1. Clayton Kershaw
Kershaw’s playoff shortcomings are a smudge on his resume, and he looked to be back to that struggle in Game 1 of the NLCS after allowing five runs (four earned) over three-plus innings. But a rebound performance in Game 5 against the Brewers (one run allowed over seven innings, nine strikeouts) turned that narrative, and he has a 2.37 ERA with a 16:4 K/BB ratio over 19 innings so far this postseason.
Kershaw will start Game 1 Tuesday night, and it will be his second straight year starting Game 1 of the World Series. He got the win in Game 1 against the Astros last year, allowing one run on three hits over seven innings with 11 strikeouts and no walks, but over three starts in last year’s Fall Classic he posted a 4.02 ERA.
Kershaw would be in line to make three starts in the World Series if it goes a full seven games. But his closeout inning in Game 7 of the NLCS invites the possibility of what Madison Bumgarner did for the Giants in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, when he pitched the final five innings of the game in relief. If Roberts needs someone for a batter, an inning or more likely multiple innings out of the bullpen between Kershaw’s scheduled starts, altering his original pitching plans would be likely.
As expected just four Red Sox have faced Kershaw at all in their careers (Eduardo Nunez, J.D, Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Steven Pearce), with Nunez (12) and Martinez (eight) accounting for 20 of the 24 combined at-bats and Martinez accounting for three of the seen hits with a home run. So that’s an advantage for Kershaw, against hitters who have mostly never faced him heading into Game 1.
If the Dodgers win the World Series, Kershaw will be an automatic candidate for MVP. His overall performance may well determine who wins, but it’s easy to see his Game 5 NLCS start as a launch point for an elite and memorable run in the 2018 Fall Classic.