Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw follows through on a pitch to an Atlanta Braves batter in the seventh inning of game one of their NLDS series. (EPA/ERIK S. LESSER)

There remains no single greater October weapon than an ace starting pitcher at the height of his powers. Recent postseason history has been blessed with a string of awe-inspiring examples: Cliff Lee in 2009 (4-0, 1.56 ERA), Cole Hamels in 2008 (4-0, 2.03), Josh Beckett in 2007 (4-0, 1.20) and both Curt Schilling (4-0. 1.12) and Randy Johnson (5-1, 1.52) in 2001. All of them carried their teams to the World Series, and all except Lee won titles.

If you watched Game 1 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Braves on Thursday night, it’s not hard to imagine lefty Clayton Kershaw adding his name to that list by the end of this month, assuming the Dodgers make a lengthy run. This postseason, he’s That Guy. Thursday night’s game was essentially over when the Dodgers went up 4-0 in the third inning on Adrian Gonzalez’s homer — because Kershaw had allowed more than two earned runs in a start only once since the all-star break. As it was, he tossed seven dazzling innings, striking out 12 and looking as if he could have gone nine, easy.

Just 25 years old, Kershaw is unquestionably the best pitcher on the planet, with one Cy Young Award to his name and another almost certain to come this year. The fact he is looming again in a potential Game 5 changes the entire series, as the Braves essentially know they have to win the next three — thus avoiding Kershaw — in order to advance.

And should the Dodgers close out the series without requiring Kershaw’s services again, he would be poised to start Game 1 of the NLCS, with the possibility of three starts in that series, which, while unlikely (since it would require him starting on three days’ rest, something he has never done in his career), is a frightening thought for whoever winds up facing the Dodgers.

But if the Dodgers go deep, and Kershaw winds up with five or six starts in the postseason, there is every reason to believe he can author an October performance for the ages.

Clayton Kershaw is perfectly placed for his postseason moment (LA Times)

Braves in Game 1: No hit, no field, no chance (AJC)


Pittsburgh Pirates at St. Louis Cardinals, 1 p.m., MLB Network

Pirates: Cole (10-7, 3.22) | Cardinals: Lynn (15-10, 3.97)

Tampa Bay Rays at Boston Red Sox, 3 p.m., TBS

Rays: Moore (17-4, 3.29) | Red Sox: Lester (15-8, 3.75)

Los Angeles Dodgers at Atlanta Braves, 6 p.m., TBS

Dodgers: Greinke (15-4, 2.63) | Braves: Minor (13-9, 3.21)

Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics, 9:30 p.m., TBS

Tigers: Scherzer (21-3, 2.90) | A’s: Colon (18-6, 2.65)