When Clayton Kershaw is on the mound, Dodgers fans are usually excited. He’s the greatest lefty of the 2010s, winner of three Cy Young awards.
Then the postseason rolls us; specifically, the postseason version of Kershaw that is a mere shell of his expected self. He’s 9-11 with a 4.33 ERA in playoff games. That is not ace worthy, even if he’s been the ace of the Dodgers for nearly his entire career.
Houston Mitchell of the LA Times aired his frustrations, and the frustrations of many Dodger fans, this morning with particular accuracy:
"Let’s face it, Kershaw will never challenge Sandy Koufax, or even Don Drysdale, as the best pitcher in Dodgers history until he has a dominant postseason. He hasn’t had one. Sure, he has had the occasional great outing, but there’s something about the postseason that makes him just another pitcher… The greatest pitchers rise to the occasion. And that’s all I have to say about that."
Why do we keep letting ourselves believe in a turnaround that would buck a trend that has been in the works since the second playoff start of his career? Why do we expect Kershaw to put up incredible starts that silence the haters from across the country and from within LA as well, when he’s been one of the worst playoff aces in recent years?
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For starters, we love him. We love his happy-go-lucky attitude and how it can be flipped in an instant when he is locked in and ready to go to war for his team. His intensity shines through in everything he does, along with the enthusiasm he brings to work.
He never quit on the Dodgers, even when many Dodgers fans quit on him, both during the postseason and over the last few years when he’s begun to demonstrate that he’s simply human.
No longer the game’s greatest starting pitcher, Kershaw is a diminished version of himself already, albeit one that still put up a 3.03 ERA and logged 178.1 innings for a franchise-record setting team. That 3.03 ERA is actually his highest since his rookie year; he had not gone over 2.91 at any point in his career since.
One cannot say the same about his postseason numbers though. They’ve been notably worse than his regular-season numbers.
But even so, he’s still one of the top pitchers in the game. We Dodgers fans got to see every single one of his triumphs, from his personal awards and no-hitters to his gutsy short rest appearances in the postseason. We have seen his decline more clearly than many around the game, and we should have known that a match up with peak Stephen Strasburg probably wasn’t as close as it was made out to be.
It’s funny though. Even after writing that, Kershaw really did not put up the worst start of his postseason career, and for many pitchers, throwing six innings and allowing just three runs, which is considered a “quality start” statistically, is all you can really ask for from a pitcher facing one of the best offenses in the National League besides your own.
So even though Kershaw’s playoff track record is so far from what you’d expect and hope for as a believer in the Dodgers and in Kershaw himself, don’t lose hope. Give him the chance to prove the world and the odds wrong later this series because surely, we’re going to need him.