Dodgers: “Playoff Kershaw” May be Misunderstood

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06: Clayton Kershaw
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06: Clayton Kershaw /

The Dodgers got the win in Game 1, but Clayton Kershaw’s line may be disappointing. It will add fuel to the fire of “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason,” but that narrative is greatly mistaken.

After giving up four solo home runs in the Dodgers’ win, Clayton Kershaw’s night ended at 6.1 innings, five hits, three walks, four earned runs and seven strikeouts. His playoff ERA now sits at an unsightly 4.63 ERA. However, like everything, you have to look at everything in context.

Yesterday, Kershaw was cruising through six innings. His pitch count was good, had only given up two hits, albeit two home runs, and had seven strikeouts. The only ugly number was the “3” in the walks column. This is all considering he only had command of one pitch.

Then his nemesis, the seventh inning came along. The pitch count was low, so you can’t really blame Doc for letting Kershaw go out. In the back of his mind, he probably let Kershaw go out as more of a “prove it” move.

Well, so much for that. He proceeded to allow home runs to the seven and eight hitters. He had recorded one quick out to start the inning, and because he was facing the Diamondbacks’ weakest hitters with a five-run cushion, he thought to overpower them with his fastball and get it done with.

But, they ambushed the first-pitch heaters. Home runs have been a problem for Kersh all season long, so it’s no surprise to see him give them up this game. The big surprise is four home runs, although he did do it once this year.

However, Yasmani Grandal should have called for better pitches, such as a curveball away or something to keep them off balance, especially after the first one. So some blame should go to him.

But regarding Kershaw, for all those that say he is a choker or a playoff bust, he isn’t. It’s true he has not consistently been the same person he is in the regular season, but he has not been terrible. Bad luck has plagued him, and the seventh inning is where he gets wrecked.

Before yesterday’s game, he had a playoff ERA of 2.78 between innings 1-6. And he pretty much lived up to that, pitching six solid innings without the proper command of over half his arsenal. But his playoff ERA in seventh innings before yesterday was 25.20, which skew his overall numbers. And he lived up to that as well.

It’s just shocking how someone of his caliber can cruise through six but then somehow just change. It has to be mental. But you cannot ignore the physical aspect of it too. Fatigue plays a huge factor, especially when coming off a back injury.

Yesterday he admitted to fatigue, saying, “I just didn’t have much left, I don’t know.”

And that has been the case with him throughout the playoffs. “Playoff Kershaw” is literally “Seventh Inning Kershaw.” A guy who the Dodgers usually ride into the ground.

During Game 1 of the 2014 NLDS, Kershaw was at around 100 pitches going into the seventh and was showing visible signs of fatigue. This would usually lead to a call to the pen for almost any other team.

However, Don Mattingly (manager at the time) decided to leave him in for a little longer and let his pitch count rise to about 115 before taking him out. To be fair, the bullpen was not reliable, but a fresh mediocre arm is almost always better than a very fatigued starter. The fact that the Dodgers had a healthy lead should have been even more reason to pull him.

But Kershaw went back out, battled, got beat up and allowed two runs in the inning.  Pull him now right? Nope. Mattingly hung him out to dry. After Kersh allows a bases-clearing double to Matt Carpenter, Mattingly then goes to the bullpen, and the bullpen allows the inherited runner to score.

In Game 4 of that same NLDS, he dominated through the first six innings on three days rest. In the seventh, he allowed back to back weak singles.

However, those two base-runners should not have even been on base. Defensive misplays by Dee Gordon and Hanley Ramirez were the reasons. They would be the first ones to tell you that they should have made those plays.

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That brought up lefty Matt Adams, who made Kershaw pay for his only mistake of the night, by blasting a 3-run home run. At this point, Kershaw was well-above 100 pitches, which is remarkable for any pitcher on short rest.

In Game 4 of last year’s NLDS, Kershaw was doing great, again on short rest. Through six innings he had ten strikeouts and had allowed just two runs, but he ran into trouble again. He ended up getting two outs but left the seventh with the bases loaded.

But you can easily argue it shouldn’t have gotten to that point because he got squeezed on a strike-three call to Bryce Harper which would have ended the inning.

Or he should have been taken out earlier because he was clearly fatigued. He was, again over 100 pitches on three-days rest, and was coming off a back injury.

But instead, as usual, was left to fight through it. This was again mismanaging, but this time by Dave Roberts.

The bullpen proceeds to let all three inherited runners score. Speaking of which, in 12 postseason starts since 2013, the bullpen has allowed seven of the nine inherited runners to score. Six of those seven runners scored with two outs and five of those seven scored with runners on first and/or second base. The job of a bullpen is to stop the bleeding and preserve a lead, not the opposite.

And if you want to take a more in-depth look at it, Dave Schoenfield of ESPN picks out six specific pitches that have defined Kershaw’s playoff reputation. And four of the six balls he should not have been in the game for.

So blame him all you want, but it’s not entirely on his shoulders. Yes, he does deserve some criticism because he has had excellent five excellent starts in October since 2013 and why he can’t-do it more consistently is baffling.

That and he doesn’t blow up in the seventh inning of regular season games, but he is also fresher then. Why his managers won’t protect and take him out after six with a comfortable lead is beyond me.

Next: Trust Small-Ball

Whether you believe it or not, the fact is “Playoff Kershaw” is actually “Seventh-Inning” Kershaw created by fatigue, bad managing, bad bullpens and just bad luck. Someone Los Angeles likes to ride into the ground.