Clayton Kershaw will go down as one of the greatest pitchers of his generation. But in addition to his legacy as one of the greatest regular-season pitchers of all-time, Kershaw may also be remembered as a pitcher that could never get the job done in the postseason.
There is still time for the 31-year-old to rewrite the book on his playoff career someday. But in Game 5 of the NLDS against the Washington Nationals on Wednesday night, he just added another sad chapter to the legacy of ‘Playoff Kershaw’.
Clayton Kershaw suffers another playoff meltdown
The Los Angeles Dodgers got off to a dream start in Game 5. Walker Buehler sat the Nationals down 1-2-3 in the top of the first inning. In the bottom of the first, Joc Pederson opened the game with a ground rule double to deep left, and Max Muncy followed that up with a home run to right center field. It was the first home run that Stephen Strasburg had ever allowed in the postseason, and it gave Los Angeles a lightning-fast 2-0 lead.
The Dodgers added to their lead with a Kike Hernandez home run in the first at bat of the second inning. Los Angeles now led 3-0, and while Strasburg would settle down after that Hernandez home run to pitch through the sixth inning without giving up another run, the damage had been done.
Walker Buehler pitched his way into the seventh inning having given up only one run in the sixth. In the top of the seventh, Buehler recorded two outs but also put two runners on. Clayton Kershaw was brought into the game to get the Dodgers out of their seventh-inning jam, and he did so by striking out Adam Eaton. The score remained 3-1 Dodgers.
Manager Dave Roberts left Kershaw in the game to pitch in the top of the eighth inning. This proved to be a costly mistake. Anthony Rendon homered to left on the second pitch of the first at bat of the eighth inning. Juan Soto crushed a home run to deep right center on the very next pitch, tying the game at 3-3 in mere moments. Kershaw was replaced by Kenta Maeda, who struck out each of the next three Nationals batters.
Kershaw is a mediocre pitcher in the playoffs
The Nationals would go on to win the game 7-3 in extra innings, extending the Los Angeles Dodgers’ World Series drought to 31 years and Kershaw’s personal nightmarish run of disappointing postseasons.
In reality, “Playoff Kershaw” isn’t as bad as some baseball fans might expect. Clayton Kershaw has pitched in 16 playoff series in his career; across 158.1 postseason innings pitched, the veteran lefty owns a 4.33 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP. This translates to a little under an earned run allowed every two innings he pitches.
Sometimes he’s bad. Sometimes he’s great. Most of the time, he’s what he was in his Game 2 loss to the Nationals in this series. Six innings pitched, six hits, one walk, three earned runs. Not disastrous, but not dominant either.
But what makes this so unacceptable is that Kershaw is dominant during the regular season. He’s one of the all-time greats. He has a 2.44 career ERA and a 1.01 career WHIP. You’d expect to see a slight drop-off from the regular season to the postseason as the level of competition dramatically increases in October. But to go from elite to average is not a good look.
This isn’t only Kershaw’s fault
At the end of the day, the Dodgers didn’t do enough to win this best-of-5 game series against the Nationals. Offseason acquisition A.J. Pollock went 0-for-13 in the series. Cody Bellinger, after batting .305 with 47 home runs and 115 RBI during the regular season, batted .211 with no home runs or RBI in the NLDS. And this is just to name a few of the under-performers.
But for as long as Clayton Kershaw wears Dodger blue, all eyes will be on him to get the job done in the postseason. The Dodgers should continue to be an elite regular-season team, so Kershaw should continue to get more chances to rewrite his legacy; but time will eventually run out.