CHICAGO -- Widely regarded as the best pitcher of his generation, Clayton Kershaw still has yet to make an appearance on the sport's biggest stage.
He can pitch the Dodgers there tonight.
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Even with Wednesday's 3-2 loss in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, the Dodgers find themselves on the verge of advancing to their first World Series presented by YouTube TV berth in 29 years. They own a 3-1 series lead, and they'll hand the ball to a three-time Cy Young Award winner with a chance to clinch the pennant.
"We're in a pretty good spot," said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. "We've got our No. 1 going tomorrow."
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In some respects, Kershaw has been here before. He's made two previous starts in the latter stages of the NLCS presented by Camping World. The difference this time: He's fresh. That's not something Kershaw is accustomed to at this point in the season.
"Last year, with the usage, I maybe felt it a little bit towards the end," Kershaw said. "I felt a little bit -- tired is not the right word -- but maybe just a little bit taxed. [This year], I feel good. I don't feel any different than when I feel normal.
"I feel normal, which is great."
Normal Clayton Kershaw -- the Dodgers will certainly take that. He won his fifth NL ERA title this season, posting a 2.31 mark with 202 strikeouts in 175 innings.
But Kershaw's preparation for Game 5 was anything but normal. It wasn't assured he'd even be pitching Thursday until Cody Bellinger's double-play ball ended Game 4, giving the Cubs their first victory of the series.
"I have to prepare to start tomorrow," Kershaw said before Game 4. "I can't assume we're going to win, and then it just so happens I have to pitch. I have to expect to pitch and then be surprised when we win. It's a tough spot because obviously I believe in our team."
The Dodgers made sure to point out that the feeling is mutual.
"We're going to be all right," Bellinger said. "We've got the right guy going tomorrow."
Thirteen days into the postseason, Kershaw has only pitched twice. In each of the last four postseasons, he made starts on three days' rest in the first round. A year ago, he pitched five times (including once in relief) over a 16-game span.
Given the workload, perhaps it makes sense that Kershaw struggled in his two previous NLCS Game 6 starts. He was roughed up by the Cardinals for seven runs in four innings in 2013. Three years later, the Cubs put five quick runs on the board, and Kershaw lasted only five frames. Both starts ended the Dodgers season.
This time around, Kershaw has thrown only 187 pitches through two appearances. (He exited Game 1 after just five innings, giving way to a pinch-hitter.) Compare that with last October, when Kershaw entered his second NLCS start sitting on 301 playoff pitches. In 2013 he had thrown 287.
"It's probably just a testament to the team we have more than anything," Kershaw said. "The way we've been playing, everybody has been able to contribute and everybody has been stepping up."
Come tonight, it's Kershaw's turn to do so.