SAN FRANCISCO >> Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis often says when Clayton Kershaw starts, he and the fans are seeing “something historic.” Sometimes that’s obvious, like when Kershaw no-hit the Colorado Rockies in June.Other times, like Saturday, Kershaw is more mechanical than awe-inspiring. Gregor Blanco singled in the first inning and the Giants didn’t get another hit until the seventh inning of a 5-0 Dodgers win. Kershaw (12-2) needed 113 pitches to complete the two-hit shutout. Most major-league pitchers will go their entire careers without throwing a two-hit shutout. For Kershaw, who lowered his major league-leading earned run average to 1.76, it wasn’t even his best start of the season. So what exactly are we witnessing? Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error “They tried to be patient. They tried to be aggressive,” Ellis said. “As a hitter you can’t really game-plan for him.”Whether it was by design or by happenstance — Kershaw thought it’s the latter — having the Dodgers’ top three starters pitch this three-game series in San Francisco already is paying off. Zack Greinke threw seven scoreless innings Friday. Hyun-Jin Ryu starts today against Jake Peavy, who arrived in the middle of the game after being traded from Boston earlier in the day.The Dodgers’ lineup hasn’t been the same consistent force as its pitching staff, but it also has gained steam in San Francisco. They have 26 hits in the first two games. Facing right-hander Ryan Vogelsong (5-8), they couldn’t match their franchise-record tying five triples of a day ago, but the Dodgers may have found a combination they can roll with.For the second day in a row, Yasiel Puig batted second and played center field and Matt Kemp played right field and batted sixth. Adrian Gonzalez went 3 for 5 with two doubles, Hanley Ramirez went 2 for 4 with a double and Juan Uribe went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs. Blanco was the only baserunner for either team over the first three innings, and he was erased on a double-play groundout by Buster Posey.The Dodgers scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, then chased Vogelsong after scoring two more runs in the sixth. They almost scored a third, but Posey swipe-tagged Gonzalez on the forearm on a close play at the plate.Gonzalez is batting .333 (10 for 30) in eight games since the All-Star break. He’s reached base in every game.“I’m a very streaky hitter,” Gonzalez said. “That’s usually how my seasons go — lots of ups and downs.”The Dodgers are not a streaky team. They have not won or lost more than three games in a row this season. But something’s changed since the last time they played the Giants in May, when they lost three of four games at Dodger Stadium. Specifically, they’re a bit healthier — Ellis and Uribe are back in the lineup — and their outfield seems a bit more stable.That they have found normalcy against their historic rivals, amid trade rumors and a battle for first place, could be a giant coincidence. “It’s just the consistency, the ability to put up numbers without too many hiccups,” Ellis said. “His clunkers are like in St. Louis: Seven innings, three runs — and they’re the defending National League champions.”The Giants, although depleted by injuries, were the best team in the National League West until the final out Saturday. Then the teams flipped places, with the Dodgers (58-47) taking a half-game lead over the Giants (57-47) and moving back into first place after a 13-game hiatus.Calmly as ever, Kershaw credited his teammates for scoring the runs that allowed him to win his ninth consecutive decision. Then he responded, in his own way, to a question about his efficiency.“That team puts the ball in play,” Kershaw said of the Giants. “Not striking out a lot. A lot of good at-bats over there, so really just trying to attack them and get it done early.”Kershaw struck out seven, which actually is quite a few. Another eight outs were recorded on fly balls to the outfield. The rest were harmless ground balls or infield pop-ups. Whether the Giants swung early in the at-bats or late, the outcome was practically inevitable.
