The ace was far from his sharpest Friday, but the Dodgers bats pounded the Chicago Cubs' pitching, launching four home runs in a 14-5 win at Wrigley Field. In the process, Kershaw (20-3) became the first major league pitcher to pick up his 20th win this season.
With eight games left, the Dodgers extended their NL West lead to three games pending the result of the San Francisco Giants' game at San Diego later Friday. Later Friday, the Milwaukee Brewers lost to the Pirates in Pittsburgh to clinch at minimum a wild-card spot for the Dodgers.
How it happened: The Dodgers knocked Cubs pitcher Edwin Jackson out of the game in the first inning, scoring six runs, but Kershaw struggled with his command early and gave half of those runs back in the bottom of the inning. He steadied himself and managed to get through the requisite five innings, but it was largely a grind; he needed 106 pitches.
The Dodgers continued to score off Chicago’s bullpen, however. Catcher A.J. Ellis, one of Kershaw’s best friends, launched a pair of two-run homers, tripling his season total. Kershaw’s ERA went from 1.70 to 1.80, but he did strike out nine, giving him 228 strikeouts in just 26 games.
Hits: Perhaps the most encouraging development on this road trip? Yasiel Puig is back. He appears to have emerged from his six-week-long slump. Puig walked, doubled and launched a three-run homer onto Waveland Avenue. Puig, who had not homered since July 31, is batting .412 with two home runs and six RBIs on this trip. Maybe it’s a matter of the ballparks the Dodgers are playing in or maybe it’s due to better at-bats, but the team needs Puig to be productive -- emphasis on the “horse” rather than the “wild” -- to be a deep offense.
Misses: The Dodgers were looking to get a few more innings out of Kershaw, with struggling starter Roberto Hernandez pitching Saturday and with the tentative plan to empty out the bullpen Sunday and push Dan Haren's start back to Monday. Friday’s start was the shortest for Kershaw since a rain-shortened game June 8 in Colorado. It was the shortest non-weather-related start since his one truly bad start of the season, May 17 at Arizona. Unless Hernandez can give the Dodgers six innings or so, they may have to use Haren Sunday and send Carlos Frias, who gave up 10 hits without completing an inning his previous time out, to face the Giants on Monday.
Stat of the game: Dee Gordon stole his 63rd base in the second inning. Gordon caught Dodgers first-base coach Davey Lopes (1976) for fifth on the team’s all-time L.A. Dodgers single-season steals list. He is one behind Juan Pierre (2007).
Up next: The four-game series at Wrigley Field continues Saturday at 10:05 a.m. PT with Hernandez (8-11, 4.06 ERA) and Felix Doubront (2-1, 1.50).