At 3:37 p.m. PT Friday, Clayton Kershaw will throw the first pitch in Game 1 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St. Louis Cardinals. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, that much is certain.
Beyond that, little is known. Yes, Kershaw was dominant this season and emerged as a viable NL MVP candidate, but his postseason track record, particularly against the Cardinals, leaves plenty to be desired. Rounding out the Dodgers’ NLDS rotation is Zack Greinke, and presumably Hyun-Jin Ryu and Dan Haren.
However, should Ryu start Game 3, it’s conceivable the Dodgers may not hand the ball to Haren in the series. While Kershaw starting on short rest would fall in line with last year’s NLDS strategy, manager Don Mattingly wasn’t quite ready to commit it after Tuesday’s workout, via Dylan Hernandez of the LA Times:
Anything like that, we wouldn’t talk about now.”
Kershaw also wasn’t ready to look further than Friday’s Game 1:
I’m pitching Friday, so that’s all I’m trying to figure out right now, how to get those guys out on Friday,” Kershaw said. “I’ll worry about the next game after that, whenever it is. It’s too hard to think about two games.”
With the Dodgers leading the Atlanta Braves two games to one in last year’s NLDS, Kershaw started Game 4 on three days’ rest. He allowed two runs in six innings and walked away with a no-decision in a game the Dodgers won behind Juan Uribe’s dramatic home run.
If Kershaw takes the ball in a potential Game 4, and the series was to be extended, Greinke would likely be on the mound in the elimination game, throwing on normal (four days’) rest. Ryu’s ability or inability to recover from shoulder irritation figures to factor in heavily to the Dodgers’ plan.
Mattingly has yet to announce his NLDS roster, which he doesn’t need to do until Friday, though it was rumored Wednesday a pair of starting pitchers may not be included. If Ryu is unable to pitch, it would likely bump up Haren to Game 3 and make Kershaw a lock for Game 4 on the sometimes controversial short rest.