Clayton Kershaw will be in a familiar position on Friday when he starts Game 1 of the National League Division Series against the Washington Nationals. It marks the fourth straight year in which the Los Angeles Dodgers have handed the ball to their ace in the postseason opener.
But 2016 comes with a different set of circumstances. Although fatigue doesn’t appear to have been an issue in year’s prior, fact of the matter is Kershaw’s 149 innings pitched this season is the second-lowest total over his career.
While Kershaw’s time missed due to a mild disc herniation saved against some wear and tear, it also provided an opportunity to watch the Dodgers flourish.
“I think in the past I’ve felt that pressure more (to carry the Dodgers in the postseason),” Kershaw said Thursday. “This year has been a little bit different for me as far has having to watch from the sidelines and understanding how good our team is.
“It’s really hit home for me as I came back that I can definitely be a part of this, definitely help and be a factor in winning. But I don’t have to be the factor.”
Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Turner previously pointed to he Dodgers’ depth and team effort as the primary difference this season compared to their previous NL-West winning teams.
When Kershaw pitched June 26, his last start before being put on the disabled list, the Dodgers lost and were eight games back of the San Francisco Giants in the NL West. When he returned Sept. 9, Los Angeles held a five-game lead in the division.
“We have so many guys that can do so many different things. It’s not all on me. I have a job to do, and I understand that, but we’re such a team that I feel I can rely on those guys,” Kershaw said. “And likewise, they can rely on me. It’s just a different feeling than I’ve had in the past.”
Kershaw went 12-4 with a 1.69 ERA, 1.80 FIP, 0.73 WHIP, and 172 strikeouts to 11 walks over 21 starts (149 innings). He’s 2-3 with a 3.52 ERA in seven career NLDS starts. Kershaw will duel with Nationals ace Max Scherzer, a 20-game winner who is among the favorites to win the NL Cy Young Award.