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Clayton Kershaw battles in Dodgers’ first NLDS win

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It wasn’t the worst Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer had looked in the playoffs, but it wasn’t good, either.

Scherzer fell victim to rookie shortstop Corey Seager, who rode a 109 m.p.h. home run to center field in his first at-bat of the game. Chase Utley and Justin Turner piled on in the third inning with an RBI single and a two-run homer, giving the Dodgers just the edge they needed to clinch Game 1 of the NLDS.

Kershaw, meanwhile, got off to a more promising start after striking out the side in the first inning, though he labored through 17 pitches to do so. His command was on point, inducing swings and misses in the dirt with his offspeed stuff and swings and misses in the middle of the zone with his heater, but Bryce Harper‘s eight-pitch at-bat left him winded heading into the second inning.

After a 23-pitch second inning, during which Scherzer popped out with the bases loaded, Kershaw ran into trouble when Harper and Jayson Werth executed a double steal during Anthony Rendon‘s at-bat in the third. Rendon lashed a single into left field and drove in the Nats’ first runs of the game, bolstered by a bonus sac fly in the fourth inning. By then, Kershaw was nearly out of the game — at 101 pitches, he exited in the fifth when Dave Roberts handed the game over to the bullpen.

Scherzer lasted another inning before leaving with four runs, two homers, and five strikeouts on the night. While Sammy Solis and Mark Melancon pitched two scoreless innings for the Nationals, aided by Kenley Jansen‘s bases-loaded flub in the ninth, they were matched with equal dominance by a four-pitcher cadre of Los Angeles relievers. Jansen returned in the bottom of the ninth to log the final three outs of the game, sending the Nats home on a seven-pitch strikeout to Jayson Werth.

Thanks in small part to Kershaw’s efforts and in larger part to Corey Seager, Justin Turner, and an outstanding effort by Los Angeles’ bullpen, the Dodgers sit 1-0 over the Nationals in the NLDS. Their next match-up, a showdown between left-hander and near-perfect gamer Rich Hill and right-hander Tanner Roark, will kick off at 4 PM EDT on Saturday.

Nationals’ Soto youngest ever to win NL batting crown

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WASHINGTON — Juan Soto became the National League’s youngest batting champion, Trea Turner hit a grand slam and drove in seven runs, and the Washington Nationals closed out the season with a 15-5 victory over the New York Mets on Sunday.

Soto walked and singled before being lifted for a pinch hitter in the third inning, elevating his average to .351 and sealing the NL lead in the category during this pandemic-shortened 60-game season.

The 21-year-old Soto surpassed Brooklyn’s Pete Reiser for the youngest ever to take a batting crown. Reiser was 22 when he ended the 1941 season hitting a league-leading .343.

“For me, it doesn’t matter the age,” Soto said with a smile when informed of the feat’s historical significance. “If you deserve it, you deserve it.”

Soto held off Atlanta teammates Freddie Freeman (.341) and Marcell Ozuna (.338) and also finished 2020 with the major league-lead in on-base percentage (.490) and slugging percentage (.695).

Yan Gomes homered for Washington, which won seven of its last nine and closed the season on a three-game winning streak and caught the Mets in the NL East standings.

“These guys don’t quit,” Washington manager Dave Martinez said. “They play hard every day and you saw what they did the last nine games. I’m proud of them hanging in there.”

The Nationals finished 26-34 a year after winning their first World Series. The Nationals’ .433 winning percentage in the truncated season was the lowest for a defending champion since the 1998 Florida Marlins went 54-108 (.333).

New York slipped from 86-76 last season and third place in the NL East to 26-34 and tied for fourth in manager Luis Rojas’ first season. The Mets still held slim playoff hopes entering Saturday before dropping three in a row, and they would have secured a wild card had they won those games because of three-game slides by Philadelphia and San Francisco to end the season.

“We didn’t get it done,” Rojas said. “We needed to do it, and we didn’t do it. It was definitely all on us. It makes it a little bit more frustrating just seeing that part happened the way we wanted, but we didn’t execute what we needed to do.”

Pete Alonso homered twice for New York and finished with 16 after clubbing a rookie-record 53 last season. Guillermo Heredia added a solo shot for the Mets.

Washington right-hander Austin Voth (2-5) needed 36 pitches to escape the first but made it through five innings to close his season with back-to-back victories. Voth allowed four runs while striking out four.

The Nationals chased Mets starter Seth Lugo after 1 1/3 innings. Lugo (3-4) allowed six runs on five hits and two walks.

With Washington already leading 7-3, Turner busted the game open with a third-inning grand slam off reliever Steven Matz. It was Washington’s first grand slam of the season.

KENDRICK’S FUTURE

Washington and INF Howie Kendrick have a mutual option for 2021, and he has at least one prominent figure hopeful for his return.

“I’m holding onto his leg,” Martinez said. “He’s got a lot of discussions to have with his family and I told him we’ll stay in touch as we always do and we’ll see where he’s at.”

The 37-year-old Kendrick hit .275 with two homers and 14 RBIs in 25 games, and ended the season on the injured list with a left hamstring strain.

NATS AWARDS

Soto was named Washington’s player of the year and RHP Max Scherzer (5-4, 3.74 ERA) earned the team’s pitcher of the year award in voting by local media. LHP Sean Doolittle won his third consecutive Good Guy Award.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Mets: New York placed RHP Erasmo Ramirez (right groin tightness) on the injured list. Ramirez was 0-0 with an 0.63 ERA in six games. The Mets recalled RHP Corey Oswalt.

Nationals: OF Victor Robles was hit by a pitch in the second inning and was lifted for a defensive replacement in the third.

UP NEXT

Mets: New York opens its 2021 spring training schedule on Feb. 27 against Miami in Port St. Lucie, Florida.

Nationals: Washington takes on Houston on Feb. 27 in West Palm Beach, Florida, in its scheduled 2021 spring training debut.