2008 NLCS. His advice for 20-year-old Clayton?
“I think just trying to trust what you've done to be there, I guess, would be the main [advice],” Kershaw said. “I think maybe at the very early on, you might not trust, necessarily, the work you've put in or the success you've had before and you maybe lose some faith or some confidence.
"So just try to remember that the process and the routine that's got you here is good enough to get people out in the regular season or the postseason.”
Gavin Lux out, Keibert Ruiz on the roster
Last season, Gavin Lux hit a home run in his first career playoff at-bat. This year, the rookie infielder was left off the team’s wild-card roster after a disappointing 2020 campaign.
“It could certainly change next series,” manager Dave Roberts said of Lux, who hit only .175 with three home runs in 19 games. “He's a really good player. But the lack of experience coming off the bench, I just don't think it was best for him, right now.”
Other notable absences on the team’s 28-man wild card squad were pitchers Alex Wood and Dylan Floro, roster casualties for a best-of-three series that didn’t call for an abundance of pitchers.
“Alex and Flo, some of it was matchup driven, some of it was we just don't really need the extra arms and we went with the position players,” said Roberts, who described his conversation with Floro, who had a 2.59 ERA this season, as being a “very difficult one.”
“A lot of times, I sit here and talk about ‘performance matters,’” Roberts added. “But in this case, ultimately, he performed and still doesn’t have the opportunity. I do look forward to him, shall we advance, to be on rosters. He was upset and he had every right to be upset.”
Utility infielder Matt Beaty, baserunning specialist Terrance Gore and third catcher Keibert Ruiz were added to the roster.
'Airbender' takes a seat
Williams might have been baseball’s best reliever this season, going 4-1 with an 0.33 ERA in 22 games, striking out 53 in 27 innings. His 17.67 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate in a 60-game season tied Aroldis Chapman (2014 Reds) for the best season mark in baseball history.
“To finally contribute and help us get to this point, to not be able to help at all now, and to be stuck on the bench, is really crushing, honestly,” said Williams, a 26-year-old rookie. “But there’s no sense in dwelling on it."
Williams features a 97-mph fastball and an 84-mph changeup — known as the “Airbender” — that fades down and away from left-handed batters. He gave up one run all season and held opponents to an .090 average and .339 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
“It’s unfortunate, for sure,” fellow reliever Eric Yardley said. “It’s hard to replace, what, 25 scoreless innings? It wasn’t even video-game numbers, it was just completely stupid all year.”
With ace Corbin Burnes (4-1, 2.11 ERA) out because of an oblique strain and left-hander Brett Anderson out because of a blister on his pitching hand, the eighth-seeded Brewers were counting on Williams, left-hander Josh Hader and the rest of their relievers to cover the bulk of the innings against the Dodgers.
Austin Barnes to start Game 2
Staff writer Jack Harris contributed to this report.