The rubber game of the three game series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Atlanta Braves took place today. It was a supremely close affair that featured little scoring after the first inning, and that might not surprise a lot of people since Clayton Kershaw was on the mound for the Dodgers. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he did battle.
After both teams scored in the first inning, no run was pushed across the plate until the tenth inning when Yasmani Grandal, who didn’t even start the game behind the plate, launched a one-out double to left-center field that allowed Kiké Hernandez to score all the way from first base. Kenley Jansen shut the door in the bototm half, and the Dodgers won. Let’s get to the takeaways.
Takeaway #1: Clayton Kershaw did not have anywhere near his best stuff today, but he was still damn good. The best pitcher in the game threw eight innings of one-run baseball this afternoon, but he certainly did not pitch like the best pitcher in the game for a vast majority of it. For only the fourth time in his career, Kershaw gave up ten or more hits in a game. However, he also recorded ten strikeouts, only walked one batter, which was Freddie Freeman with two outs in the eighth inning, and snuffed out potential Braves rally after potential Braves rally. He didn’t have his best stuff, but it didn’t matter.
Braves batters swung at 57 of Kershaw’s 116 pitches this afternoon, but they completely whiffed on 20 of them. The most important part of this game might have been in the bottom of the second inning when Atlanta loaded up the bases on three straight singles with nobody out. Kershaw then struck out Mallex Smith before getting Matt Wisler to ground into an inning-ending double play without allowing a run to score. Kershaw battled all game long, and that’s what he does. For the first time in his career, he’s gone at least seven innings in each of his first four starts during a season. Aces don’t always have their best stuff, but they always compete. He did that today.
Takeaway #2: Yasmani Grandal is a beast that we should all appreciate just a little bit more. Grandal didn’t even start today’s game, but we should still honor him because the hit he had in the tenth inning made the win ultimately possible. With one out and a runner on first, Grandal ripped a double to the left-center gap and gave the Dodgers a 2-1 lead. But, beyond that, he’s still been fantastic. After coming on for catcher A.J. Ellis in the top of the eighth, Grandal walked. There’s seemingly nothing that the talented backstop can’t do on the field right now.
While it still is a ridiculously early sample size, Grandal has had 23 plate appearances this season. He’s put up a slash line of .438/.609/.688 while driving in four runs. His .544 wOBA and 247 wRC+ are absurd, but the most unbelievable thing that he’s done so far in 2016 is that he has yet to strikeout. Grandal has walked seven times already, but he has not once been sent back to the dugout on strikes. In fact, coming into today’s game, Grandal had a 3.1 percent swinging strike rate and was darn near refusing to swing at pitches outside the strike zone. He’s been ungodly so far, and the Dodgers have to love it right now.
Takeaway #3: Angel Hernandez should never be allowed to call balls and strikes ever again. The home plate umpire for this afternoon’s game was Angel Hernandez, and he was downright awful at his job. Sure, umpires usually have their own custom strike zones and all that jazz, but no one knew what Hernandez’s strike zone happened to be throughout today’s contest. Kershaw had several pitches land inside the strike zone that were called balls, and Matt Wisler, who started for Atlanta, had a couple off the plate that were called strikes. It was just not a good zone today.
It’s not enough that Angel Hernandez is routinely seen as one of the worst umpires, if not the absolute worst, in baseball, but rather he hijacks games with a strike zone that he is not even sure of what the limits are. It’s maddening to watch from a fan’s perspective, but it’s far more infuriating when you’re a player. On the at-bat that Yasmani Grandal worked a walk on, there was a questionable strike call by Hernandez that led to Grandal staring back at him as if Hernandez was joking by calling it a strike. Except, it wasn’t a joke. The only joke here was Angel Hernandez himself, and that’s the issue.
Takeaway #4: At what point do we start worrying about Justin Turner’s struggles? After his 0-for-2 performance, with one strikeout, as a pinch-hitter today, it might be time to start worrying about Justin Turner and his start to the 2016 season. He’s hitting just .241 with a .311 on-base percentage, and while he has driven in five runs and scored eight himself, there are still some worrisome signs. For instance, Turner hasn’t really been making good contact at all yet, and it’s led to quite a few pop outs and lazy fly balls to the outfield. Maybe that’ll change in the near future.
Turner came into today’s contest with an average exit velocity of 87.8 miles per hour. That is down from the 89.7 miles per hour he put up last season. Two miles per hour might not seem like much of a difference, but hard hit balls fall for hits more than softly hit baseballs, so two miles per hour does seem to have a profound impact at times. Does this mean that Turner won’t ever turn it around? Of course not. It could just be a tough go of it for him at the moment. He’s just 2-for-13 over the last four games that he’s played, and 5-for-27 since April 12. It might not be time to worry yet, but that time could come soon.
Takeaway #5: It wasn’t easy, but the Dodgers did walk out of Atlanta with a series victory. Make of this series what you will, but any time you can win a series on the road you have to view it in a positive light no matter who you are playing against. Sure, the Atlanta Braves are not a good team and seem like more of a AAAA team than a true Major League team, but they’re still part of Major League Baseball and feature good players. The loss on Tuesday was bad, but the wins yesterday and today were very good. Despite both of them requiring extra innings, they won the series. Rejoice at that.
The Dodgers are 10-6 on the season, have won 6 of their last 8, and generally look solid at the moment. They currently lead the National League West by a game-and-a-half over the Colorado Rockies, and they begin a three-game series in Colorado starting Friday. It hasn’t always been easy for the club, but considering the injuries, the struggles at times, and all the other things going on, the fact they’re 10-6 and just won a series on the road cannot be overlooked. Really good job by the team to battle through adversity in the final two games of this series and win it.