Dave Roberts had a decision to make. The Dodgers found themselves in a win-or-go-home Game 4 and Kenta Maeda had given a poor, three-inning effort in Game 3 which burned a total of seven bullpen arms. Julio Urias, the talented but still raw rookie lefty was slated to start Game 4, but Roberts took a gamble and decided to start Clayton Kershaw on short rest.
A back-and-forth struggle ensued with each side wrestling away the lead before the Dodgers took it for good in the eighth inning on the back of Chase Utley.
Some notes from Los Angeles' win …
• Joe Ross struggled
The Nationals earned Ross an early 1-0 lead that he proceeded to give up on a missed spot turned into a massive shot by Adrian Gonzalez. Ross’ struggles against the heart of the Dodgers' lineup metastasized in the third where he lost command of his stuff and was pulled after allowing two runs in the inning. The short outing stretched the Nationals’ bullpen thin, but Oliver Perez worked his way out of Ross’ mess in the third and proceeded to provide a quality appearance.
• Kershaw at the edges
Whether it’s fair or not, the baddest pitcher breathing is dogged for his perceived inability to come up big in the postseason. Early in his start it seemed as though that reputation would continue to hang over him. Kershaw showed a lot of rust in a brutal, 27-pitch first inning in which he had fits with his command, stuff, and pitch economy on a night when the Dodgers needed him to go deep into the game.
Kershaw escaped the first inning with only giving up one run and proceeded to rebound in a big way, first by pitching an extremely economical second inning and then by finding the feel for his curve. Kershaw was vintage for five innings, mixing in all of his pitches, generating swings and misses, and finishing the evening with 11 strikeouts. Kershaw struggled to find the zone again in his final frame, as his command left him. Bryce Harper worked a long plate appearance against Kershaw which resulted in a walk that loaded the bases with two outs. The lefty was lifted for the Pedro Baez and the Dodgers' bullpen. Which …
• The Dodgers' bullpen fails Kershaw (again)
Baez hit Jayson Werth, which forced in a run, and he was summarily lifted after one pitch. Luis Avilan came in and gave up a single to Daniel Murphy, which tied the game. Joe Blanton came in and stabilized the situation, but the damage had already been done with Kershaw’s impressive start going up in smoke.
• Utley comes up big
Blake Trienan recorded two quick outs to start the eighth inning before he hit Andrew Toles with a pitch. Andre Ethier, who pinch-hit for the clearly above-average Joe Blanton, followed with a single. Dusty Baker, who has managed a helluva series, made a curious decision in leaving in Trienan instead of going to left-hander Sammy Solis to face Utley. Utley singled to right, scoring Toles, and the Dodgers would hold onto the lead.
• Blanton and Kenley Jansen redeem the Dodgers' ‘pen
Blanton put out the fire that Baez and Avilan doused in gasoline, bridging important and high-leverage innings to Jansen. Jansen came in and pitched a dominant ninth, sealing up the Dodgers win and forcing a Game 5.
Much like the series itself, Game 4 felt like it was won and lost several times over before the final conclusion was cemented. Early Kershaw struggles cast a blue pall over Dodgerland. Ross struggling to maintain a lead and lasting only three innings, paired with Kershaw finding his dominant self, created doubt in the nation’s capital. The Dodgers' pen imploded, giving the Nationals the lead, and then the Nationals blew a lead of their own. And so, with a seesaw penultimate contest the stage is set for Game 5, where Max Scherzer and Rich Hill will meet.
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