Clayton Kershaw Dominates Braves to Give Dodgers Commanding 2-0 Series Lead

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistOctober 6, 2018

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 05:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after retiring the side during the sixth inning against the Atlanta Braves during Game Two of the National League Division Series at Dodger Stadium on October 5, 2018 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Atlanta Braves 3-0 at Dodger Stadium on Friday night to take a commanding 2-0 lead in the National League Division Series. 

Clayton Kershaw was masterful on the mound, allowing just two hits across eight innings. Kershaw threw only 85 pitches as the Braves' bats were silenced for a second straight game. 

The Dodgers, meanwhile, had their offense buoyed by a two-run home run from Manny Machado in the first inning and a solo jack off the bat of Yasmani Grandal in the fifth.

                     

Kershaw Continues to Exorcise Playoff Demons with Dominant Game 2

Fair or not, Kershaw has been dogged for years by a narrative that he isn't reliable in the postseason. 

And sure, there have been ugly moments along the way that leant credence to chatter about his shaky second-season demeanor. But if recent history has been any indication, it's hard to view Kershaw as some kind of playoff liability.

One year after the southpaw went 3-0 with a 3.82 ERA across six postseason appearances (five starts), he picked up where he left off and made light work of Atlanta's lineup with a brilliant and efficient effort in Game 2. 

And no, it wasn't a start dominated by overpowering stuff. That isn't Kershaw's M.O. anymore now that his fastball is barely eclipsing 90 mph on average, per FanGraphs.

However, the three-time Cy Young Award winner was brilliant in other ways and induced weak contact all night long to frustrate a Braves lineup that ranked fourth among all clubs in hits. 

"I don't care how you get the outs," Kershaw told ESPN.com's Alden Gonzalez in September. "It doesn't matter to me how bad it looks, how good it looks, how many strikeouts you have. None of that stuff matters as long as you get the outs."

The result of that mindset? The longest postseason outing of Kershaw's career and, more importantly, a reminder that L.A. has the National League's most dangerous rotation.  

Braves' Lineup Showing Youth with Impatience at Plate

The Braves didn't record a single extra-base hit in Thursday night's Game 1 loss, and the results weren't much prettier Friday. 

Although Ronald Acuna Jr. led off the game with a double, that was the only real damage any Braves batter did against Kershaw. 

In fact, Kershaw retired 14 straight batters after Acuna's double before Ender Inciarte reached on an infield single with two outs in the top of the fifth inning. 

Compounding matters was that Atlanta simply didn't make L.A.'s ace work. While the Braves ranked a respectable 12th in weighted on-base average (.319) during the regular season, per FanGraphs, they were consumed by impatience and made life easy for the Dodgers as they hacked away at pitches early in the count and allowed Kershaw to produce quick outs. 

As a result, the Braves offense is in a free-fall. 

And according to ESPN's Sarah Langs, they are the first team since the 1921 New York Giants to open a postseason series with back-to-back scoreless appearances. 

The Braves should be a force to be reckoned with in the National League for quite some time given the quality of their young core, but they are going to have to deal with a couple of sobering setbacks on the game's biggest stage before they can make another leap. 

Buehler Can Become Household Name with Big Performance in Decisive Game 3

It's hard to grab headlining honors in the Dodgers rotation with Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu dealing, but Walker Buehler will have a chance to make himself a household name in Game 3. 

Just 24 years old, Buehler cemented himself as a core piece of L.A.'s starting staff this season as he rebounded from a forgettable 9.1 innings in 2017 to go 8-5 with a 2.62 ERA and 4.08 strikeout-to-walk rate. 

"If it wasn't for Walker, we probably wouldn't be here in this situation right now," second basemen Enrique Hernandez said, per ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle"He's been huge."

Still, the hype has yet to reach a fever pitch. 

That can all change, though, if he rolls into hostile territory and leads the Dodgers to a sweep in Game 3.

Some rejuvenated Braves bats will likely greet Buehler in Atlanta, but the opportunity will present itself for him to produce what is sure to be the first of many signature moments. 

What's Next? 

The series shifts to SunTrust Park in Atlanta as the Dodgers aim to punch their ticket to the NLCS. Game 3 will get underway Sunday at 8:07 p.m. ET.  

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