NLDS Game 1 Preview: Clayton Kershaw Makes 32nd Playoff Start In Diamondbacks-Dodgers Opener

The Los Angeles Dodgers begin their 2023 postseason run against the Arizona Diamondbacks with Game 1 of the National League Division Series.

Both teams jostled for positioning in the NL West early on during the regular season, but the Dodgers ultimately pulled away with the division title and No. 2 seed behind the Atlanta Braves. In 13 head-to-head meetings this year, it was the Dodgers who came away with eight wins, outscoring the Diamondbacks 72-47.

This year’s NLDS is the Dodgers’ fourth in a row against a divisional opponent.

“I think it’s just less surprises,” manager Dave Roberts said of the circumstance. “I just think that we know each other so well. I think Torey (Luvollo) knows a lot of my tendencies and who I trust. I feel the same about him. But there’s some new arms in the ‘pen that I don’t know a whole lot about.

“When you play somebody a lot, it sort of boils down to who plays the best baseball. Whereas if you play teams that you don’t know, there could be things that you might get caught off guard with due to a little bit more unfamiliarity. But in this instance, travel’s going to be fine, the opponent we know pretty well.

“So then it’s just kind of, you throw the balls out there and see what team plays the best in a five-game series.”

The Dodgers previously swept the Diamondbacks in the 2017 NLDS, which eventually led to a World Series appearance. A similar name opened up that series as well, with Clayton Kershaw again getting the ball in Game 1.

Kershaw has battled through a left shoulder injury during the second half but has dismissed any notion that he’ll be overly limited in availability.

In 24 starts this season, Kershaw posted a 2.46 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, with a .208 batting average allowed. He stranded 89.3% of runners who have reached base, the best mark of his career.

The worry for Kershaw is his diminished velocity that occurred in the latter part of the regular season, but he’s since found a way to remain effective, utilizing his Hall of Fame slider. He also has brought out a split-changeup, but expect the three-time Cy Young winner to lean on the slider.

Against the Diamondbacks this season, Kershaw went 2-1 with a 3.18 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 18 strikeouts in 17 innings over three starts. There was some pause over him being healthy enough to pitch in the postseason, but his continued work to be ready for Saturday is a testament to him being a pillar in the Dodgers franchise.

“A lot of his family is coming in, which I know he’s excited about,” said Roberts. He’s a very routine-driven guy. He’s watching a lot of video. Like we’ve talked earlier, there’s a lot of familiarity with those guys over there.

“So he’s done his side work, his stuff in the weight room. I think he’s probably, more than anyone, he’s champing at the bit, ready to go. But with him I don’t really pay too much attention because I don’t really need to, because he’s pretty much turnkey. But I spent a little bit of time with him [Thursday], which was great. Saw him [Friday]. He’s doing what he needs to get ready for Game 1.”

Merrill Kelly takes the mound for the Diamondbacks, after a very good regular season. The 34-year-old posted a 12-8 record with a 3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 187 strikeouts over 30 starts.

The Diamondbacks didn’t have to use Kelly in the Wild Card round against the Milwaukee Brewers, and he comes into Saturday having not pitched since September 30 when he tossed seven innings versus the Houston Astros.

In his career when facing the Dodgers, Kelly is 0-11, with a 5.49 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, with 13 home runs allowed in 16 starts (83.2 innings).

Roberts noted that heading into this series, the Dodgers approached their workouts with a different intensity, and Freddie Freeman urged that the offense was taking situational hitting as one of their highest priorities.

Dodgers lineup

2B: Mookie Betts
1B: Freddie Freeman
C: Will Smith
3B: Max Muncy
DH: J.D. Martinez
RF: Jason Heyward
LF: David Peralta
CF: James Outman
SS: Miguel Rojas

Diamondbacks lineup

2B: Ketel Marte
RF: Corbin Carroll
DH: Tommy Pham
1B: Christian Walker
C: Gabriel Moreno
LF: Lourdes Gurriel Jr.
CF: Alek Thomas
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Geraldo Perdomo

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