Clayton Kershaw hopped out of the Los Angeles Dodgers' dugout in the top of the first inning, slammed his fist into his glove and jogged to the mound for his first start at Dodger Stadium since July 23, already drenched in his sweat from his pregame warm-up.
That was pretty much the highlight of the night for the Dodgers, and if you spent the top of the first inning woofing down a Dodger Dog, then Thursday's game was already over by the time you got to your seat.
Charlie Blackmon led off with a base hit, grounding a 3-2 fastball on the outside corner up the middle. DJ LeMahieu worked the count full and then lined a 3-2 slider on the inside corner into left field for a double. Kershaw worked him inside since LeMahieu rarely pulls the ball, but sometimes he does pull the ball and Kershaw was in trouble. Nolan Arenado stepped in. He leads the world in RBIs. Kershaw throws a first-pitch 93 mph fastball and Arenado deposited it deep into the left-field bullpen. Just like that, 3-0 before you could wipe the mustard off your Cody Bellinger T-shirt.
Kershaw would give up hits to the first four batters he faced for the first time in his career. He'd scuffle through the second inning, finally escaping a bases-loaded jam when he fanned Mark Reynolds. He threw 71 pitches through three innings, the first time that had happened since April 2011. He'd get pulled in the fourth, having presumably hit a limit of 86 pitches. He finished with six hits, four runs, three walks and seven strikeouts and you might chalk it up as one of those games that happens ... except the Dodgers have had a lot of these games of late. The Rockies won 9-1, sending the Dodgers to their 12th loss in 13 games.
What in the name of the baseball gods is going on here? The Dodgers lost nine games in two months and now they've lost 12 in two weeks. If Dodgers fans didn't need to panic 24 hours ago, do they need to panic after Kershaw's poor outing? He did overpower the Padres in his first start off the DL, but he always manhandles the Padres. Was his lack of command just rust that will wear off by the time the playoffs start or is it a sign that maybe he's not 100 percent?
It has been some horrible baseball, no doubt -- bad hitting, bad fielding, bad managing according to my friends who are Dodgers fans, and definitely bad hitting. Maybe Dodgers fans can take solace in this: There's basically no correlation between how a team plays in September and how it plays in October. The best example of this was the 2000 Yankees. They lost their final seven games -- including scores of 15-4, 11-1, 11-3, 13-2 and 9-1 -- and 14 of their final 17 and then turned it on when it mattered and won the World Series.
Still, the swagger is gone. The Dodgers will no longer be feared heading into the postseason. The offense has been exposed as merely good and not great, and a couple of the pitchers appear to be staggering to the finish line. I don't think the clock struck midnight and the Dodgers suddenly turned into the '62 Mets, but it's also time to win some games and erase the fear that they've lost their mojo.
This #Dodgers season is like comparing the first and second halves of "Full Metal Jacket.''— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) September 8, 2017
Indians win 15th straight to set franchise record. So, I think Corey Kluber got a little ticked off after giving up two home runs in the first inning to the White Sox. Mind you, he still led since the Indians had scored four in the top of the first, but he rarely gives up two runs in a game these days, let alone two home runs in one inning. Anyway, the White Sox are basically fielding a Triple-A team these days, so Kluber recovered from his little hiccup to finish with 13 strikeouts in seven innings as he gave up only one more hit.
No. Chance. pic.twitter.com/kOPDRqfWad— MLB GIFS (@MLBGIFs) September 8, 2017
The Indians cruised to an 11-2 victory to become just the fifth team with a winning streak of at least 15 games in the past 30 seasons:
Most impressive is that they went 11-0 on this long road trip. Sure, the final eight of those were against the Tigers and White Sox, but they also swept the Yankees. Now they head back to Cleveland for a 10-game homestand against the Orioles, Tigers and Royals, and while it will be difficult to sweep the Orioles, it also wouldn't shock me if this winning streak can get up to 20 games. We're getting ahead of ourselves, but that would be completely nuts: Only the A's, the 1935 Cubs (21) and 1916 Giants (26) got to 20, and you might not want to count the Giants since they had a tie game in the middle of that streak. (Oddly, the entire streak came at home. Baseball schedules were different back in the days when they had to take the train everywhere.)
Anyway, to get there, it will be because of continued dominance from the pitching staff. The Indians have given up 28 runs in 15 games, posting a 1.87 ERA while striking out 132 in 135 innings. They've out-homered their opponents 33 to 9. Just don't tell that to Kluber. He's mad it's not 33 to 7.
Wild-card winner of the night. The Twins scored three runs in the top of the ninth to beat Kelvin Herrera and the Royals, 4-2. Max Kepler got things going with a leadoff single and Jorge Polanco's two-run single -- following an intentional walk to Joe Mauer -- drove in the go-ahead runs. Polanco has been insane since Aug. 1: .370/.421/.669 with 22 extra-base hits, seven of his 10 home runs, and 30 RBIs in 34 games. He started the month hitting ninth and is now hitting third. You can't predict baseball.
Bonus note: Twins pitchers had no strikeouts and still won. That's actually the second time that has happened this season (the A's beat the Mariners, 7-4, on July 6), but is only the ninth time since 2010 a team won while recording zero strikeouts.
Wild-card loser of the night. Has there been a more inconsistent-slash-frustrating start this season than Kevin Gausman? He got off to that terrible start with a 7.50 ERA in April, then slowly turned things around and has had four scoreless starts since the All-Star break -- only he'll still throw in a stinker like Thursday afternoon in Baltimore. He had great velocity, hitting 98, but little fastball command and threw 79 pitches in only three innings before getting an early hook. The Yankees cruised to a 9-1 victory behind four home runs:
The extra good news for the Yankees: Aaron Judge slammed his 39th home run, passing Wally Berger and Frank Robinson into second place on the all-time list for rookies, behind only Mark McGwire, who hit 49 in 1987. Better yet, the home run came on a high fastball, a pitch Judge has struggled with in the second half as pitchers have continued to throw up in the zone to him. Fastballs in the upper third of the zone:
First half: 8 percent of pitches, .792 slugging
Second half: 21 percent of pitches, .288 slugging
Matt Harvey note of the night. He gave up two runs in five innings in a 7-2 win over the Reds, which is certainly better results than seven runs in two innings. Here's the kicker, however: He finished with only one strikeout and recorded only two swings and misses in 74 pitches. I think it remains up in the air whether the Mets will tender Harvey a contract for 2018 (which means they'll probably try to trade him).