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Los Angeles Dodgers: Game Two Keys to Victory

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IOctober 8, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 07:  Pitcher Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers answers questions during a pregame news conference before the Dodgers take on the St. Louis Cardinals in Game One of the NLDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Dodger Stadium on October 7, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kershaw is scheduled to start game two. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Dodgers captured a 5-3 Game One victory over the St. Louis Cardinals last night.

Matt Kemp keyed the effort with a first-inning, two-run home run that ignited the Dodgers offense early and set the tone for the evening.

The game saw the teams combine to leave 30 men on base, a record for a nine-inning playoff game.

Both teams will make a quick turnaround, as they play at 3 p.m. Pacific Time today, after last night’s game went three hours and 54 minutes, the longest nine-inning NLDS game ever.

It is imperative for the Dodgers to win Game Two and take a 2-0 series lead back to St. Louis, and in order for the Dodgers to do so, they must achieve these three keys to victory.

1) Clayton Kershaw must pitch into the sixth inning.

When the 21-year-old takes the mound today, he will be the 11th-youngest player ever to start a game in the playoffs.

But don't let the age fool you, because Kershaw is mentally fit to shoulder the load. 

Manager Joe Torre compared Kershaw's mental toughness to another youngster he used to coach: Derek Jeter.  Torre says that Kershaw is always in command on the mound, and the determination to give his team an A+ effort is second to none. 

Kershaw will need all of that toughness this afternoon, but fortunately, the numbers are on his side.  He is 2-2 with a 1.89 ERA in his career against the Cardinals, but as Chris Carpenter displayed last night, career numbers can be thrown out the window in October.

Despite an ERA of 2.31 over his final 11 starts, Kershaw went winless and notched three losses in that span.

The key to his success tonight will be navigating into the sixth inning or later.

He averaged 4.8 walks per nine innings during the regular season, and that number will have to come down if he expects to work late into the game.  

He led the Majors with a .200 opponents batting average against during the regular season, so if he can just avoid issuing needless walks it will keep the pressure off of him, and also keep him in the windup.

2) Rafael Furcal must continue his torrid hot streak.

After hitting safely in 22 of his final 24 games, with a .350 average over that stretch, Furcal kept his momentum going and went three-for-four in Game One.

He also stole six bases in his final 14 games, lifting his season total to 12.  This is a great indicator that his surgically-repaired back is feeling healthy, and it provides the Dodgers with an increased threat at the top of the lineup.

For one reason or another, he wears out Cardinals starter Wainwright, as Furcal is 7-for-16 in his career against Wainwright.

3) Andre Ethier must drive in a run.

Not only is Ethier 5-for-16 in his career against Wainwright, but Wainwright also struggles mightily against left-handed hitters, as lefties batted .275 against the man who led the Majors with 19 wins this season.

He went 2-for-4 last night, and appeared to be seeing the ball very well.

That comes as no surprise, because when Ethier is at home, he dominates. In fact, he set a record with 22 home runs at Dodgers Stadium this season, the most in one season by a left-handed hitter ever.  

Even though Manny Ramirez has struggled down the stretch, he still commands attention from the opposing pitcher. This, in turn, allows Ethier to see more fastballs early in the count and gives him an opportunity to drive a pitch into the gaps.

If Furcal does his job at the top of the lineup, the responsibility falls on Ethier to bring him around.

But Wainwright is holding opposing hitters to a .209 average with runners in scoring position, and after leaving 16 men on base last night, Ethier needs to lead the charge by driving in runs when the situation arises. 

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