Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Looking back at Clayton Kershaw as a playoff pitcher

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By Jon Weisman

It’s inevitable that at some point before this week’s playoff rematch against St. Louis begins, Clayton Kershaw will be characterized as a postseason failure who comes up small in big games.

The reasons for this will be 1) one victory in nine postseason appearances, 2) his pedestrian 4.23 career postseason ERA and 3) his disastrous outing against the Cardinals in Game 6 of the 2014 National League Championship Series.

It’s one of the dwindling dividing lines between Kershaw and Sandy Koufax, even though Koufax himself didn’t win his first World Series game until he was almost 28.

So here’s a little quick perspective:

Kershaw’s first five postseason appearances (three in relief) were a mixed bag, but all of those came before his 22nd birthday. In his first postseason start — and first postseason showdown with the Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright — he held St. Louis to two runs over 6 2/3 innings in 2009 NLDS Game 2, the game the Dodgers eventually won, after Matt Holliday’s ninth-inning error, on Mark Loretta’s walkoff single.

Subsequently, the 21-year-old lefty shut out Philadelphia over four innings in Game 1 of the 2009 NLCS before a meltdown in the fifth that led to five runs on three hits, three walks and three wild pitches.

Move forward to 2013: Kershaw is about a month away from winning his second Cy Young Award as he heads into the playoffs.

  • In Game 1 of the 2013 NLDS against the Braves, Kershaw allows one run on six baserunners while striking out 12 in seven innings.
  • Coming back on three days’ rest in Game 4, Kershaw gives up no earned runs on four baserunners in six innings while striking out six. Two errors by Adrian Gonzalez deprive Kershaw of the lead and the chance at the victory.
  • Then in Game 2 of the 2013 NLCS, Kershaw again allows nary an earned run on three baserunners while striking out five.
  • Starting 2013 NLCS Game 6, Kershaw shuts out the Cardinals for the first two innings.

To this point, in his first postseason opportunity since entering his prime, Kershaw had thrown 19 innings and allowed one earned run (0.47 ERA) and 13 baserunners while striking out 23. His career postseason ERA, even including the foibles of his youthiest youth, was 2.73.

He had only one win to show for it, thanks to how little offensive or defensive support he was given in those games. But in the three biggest games of his 2013 season, Kershaw stood tall in each one.

Over the next three innings of Game 6, Kershaw allowed seven runs, in the kind of meltdown we have only seen once in 27 starts since (against Arizona in May). Kershaw has been the first to take on all of the blame for this. No past event has loomed larger for the 26-year-old lefty this season, and certainly this week, than the Game 6 catastrophe.

More than ever before, the 2014 playoffs will shape the perception of what caliber of postseason pitcher Kershaw is. It has become customary to expect something close to perfection out of Kershaw, especially since he expects the same from himself. But the absence of perfection does not mean failure.


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  1. Sadly I believe he could throw 6 perfect games, but won’t be considered a “winner” by some people unless the Dodgers win the World Series.

  2. Didn’t Kershaw pitch game 2 of the NLCS last year?

  3. I remember that at bat against Matt Carpenter that seemed to break everything open for the Cardinals. It was something like 10 pitches, culminating in slider to the outside corner with Carpenter managed to actually pull for a double.

    Whether fatigue was setting in at this point or not, it seems odd that if Kershaw was somehow a subpar big-game pitcher, that it wouldn’t show until the fifth inning of his fourth postseason start that year. As you point out, his postseason ERA prior to that point was 2.73, with 15 of those 36 innings coming before he was CLAYTON KERSHAW. If we’re dealing with a sample size that can be so dramatically affected by a bad inning, then we’re dealing with a sample too small.

    Over his first four starts this year, his ERA was 4.43. Over his next 23: 1.43. No one saw his May 17 start this year and decided that Kershaw was a bad regular season pitcher, but a lousy start can occur any time, clearly. Why would it tell us more about a pitcher in the postseason than in the regular season?

  4. oldbrooklynfan

    I think the tough part is we always EXPECT Kershaw to pitch close to perfection. There’s a good possibility so does he himself. Maybe the pressure builds up when he gets into trouble in the big games.
    That said, I still expect him to do well in this postseason.

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