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Clayton Kershaw stumbles in 9-5 win over Diamondbacks, Dodgers clinch Game 1 of NLDS

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You can add Clayton Kershaw to the list of postseason aces that have dropped the ball this month. The Dodgers’ powerhouse lefty cruised through six innings of three-hit, two-run ball before the Diamondbacks caught up with him, mashing back-to-back home runs in the seventh to spoil his quality start. Luckily, that wasn’t quite enough to sabotage the rest of the Dodgers’ efforts, and they took Game 1 of the NLDS with a 9-5 finish over Arizona.

Another note about Kershaw’s outing: no other pitcher has given up four home runs in a single postseason game against a National League team.

It’s not as if the Diamondbacks had bragging rights in the pitching department. Taijuan Walker labored through a 48-pitch first inning, issuing four hits and two walks as the Dodgers worked up to a four-run lead. He struck out the side, too, but even those at-bats were wearisome, taking a full 15 pitches to send Curtis Granderson, Yasmani Grandal and Kershaw down swinging.

Walker was done after the first inning, but the D-backs’ reinforcements didn’t slow the Dodgers down for long. Zack Godley ran into trouble in the fourth inning, allowing three runs on a pair of run-scoring singles by Corey Seager and Justin Turner and a productive out from Yasiel Puig.

Seager and Turner double-teamed again in the eighth inning, helping paper over Kershaw’s mistakes with an RBI triple and RBI single, respectively. Kenley Jansen let a run squeak by on an RBI force out in the ninth inning, but quickly recovered to squash the D-backs’ rally with a first-pitch, game-ending line out from David Peralta.

Game 2 is set for Saturday at 9:00 PM ET, which means we get at least three more games of this:

Rich Hill (12-8, 3.32 ERA) will take on fellow lefty Robbie Ray (15-5, 2.89 ERA), but don’t read too much into those numbers. If nothing else, this postseason has shown us that anything can (and will) happen.

The Astros gave the Yankees an opening. Keuchel and Verlander will try to close the door.

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If Game 4 of the ALCS had been even remotely conventional, it’d stand at 3-1 in favor of Houston right now. The Yankees’ starter pitched well but got no run support. A mighty Astros team with an ordinarily good closer in Ken Giles had a 4-0 lead in the late innings. As the Yankees set out to mount a comeback, a base runner fell down in between first and second and should’ve been dead to rights. This is playoff baseball, however, so stuff, as they say, happens. The runner was safe, the closer struggled, the Yankees rallied and now we’re tied 2-2.

But are we even at 2-2?

On paper, no, because the Astros now will send Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander out in Games 5 and 6, and that gives them a clear advantage. Keuchel dominated the Yankees in Game 1, tossing seven scoreless innings and striking out ten batters. Verlander struck out 13 batters in a 124-pitch complete game in which he allowed only a single run. Beyond the mere facts of the box scores, however, the Yankees have looked profoundly overmatched by both of the Astros’ aces, in this postseason and on other occasions on which they’ve faced off against them. Most notably in the 2015 wild-card game at Yankee Stadium when Keuchel pitched six scoreless innings in the 3-0 victory.

But remember: stuff happens.

Stuff like Aaron Judge‘s and Gary Sanchez‘s bats waking up. The two most important sluggers in the Bombers lineup combined to go 3-for-6 with two doubles, a homer, a walk and five RBI in last night’s victory. Each of them had been silent for the first three games of the series but if they’re heating up, the Yankees will be a lot harder to pitch to.

Stuff like Masahiro Tanaka showing that he can tame the Astros’ lineup. Which he did pretty well in Game 1, giving up only two runs on four hits in six innings. He was overshadowed by Keuchel in that game, but it was a good performance against a strong lineup in a hostile environment. Tanaka pitches much better at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road, so don’t for a second think that the Astros bats will have an easy time of it today.

Stuff like the Yankees bullpen still being the Yankees bullpen. Yes, the Astros got to David Robertson yesterday, but it’s still a strong, strong group that gives the Yankees a clear advantage if the game is close late or if they hold a lead.

All of which is to say that we have ourselves a series, friends. While, 48 hours ago, it seemed like we were on our way to an Astros coronation, the Yankees have shown up in a major way in Games 3 and 4. If you’re an Astros fan you should feel pretty confident with Keuchel and Verlander heading into action over the next two games, but we have learned that absolutely nothing is guaranteed in the postseason.