WASHINGTON -- Beating Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw ranks among baseball's most difficult tasks, even in a postseason setting that has bedeviled Kershaw in the past. So the Nationals are considering every angle heading into Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Nationals Park (Friday, 5:30 p.m. ET/2:30 PT on FS1), including asking umpires to be alert for balks.
Manager Dusty Baker said he wants the umpiring crew to stay vigilant watching Kershaw, claiming the southpaw "kind of rolls through the set position" with runners on base.
"I heard that really upsets him if they do call one," Baker said, grinning. "So I'm hoping that they call maybe a couple of them."
In the hours prior to Game 1, Baker's words at least upset Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who called the tactic "gamesmanship."
"I didn't know Dusty wanted to play that game," Roberts said, before ticking off a list of Nationals pitchers he believes regularly balk.
Only two pitchers in baseball balked more times this year than Kershaw, who did it thrice. Over the past eight years, Kershaw ranks second in the Majors with 17 balks, though he's also eighth in innings pitched.
Baker's contention is that when pitching out of the stretch with runners on base, Kershaw does not always bring his hands together at a stopped set position, which would be a direct violation of the balk rule. He said that although Nationals first-base coach Davey Lopes often asks umpires to be vigilant watching it, crews rarely actually call a balk.
Umpires cannot call one, of course, if the Nationals do not place runners on base. Kershaw enters the game 8-0 with a 0.88 ERA over his last eight starts against the Nats.
Anthony DiComo has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.