Kershaw wins 20th as Dodgers clinch berth
Dodgers plate six in first inning on day ace doesn't have best stuff
CHICAGO -- After slugging a pair of two-run homers, A.J. Ellis reflected the tone of a clubhouse full of Dodgers who felt it was about time they did for Clayton Kershaw what he usually does for them.
"He's made me look good for so many years, it was nice to help him," Ellis said after the Dodgers pounded the Cubs, 14-5, on Friday to make Kershaw the Majors' first 20-game winner this year despite one of his poorer outings of the second half.
With the wind blowing out to left at Wrigley Field, Ellis was joined in dugout foam parties by Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, who pulled three-run homers. That scoring windfall helped the Dodgers clinch a playoff berth -- thanks to the Brewers losing to the Pirates, 4-2 -- while also decreasing their magic number to win the National League West to six with the aid of the Padres' 5-0 win over the Giants.
Kershaw joined Pedro Martinez as the only pitchers since World War II with 20 wins in fewer than 30 starts and, having gone 21-5 in 2011, became the first Dodgers pitcher to reach the 20-win mark twice since Claude Osteen in 1969 and '72. At 20-3 (.870), Kershaw has the best winning percentage for a Dodgers pitcher since Preacher Roe went 22-3 (.880) in 1951. Kershaw's ERA is 1.80.
The Los Angeles ace didn't look like a NL MVP Award candidate or NL Cy Young Award favorite doing it, though. Gifted a six-run first-inning lead, Kershaw coughed up half of that before the second inning started. He struggled with his control and allowed three runs in only five innings, his shortest start in three months. He racked up nine strikeouts, but he also issued three walks for the first time since May 23, and he needed 106 pitches.
"Obviously, you want to go eight or nine [innings] and be the reason why the team won," said Kershaw. "Sometimes, the team does it for you and you just happen to be out there."
Kershaw said he couldn't explain why he fell behind in counts, although he didn't reject the possibility that sitting through a six-run top of the first might have contributed.
"It's not easy, but for six runs you'll take it and sit there for two yours if you have to," he said. "My velocity was there. I think I was out of it. My control wasn't good, the fastball was all over, the breaking ball wasn't breaking. Just chalk it up to a bad day."
Ellis said the Cubs had a more patient approach at the plate than recent opponents that have unsuccessfully tried to attack Kershaw fastballs early in the count. With a six-run lead in the first inning, Kershaw walked leadoff hitter Arismendy Alcantara.
"Nice to see the leadoff hitter walk, couple guys get some hits," said Cubs infielder Chris Valaika, who had two hits off Kershaw. "It makes us feel like he's human.''
Manager Don Mattingly said he was "pretty uneasy early" watching Kershaw struggle, knowing that his bullpen could be busy the next three days with the starting rotation jumbled. But a pair of six-run rallies provided plenty of breathing room.
"The way the wind was blowing, the ball gets out of the park and this place is more like Colorado and runs go up in a hurry," Mattingly said. "As well as Clayton has pitched all year and what he's meant to us, it's a good feeling to get a win for him. And even with the jams he got in, you saw what he's made of. He fought not to give up runs. He showed what he's all about, even in that outing."
Kemp -- who had two likely homers brought back to the park by an inbound wind Thursday night -- had the wind at his back in the first inning after a one-out walk to Puig, who was singled to third by Adrian Gonzalez. Kemp fell behind Jackson, 0-2, chipping his bat fouling off a 1-2 pitch. Then, with a new bat, he crushed his 22nd home run.
It was Kemp's 14th homer since the All-Star break, his sixth this month and third on the trip. Hanley Ramirez followed with the first of his two doubles, and with two outs, he was singled home by Juan Uribe, chasing Edwin Jackson after 35 pitches. Eric Jokisch took over, and Ellis launched his fifth pitch into the jet stream for a two-run homer.
Ellis, who came into the game with one home run and 19 RBIs this year, provided insurance in the third with a second two-run shot. Puig (.412 last eight games) padded the lead in the sixth, clearing the bleachers after a walk to Ellis and a one-out single by Dee Gordon (12-game hit streak), who has seven consecutive multihit games. Ramirez (.357 in September) doubled in a run and Carl Crawford added a two-run single.