NEW YORK -- Given their druthers, of course, the Los Angeles Dodgers would rather be up two games to one with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke standing at the end of the line, two golden chances to punch the Dodgers' ticket to the next stage of this nerve punishment known as the MLB playoffs.
Come to think of it, they’d really like to be up three games to none. That would be ideal.
But teams have been in far more desperate straits than these and have advanced. The Dodgers need to win two games with, arguably, the two best pitchers in the game standing in the way of an offseason that could be, as it was last year, one bad pitch away.
In 2014, that bad pitch was Kershaw's hanging curveball to Matt Adams in Game 4 in St. Louis. Will he remain stuck in the endless feedback loop of playoff failure, even when it’s not entirely his failure, or will he break through tomorrow and save the Dodgers' season for at least two more days, until Greinke gets a chance to close it out in L.A.?
As tense as the Dodgers clubhouse was after Tuesday’s interminable 13-7 loss to the New York Mets, in which the Dodgers proved yet again that they are exceedingly vulnerable when one of their aces is not on the mound, they took solace that one of those aces will be on it Tuesday and, maybe, Thursday.
It’s probably worth mentioning an oft-cited number here: The Dodgers were 43-22 when Kershaw and Greinke started and 49-48 when anyone else did. The way their Nos. 3 and 4 starters, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood, looked Monday, it’s a wonder they weren’t 12-85 in the non-Kershaw/Greinke portion of their schedule.
Yes, it’s down to Kershaw and Greinke again, but with Madison Bumgarner employed elsewhere, that’s not so bad, is it?
“You always feel good when you’ve got that big two-headed monster in there,” Yasmani Grandal said. “We’ll go with Kersh tomorrow, and we’ll go with Greinke the next day. They’ve been doing it for us all year and, if we’re going to go down, we’re going to go down with our two horses.”
Not that Monday was a particularly uplifting day for the Dodgers, who watched their 3-0 lead be brushed aside like a little fence of toothpicks and watched the Mets’ best hitter, Yoenis Cespedes, get that dangerous twinkle in his eye. That’s why for every declaration of optimism such as Grandal’s, there was also one of frustration, such as Justin Turner’s.
Reporters kept trying to cheer Turner up by reminding him Kershaw is pitching Tuesday, and Turner kept declining to take it and run with it.
“It’s must-win tomorrow. That’s all there is to it: Win tomorrow,” Turner said while staring straight ahead. “It doesn’t matter who it is. We win tomorrow -- that’s all that matters.”
Of course, there is the matter of Kershaw’s six straight losses and 4.99 ERA in the postseason, but the Dodgers will continue to take their chances by rolling him out in big games. Besides, this is an entirely new experience for most of these Mets. It’s hard to win a close-out game and, whatever happens, Kershaw probably isn’t going to leave pitches in as many hittable spots as Anderson and Wood did Monday.
The Mets saw this coming all along. Nobody was buying that Wood was going to start Tuesday’s game.
“He’s tough, but he’s coming back on short rest,” Mets manager Terry Collins said. “I don’t know how long a leash he’s going to have, but we’ve got to make him work, as we did the other day in Los Angeles. That’s the only way. When you face him, you’d better hunt and peck, and you’d better hit it. If he’s on, he’s real tough.”
The three days’ rest thing is probably overblown. Two of Kershaw’s best postseason starts were on short rest, though neither lasted more than six innings. There’s no reason Kershaw can’t be effective Tuesday. It would help if the Dodgers could score some runs for him this time. They’ll be facing a young left-hander with good stuff, Steven Matz, but Matz hasn’t pitched in a major league game since Sept. 24.
Essentially, Tuesday will be a nice contrast between short rest and extremely long rest. Neither one is ideal.
“Whenever the adrenaline is going through your body, especially in the playoffs, you’re not going to be on the mound going, ‘Oh dang, I only have three days rest,’" Dodgers reliever Luis Avilan said. “Especially not Clayton Kershaw. He works harder than anybody in baseball.”
The Dodgers will have to monitor Kershaw closely Tuesday, and manager Don Mattingly might have to get somebody up more quickly than he did a year ago, when in a span of eight pitches, Kershaw went from pitching a shutout to giving up three runs and sending everybody back across the country in a sour mood to stew on for the rest of the winter.
It’s not as if Kershaw is ever going to look to the dugout for help.
“I’ll never admit that I’m tired, you know,” Kershaw said before the game. “That’s what you work for.”