Thursday, October 19, 2017

NLDS: Five takeaways from Dodgers’ Game 1 win vs. Diamondbacks

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SportsPulse: From Nationals Park, Trysta Krick and Steve Gardner break down what went wrong for the Nationals in a night Stephen Strasburg pitched well enough to win, and look at how Friday’s earlier ALDS games played out.
USA TODAY Sports

LOS ANGELES — Five takeaways from the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 9-5 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks in Game 1 of their NLDS on Friday:

1. Why Dodgers love Justin Turner

In four years, Justin Turner has gone from a utility player the Dodgers picked off the free agent scrap heap to one of the team’s most popular players. Part of that has to do with his engaging personality, but even more significant has been Turner’s ability to hit all kinds of pitching.

His three-run homer off Taijuan Walker put the Dodgers ahead 3-0 three batters into the bottom of the first inning, and they never trailed. Turner drove in two more runs with singles in the fourth and eighth innings to tie a franchise postseason record with five RBI.

Turner, widely regarded as a clubhouse leader, spoke to his teammates after Thursday’s batting practice, emphasizing the importance of team success over individual achievements in the postseason.

“It’s about finding a way to pick up the next guy, find a way to get it done,’’ Turner said. “Also just to embrace it and be in the moment and enjoy it.’’

Turner had a blast. The five RBI are two more than he had in six playoff games last year.

MORE PLAYOFF COVERAGE:

NLDS: Nats now fighting past, Cubs and 1-0 deficit

ALDS: 5 takeaways from Indians’ Game 2 win over Yanks

2. D’backs have no fear of Kershaw

Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, a candidate for a fourth Cy Young Award this year, finally notched his first postseason win at Dodger Stadium. And for a while he looked like a reasonable facsimile of the regular-season Kershaw, nursing a comfortable early lead and yielding three hits and two runs — on homers by A.J. Pollock and J.D. Martinez — in six innings.

Then he got ripped for back-to-back home runs in the seventh, by such non-sluggers as Ketel Marte and Jeff Mathis, and suddenly Kershaw was entering the record books in a most unlikely fashion. He’s the first pitcher in franchise history to get tagged for four homers in a postseason game.

The Diamondbacks are sure to draw some confidence from that success when they see him again.

“They say the ball doesn’t carry well in this ballpark. I hope we face him in Arizona so we don’t hit four off him but eight,’’ Marte told USA TODAY Sports in Spanish.

Kershaw had thrown 92 pitches when he came out for the seventh, ahead 7-2, and said later he “didn’t have much left.’’ He was clearly stunned when Marte, who has eight career home runs in parts of three seasons, drove his fifth pitch of the inning on a line into the left-field seats.

As Marte headed for first base, Kershaw stared in his direction, either in disgust or disbelief.

“He looked at me,’’ Marte said. “But I know what I’ve got, and I don’t care how he looks at me. If I face him again, I’m going to try to hit it out again.’’

3. Puig has tongues wagging

Yasiel Puig may not be the same supernova who amazed the baseball world when he broke in midway through the 2013 season, but he’s still highly entertaining and has enjoyed a productive season.

On Friday his antics were at least as noteworthy as his exploits. Puig drove in two runs while going 2-for-5 with a double and a triple, collecting his first postseason RBI since 2014. But the TV cameras were much more fixated on Puig licking his bat — “Doesn’t seem like the most sanitary thing to do, but if he keeps getting them hits, I hope he does it more,’’ Kershaw said — and on how he reacted to his triple leading off the seventh.

After sliding head-first, Puig was left looking at the Dodgers dugout, and he responded to his teammates’ cheers by wildly wagging his tongue from side to side.

Asked about it at the postgame news conference, Puig responded in English with Turner at his side.

“I see my teammates so excited on the bench and I don’t know,’’ Puig said. “I don’t know why I feel, maybe ice cream in front of me or something like that. JT likes it. That’s the reason he’s laughing right now.’’

For good measure, Puig repeated the tongue shake. Not the most sanitary thing either.

4. The latest disastrous postseason debut 

It’s now officially a thing. Three hard-throwing young pitchers made the first playoff appearances of their careers this week, and all three were shelled, or maybe shell-shocked.

The New York Yankees’ Luis Severino, the Colorado Rockies’ Jon Gray and the Diamondbacks’ Taijuan Walker — all 25 or younger — combined to pitch 2 2/3 innings, giving up 15 hits and 11 runs. That’s an ERA of 37.22. Ouch.

Mind you, veterans Ervin Santana and Corey Kluber have plenty of postseason experience and they were hammered in their first starts this October as well, but the wreckage from the newbies was pretty astounding.

Walker and Arizona catcher Jeff Mathis insisted the right-hander did not succumb to nerves, and manager Torey Lovullo said he did not regret choosing Walker over Zack Godley — who allowed three runs, two earned, in five innings of relief — and left-hander Patrick Corbin.

“He was … a clear-cut choice,’’ Lovullo said of Walker. “They hit a couple mistakes and unfortunately he never got grounded.’’

Walker may not get grounded for his poor outing, which lasted one inning and 48 pitches, but he appears headed for the bullpen the rest of the series.

5. D’backs have Ray of hope

This was a game the Dodgers absolutely had to have and the Diamondbacks could afford to lose. After all, L.A. was sending out its staff ace at home against Arizona’s No. 3.

The real test for the Dodgers will come Saturday as they face left-hander Robbie Ray, who went 3-0 with a 2.27 ERA in five starts against them this season, striking out 53 in 31 2/3 innings. With a win, the Diamondbacks would take home-field advantage as the series shifts to Chase Field on Monday, when staff ace Zack Greinke will take the mound for them opposite Yu Darvish.

However, Ray will be starting without the usual four days of rest, having thrown 34 pitches in relief Wednesday in the wild card game.

“Within three or four minutes I could tell by the look in his eyes that he wanted the ball tomorrow and he was ready,’’ Lovullo said of his conversation with Ray. “We had minimal concerns.’’

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