In Game 4, Clayton Kershaw earns first loss as starter vs. Braves

Clayton Kershaw’s utter dominance in the regular season is well-known, as are his struggles in the postseason.

There was the time the Cardinals lit him up for seven runs in four-plus innings in Game 6 of the 2013 National League Championship Series, which led to the Dodgers' elimination, the time he gave up five runs in five innings to the Cubs in Game 6 of the 2016 NLCS; another Dodgers elimination, and the time he entered the eighth inning of Game 5 of the 2019 Division Series for a relief appearance with a two-run lead and gave up back-to-back home runs (another loss and elimination).

But in this year’s playoffs, with a historic offense behind him, Kershaw had put together back-to-back strong outings, and he was rolling right along for about five innings of the Dodgers' Game 4 NLCS matchup with the Braves on Thursday night in Arlington, Texas.

Then, the three-time Cy Young winner ran into some trouble in the sixth, earning the loss as the Braves won Game 4, 10-2, and with it took a 3-1 lead in the series. The Dodgers are now in a must-win situation going into Game 5.

This was Kershaw’s first loss to the Braves as a starter, having entered the game with a 1.30 ERA against the Braves in 96-2/3 innings pitched (including the postseason).

“He came out and, five innings, one run and then again, we just (talked about) what happened there in that sixth inning, but he gave us a chance to win the baseball game," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said when asked about the narrative that Kershaw tends to struggle in the playoffs. "We couldn’t put any runs up early and get a lead or hold a lead after the (Edwin Rios) homer. But that narrative couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Kershaw was scratched from Game 2 with back spasms, which he started feeling Saturday. He had felt a little better each day since then, which allowed him to play in Game 4 after a few more days of recovery. Kershaw said his back was feeling fine and didn’t bother him during his outing, and neither did the strong wind.

In a 1-1 game, he gave up back-to-back RBI doubles to Freddie Freeman and Marcell Ozuna to make the score 3-1 Braves. Ozuna had scored the Braves’ previous run, hitting a solo shot off Kershaw in the fourth inning. Kershaw was pulled for Brusdar Graterol, but the floodgates had opened for the Braves' offense, which ended up taking a 7-1 lead, thanks to an RBI double by Dansby Swanson and RBI singles by Austin Riley and Cristian Pache.

“They’re similar to us as far as they build on momentum really well," Kershaw said. "It just seems like they have that domino effect (when) one thing gets going. They just continue to build on that. And they’ve got great hitters, too. They’re a good team and we’ve just got to come back and win tomorrow.”

Ozuna had a monster night, going four-for-five with four RBIs.

“He’s just a good hitter," Kershaw said. "He had a great year this year. He’s had lots of good years. He’s a good hitter and I think I made a few mistakes to him, I think maybe some other guys did too but he didn’t miss. That’s what good hitters do.”

All in all, Kershaw gave up four runs on seven hits in five-plus innings, walking one and striking out four. He didn’t get much run support — a day after the Dodgers put up the most runs ever in a single postseason inning (11 in the first of Game 3), their bats largely went quiet, tallying three hits to the Braves' 14.

“It’s tough," said Rios, who hit a solo home run in the third inning and a sacrifice fly in the seventh, accounting for the Dodgers' two runs. "Every time Kershaw gets on that mound, we want to score 20. We want to score as many runs as we can for him. And unfortunately we weren’t able to do that tonight.”

Kershaw had put together a good start to the playoffs this season, giving up zero runs and striking out 13 in eight innings against the Brewers in the wild-card round and recording another quality start against the Padres in the NLDS (giving up three runs in six innings, striking out six).

Opposite Kershaw, Braves starter Bryse Wilson, a 22-year-old who had spent most of his season at the team’s alternate training site in Gwinnett County, limited the Dodgers to one run on one hit in six innings, striking out five and walking one. Wilson was awarded the win.

“They’ve pitched really well," Roberts said of the Braves’ rookie pitchers, including Wilson in his postseason debut. "You’ve got to give those guys credit.”

Entering his Game 4 start, Kershaw owned an 11-11 record in the playoffs with a 4.23 ERA (his overall career ERA is 2.43). This shortened season, he went 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA (tied for fifth in the majors), was fifth in opponents' batting average (.194) and was second in WHIP (0.84).