Clayton Kershaw has lost five consecutive postseason decisions. Write the narrative. Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young winner can’t pitch when the lights shine brightest. That must be the correct narrative for a pitcher with a 2.43 career regular season ERA and a 4.99 postseason ERA, right?
During that losing streak, however, Kershaw has struck out 40 batters while walking only nine in his past 29.1 postseason innings. The Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander has allowed an uncharacteristic 28 hits in that time frame, however. In Game 1 of the NLDS against the New York Mets last night, Kershaw was utterly dominant for six innings, striking out 11 and walking only two. Things began getting a little hairy in the seventh.
Kershaw issued a leadoff walk to Lucas Duda. Michael Cuddyer hit a slow roller to third. Because Kershaw has such dominant stuff, the ball was hit softly. No double play, runner on second. Ruben Tejada walks. A sacrifice bunt by Jacob deGrom pushed the runners up a base. Kershaw then battled Curtis Granderson all the way to the brink before the Mets’ leadoff man drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch that just barely missed the plate.
If you’re keeping track, Kershaw had a shot at a bases-clearing double play erased because he is so dominant that Cuddyer could barely hit a chopper. He issued a walk on a borderline strike call that could have gone the other way with a different umpire behind the plate. Manager Don Mattingly trudged out to collect Kershaw after 113 pitches as David Wright strode to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.
Here comes Pedro Baez. Clayton Kershaw may as well have walked straight to his car to start the drive home to his family. Baez, after all, is the same pitcher who came in and gave up a three-run home run to the St. Louis Cardinals in last year’s NLDS Game 1 in relief of Kershaw. Baez also had a career 7.71 ERA before last night’s appearance.
The right-handed reliever promptly surrendered a two-run single to Wright to give the Mets a 3-0 lead and further perpetuate the notion that Clayton Kershaw cannot pitch in the postseason. In last year’s postseason, Kershaw gave up a three-run double on pitch number 110 and a three-run home run on pitch 102 after dominating for much of the game. The Dodgers, saddled by bad contracts at nearly every position in their starting lineup, have no money left to spend to assemble a semi-respectable middle relief corps. Mattingly is left with no other option than to allow Kershaw to continue attempting to soldier on with an elevated pitch count against the best teams in baseball. If you remember correctly, Pedro Martinez surrendered the lead in the eighth inning of the 2003 ALCS after throwing 123 pitches.
Clayton Kershaw can pitch in the playoffs. He’s been quite dominant at times, striking out 12.3 per nine over the past two years in the postseason. If anything, he’s been too dominant for his own good. Reaching double digit strikeouts before the sixth inning drives the pitch count way up. With no real help in the bullpen, the Dodgers are forced to allow Kershaw to try and escape trouble when he’s clearly started to fade ever so slightly. In the fourth inning, Kershaw probably strikes Granderson out instead of walking him. With 113 pitches, however, he misses ever so slightly.
The narrative that Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason has already been written, but it needs a rewrite. Consider the whole picture, and you will realize that there are many other factors at play in Kershaw’s 1-6 postseason record. Kershaw has been dominant as ever in the postseason, but he needs a little help from his manager and bullpen.