WJC: Alexis Lafreniere happy to be back, stresses focus for Canada ahead of semisThe Finns, however, ended any chance at another American championship by smothering them at even strength via an aggressive forecheck and held them to only seven shots in the final frame. Additionally, Finland gave the U.S. only two power-play chances for the entire game — the second coming within the last two minutes of regulation.So what exactly happened in the Czech Republic? Here are four reasons why the Americans are coming home empty-handed.Defense ScoringApart from the involvement of Zac Jones in multiple high-quality scoring chances, the American defensemen did not have a productive tournament from an offensive standpoint. Of the 10 competing nations, only Kazakhstan received fewer points (two) from their defensemen as the U.S. (five). Conversely, the four advancing teams — Canada, Finland, Sweden and Russia — received 17, 17, 19 and 12 points, respectively. One can make a strong argument that the best U.S. defender in terms of playmaking and generating chances off the rush is Philadelphia Flyers prospect Cam York, who averaged a team-low 5:55 per game and was barely used at even strength. The group as a whole was strong defensively, but New York Rangers draft pick K’Andre Miller’s ill-advised turnover late in a tie game against Canada led to Alexis Lafreniere’s game-winner. That opening-game loss prevented the Americans from winning the group and gaining a higher seeding in the medal round.Alexis Lafreniere gets the puck off the faceoff and scores a beautiful goal to make it 5-4. 3:10 left to play. #WJC2020 #NHLDraft pic.twitter.com/8Dpe3sukhd— Steven Ellis (@StevenEllisTHN) December 26, 2019The stats will show that this defense corps allowed only five goals at even strength, but their inability to handle the Finnish and Canadian forechecks had a profound impact on their ability to help tilt the ice in their favor.The Penalty KillMake no mistake — the hard work displayed by the likes of Jack Drury, Spencer Stastney and Parker Ford while down a man was borderline heroic. But in the end, the penalty kill let the Americans down, specifically in the critical Boxing Day game against Canada where they were victimized three times. They did a solid job killing off an opening four-minute power-play early in the first period of their quarterfinal match against Finland, but the lone goal came off a Joonas Oden one-timer while Jack Drury was in the box for hooking.Kristian Tanus with the no-look dish to Joonas Oden, and Finland breaks the deadlock! pic.twitter.com/kYL0k30UNl— TSN (@TSN_Sports) January 2, 2020Miller was on the ice for five of the eight power-play goals surrendered, and both he and Wisconsin teammate Ty Emberson made questionable decisions in coverage. For the tournament, the U.S. penalty kill operated at a disappointing 65.2 percent success rate — their worst in the last decade.Depth ScoringFor whatever reason, only five American forwards in the quarterfinal match against Finland played over 14 minutes, and both Alex Turcotte — the fifth-overall pick in last year’s draft — and leading goal-scorer Arthur Kaliyev, played less than four minutes in the final period. While it’s common practice for a coach to ride his top players in a close game, head coach Scott Sandelin’s reliance on two lines throughout the tournament, including the final 15 minutes of regulation against Finland, was puzzling given the resumes of the teenagers he was keeping on the bench.In retrospect, the intensity and importance of this year’s play in Group B may have made it easier for Sandelin to justify leaning on his preferred group, but he has to be held partly responsible for not finding the right combinations for his bottom two lines. Not enough goals from goal scorersRaise your hand if you predicted that three of the most prolific scorers in the history of the U.S. National Team Development Program — recent first-round picks Oliver Wahlstrom, Turcotte and Cole Caufield — would combine for one insignificant five-on-five goal in five games.Although Turcotte and Caufield teamed up to score the winner in overtime against the Czechs, they were unable see enough ice to impact play at even strength. Granted, they were on the roster’s younger side and are eligible to return next year; but zero goals in regulation between the two of them was a development few, if anybody, could have foreseen.Cole Caufield OT winner. #WorldJuniors (📽️: @TSN_Sports ) pic.twitter.com/HfyNa4P7qJ— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 30, 2019Wahlstrom, on the other hand, didn’t have any excuses. He’s a goal scorer who saw plenty of ice time in all situations, and although he had four assists, his lone goal was an insurance marker in the third period against Germany. Wahlstrom led the team with 21 shots and hit the post a few times, but he could have been better when he was needed most. The 2020 IIHF World Junior Championship is over for the United States after it fell to Finland 1-0 in the tournament quarterfinal.It is the earliest exit for the Americans since they finished fifth in 2015; this defeat ended an impressive run of four straight years with a medal. Although the strength of a preliminary-round group that included Russia, Canada, Germany and the host Czech Republic made the Americans’ road to another world junior crown more difficult than in previous years, this year’s roster on paper looked strong enough to be considered one of the top candidates to win.