The Red Sox look to take the Series tonight in L.A. Can Kershaw and the Dodgers stay alive?
It sounded like a howitzer. The sound of cork and cowhide echoed off the lumber from Yasiel Puig’s bat as Dodger Stadium roared and shook like an aftershock. Puig’s bomb capped off a four-run sixth inning that felt insurmountable with Rich Hill carving up the Red Sox potent lineup. But then Mitch Moreland teed off Ryan Madson in the top of the seventh, a three-run laser that pulled the Red Sox within one. The next inning Steve Pearce took a Kenley Jensen pitch and hit a solo shot into the Chavez Ravine night sky that tied that game at four. The Red Sox would take the lead on a Rafael Devers RBI single in the ninth and put the game away on Pearce’s bases-clearing double four batters later, all part of a Boston five-run ninth inning.
After dominating the first two games of the series, it seemed like Boston was on the brink of losing control in Game 4 after Puig’s home run. But the Red Sox did what they’ve done all year long, wear down pitching staffs and come up with timely hits, scoring all nine of their runs after the sixth inning.
The Dodgers were 54-0 when leading by four-runs this season, the only team in baseball to not blow such a lead— until last night. They are just the second team in the last 10 World Series to blow a four-run lead. The only other team? How about the 2017 Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 against the Houston Astros? Baseball, you’re too cruel.
World Series Game 5: Boston Red Sox at Los Angeles Dodgers
Time: Sunday, Oct. 28 at 8:15 p.m. ET
Pitching Matchup: David Price vs. Clayton Kershaw
Three Things to Watch
1. Clayton Kershaw
Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher of his generation, and a sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Fame player, and one of the greatest Dodgers of all-time. Those are all facts. Here is another fact — Kershaw has not been a very good pitcher in the postseason, and many of his starts have cost his team vital October victories. Fact.
Another fact is that Kershaw’s contract allows for him to opt out at the end of this season — which could be tonight if the Red Sox have their way. If Kershaw decides to walk, he will leave $70 million on the table in the final two years of his deal to play somewhere other than Dodger Stadium for the rest of his career. While I think it’s unlikely Kershaw ever leaves L.A., it is still a distinct possibility, and if he does leave, what will his legacy as a Dodger be?
Again, he has an inevitable date in Cooperstown five years to the minute after he hangs up his cleats, whenever that is. But does Kershaw become the Dan Marino of MLB or this generation’s Barry Bonds? One of the all-time greats to never win one?
That debate is typically a discussion that doesn’t allow for much nuance and the team’s those great players play for are hardly ever criticized as heavily. For Kershaw, the debate may be different. He has had so many opportunities to replicate his regular season dominance in the postseason, making 23 playoff starts in his career but posting a 4.29 ERA in those games, almost two full points higher than his career regular season ERA (2.39).
Tonight, Kershaw makes his 24th career postseason start, the fifth in the World Series, where his ERA balloons to 5.49. He’ll face a Red Sox team coming off the highest of highs from last night’s Game 4 comeback, looking to seal the deal. If Kershaw can deliver a typical regular season Kershaw-like start tonight, with his team facing elimination at home, he can at least re-write one chapter in a narrative that has plagued him for the last decade, whether he decides to stay in L.A. or not.
2. David Price
In a very surprising move, Sox manager Alex Cora has opted to throw lefty David Price in tonight’s Game 5. Price has already started once in this series, in Game 2, and was terrific, giving up just two earned runs in six innings, striking out five. His second straight quality start in the postseason after dominating the Astros in Game 5 of the ALCS.
Price, like Kershaw, has been historically below average in the playoffs compared to his typical all-star like regular seasons, with a career ERA of 4.87 in 22 postseason games (13 starts). But another solid outing tonight, especially on short rest, capped off with a World Series title, would re-write the storybook for Price’s career.
This isn’t the first time that Cora has deployed Price unconventionally in this series. Cora tabbed the lanky lefty to pitch two-thirds of the ninth inning as a reliever in the marathon that was Game 3. Price faced three batters and gave up a walk and a hit each.
While the move to pitch Price tonight is certainly going to raise a brow or two, Cora came into this series patching together his pitching staff and is running out of options. Rick Porcello is a no-go after starting Game 3. Nathan Eovaldi, who was likely to start Game 4, instead pitched six brilliant innings of relief during Game 3, leaving Cora with one option for last night’s Game 4, Eduardo Rodriguez.
The only alternative to Price is starting Chris Sale, who would be pitching on full rest. But the way Cora sees it, if the Red Sox can’t win it all tonight with Price and the bullpen, they still would hold a three-games-to-two lead as the series headed back to Boston for Game 6 and a possible Game 7. Sale would pitch Game 6 with two days of extra rest with the night off tonight and the travel day tomorrow. That is probably the best idea considering the noticeable velocity drop and lack of control that Sale has demonstrated the last month or so.
3. Dodgers’ Bullpen Woes
Dave Roberts needs a hug. Outside of Game 3 when he utilized eight different relief pitchers perfectly, every single pitching change he has made in this series has backfired — especially the choice to pitch Ryan Madson, like, at all.
Madson came into last night’s Game 4 having allowed all five of the runners he inherited in this series to score. So when Roberts called on the 38-year-old right-hander to face the left-handed Mitch Moreland with two-on and one out in the seventh, the collective “Oh, no” at Dodger Stadium was tangible through the TV. Madson started Moreland off with an 85MPH changeup up in the zone, and Moreland finished off Madson by knocking the snot out of that changeup — about 20 rows deep. Puig, playing right field, didn’t move. His gloved hand interlocked with the other behind his head said it all. Madson has now allowed all seven inherited runners to score.
But it gets worse for Roberts and the Dodgers bullpen. Kenley Jensen, the Dodgers closer who didn’t pitch in either of the first two games in Boston, has given up two game-tying solo home runs in the eighth inning of back-to-back games. L.A. cannot win this series unless Jensen is mowing down batters. Jensen simply has not been himself for good chunks of this season as he deals with heart complications. If Roberts doesn’t trust Jensen in the late innings tonight, look for him to go with Pedro Baez, who has been unhittable all postseason.
The Dodgers gameplay is simple: Clayton Kershaw has to be great. Easy, right? Their bullpen is an overused, unreliable, mess running on fumes. Dodgers relievers surrendered all nine Red Sox runs in the final two innings last night. So how can Roberts trust any of them in high leverage situations when no one outside of Baez has proven they can deliver? Boston will be aggressive against Kershaw, hoping to drive him from the game in the early innings in order to feast on more of the Dodgers bullpen. Unless L.A. can flip the script and tag Price in the early goings, I like the Sox to win their ninth World Series title tonight in Tinseltown.
Prediction: Red Sox 7, Dodgers 5
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JakeRose24.