ATLANTA - Following a historic regular season, it didn't take long for Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw to make history in the postseason.
Kershaw struck out 12 while allowing one run and three hits in seven innings in a 6-1 win over the Braves in Game 1 of the National League Division Series.
Kershaw's game plan was split between two halves, and the second half produced a dominating finish. The lefty went fastball-heavy in the early innings, and he fought command issues at times through the first four innings. As a result, his pitch count was high and he gave up a run in the fourth.
But Kershaw turned to the breaking stuff beginning in the fifth, and he cruised for the final three frames. He struck out nine of his final 11 batters faced, including striking out the side twice in that span.
"A.J. (Ellis) did a good job, started calling more breaking balls there towards the middle innings, able to get some swings and misses when I needed it, and it kind of worked out that way,” he said.
Kershaw recorded 21 swinging strikes in the game, including 14 on the slider. He had good command of the slider and curveball, and was able to lean on both to get through the final three innings efficiently. That allowed him to throw 124 pitches before coming out, when it looked like he wouldn't get through five or six innings earlier in the start.
As expected, Kershaw lived glove-side, hitting that area especially well with his breaking pitches. He struggled spotting his fastball at times, leading to more than a few missed either inside or down. But the attached zone map shows he was in control.
"I thought, offensively, we had a nice game plan against Kershaw; we just couldn’t get the base hit,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “We were patient at the plate, we were keeping the pitch count up, and he never gave us an opportunity.”
Kershaw's 12 strikeouts are the most by a Dodger in a postseason start since Sandy Koufax struck out 15 in Game 1 of the 1963 World Series.
He produced a game score of 76 and a game-high WPA of .195. The most valuable play in the game came in the third on an Adrian Gonzalez home run, worth .143.