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Clayton Kershaw might get shorter postseason starts

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You might see less of Clayton Kershaw the next time he takes the mound — and that’s a good thing. On Saturday, Dodgers’ skipper Dave Roberts announced that he would consider removing his ace earlier in games, rather than pushing him to the seventh or eighth inning in order to preserve the bullpen.

“I don’t like to take history or individual history into account too much,” Roberts told reporters, “because the recency, as far as that particular game, should hold a lot of value. But I do believe with the ‘pen that we have and the trust in it, you have to weigh everything in. […] It is my responsibility to look at all angles and decide how far to push him.”

The announcement came on the heels of the Dodgers’ 9-5 win over the Diamondbacks in Game 1 of the NLDS, when Kershaw’s velocity and breaking pitches started to noticeably deteriorate by the seventh inning. The loss of command fed into back-to-back home runs from Ketel Marte and Jeff Mathis, the latter of which brought the D-backs within three runs of tying the game.

According to Roberts, it was a combination of the score and the Diamondbacks’ lineup that kept Kershaw out past his limit. With a sizable lead and the bottom of the order due up, three outs didn’t seem like a Herculean task for the southpaw. Had the game been closer, had Paul Goldschmidt or Jake Lamb been standing in the on-deck circle, there might have been a different conversation in the dugout.

In any event, the Dodgers seem more prepared for Kershaw’s next start, should they advance to the NLCS on Monday or push the NLDS to its five-game limit later in the week. After another decisive Game 2 win on Saturday, Roberts’ faith in his bullpen appears to be restored. “With the strength of our ‘pen, there’s nothing in me that says Clayton needs to be pushed and he needs to stay in until the game goes the other way,” he said.

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.