It’s been a little more 48 hours since the Chicago Cubs defeated Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers to capture their first National League pennant in 71 years and finally buried the Curse of the Billy Goat finally, but a lot of the talk has been focused on how Kershaw still can’t pitch in the postseason. I’m not really sure what games the rest of the world was watching, but the Clayton Kershaw I saw was definitely on his game. Now sure, he didn’t pitch anywhere close to his regular season numbers from this summer (12-4, 1.69 ERA, 172 K’s, 0.72 WHIP, 149.0 IP), but he doesn’t exactly deserve this kind of criticism either.
In four postseason starts and a relief appearance (on a single day’s rest) this fall, Kershaw finished 2-1, with a 4.44 ERA in 24.1 innings pitched, 29 strikeouts, 4 BB’s, 24 hits, and a save. Sure, the Game 6 loss at Wrigley Field the other night will leave a bad taste in the mouth of the Dodger faithful through the winter, but, at least in my opinion, if you look beyond simply his stat line, Kershaw actually pitched quite well.
In the NLDS against the Nationals, Kershaw started Games 1 and 4, both wins for Los Angeles. In Game 1, he took the hill opposite Nationals’ ace Max Scherzer, giving up 3 runs on 8 hits with 7 K’s and a single walk through 5.0 innings, earning a 4-3 victory. In Game 4, four nights later, Kershaw’s final line included 5 runs on 7 hits with 11 K’s and 2 walks. He left the game after 6.2 innings with the game tied 5-5. The Dodgers took the lead in the 8th on a Chase Utley RBI single that scored Andrew Toles, and would win the game 6-5. Two nights later, on only one day’s rest, Kershaw took the mound with one out in the bottom of the ninth and held of the Nationals, earning his first Major League save, and his first since 2006 when he played for the Dodgers’ Gulf Coast rookie league team.
Against the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS, it was more of the same for Kershaw in the Dodgers’ 1-0 Game 1 victory, as the lefty tossed 7 scoreless innings, striking out 6 while giving up only 2 hits and a single walk. The game’s lone run came on a solo shot off the bat of Dodger’s first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in the second inning. Game 6 was a different story for the boys in blue, as they suffered a 5-0 series clinching defeat, thanks to a masterful performance by Cubs’ starter Kyle Hendricks.
The Cubs got off to a hot start in Game 6 on Saturday night, knowing that they were only one win away from returning to the World Series for the first time since 1945. In the bottom of the 1st, Kris Bryant had a RBI single to right field, followed by a Ben Zobrist sac fly to center, giving the North siders a 2-0 lead. In the second, Dexter Fowler singled home another run, pushing the Dodgers’ deficit to 3. Wilson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo added solo shots in the 4th and 5th innings, bringing the score to 5-0 after five. L.A. skipper Dave Roberts had seen enough, and Kershaw’s night (5.0 IP, 7 H, 4 K’s, 0 BB) was over.
Through the 12 innings pitched by Kershaw in the NLCS this year, he received a single run of support from the Dodgers’ offense. In fact, in his last 22 innings pitch in the Championship Series, that is the only run support he has received, totaling 3 trips dating back to 2008 versus the Phillies. I am in no way trying to persuade anyone that Clayton Kershaw is even near the top of the ranks for pitchers in the postseason, but can we really say that he can’t do it? Sure, Game 6 wasn’t one of his better starts this postseason, but he would have had to have been damn near perfect to pitch any better than Hendricks, who had the night of his life. And Kershaw giving up one run or 100 runs isn’t the difference between the World Series and the golf course when the Dodgers’ offense scores zero.
He still can’t erase the 0-4 record and 18 earned runs given up against the Cardinals in the 2013 and 2014 postseasons, but Clayton Kershaw has definitely stepped up his game in the postseason in the past 2 years. And yes, he is still 4-7 with a 3.93 ERA, but with a little run support at least a couple of those L’s could have turned into W’s. The Dodgers also ran into a Cubs team and fan base on Saturday night in Wrigley that was hoping to see something that hadn’t been done on the north side of Chicago since before the invention of the television, diet soda, Mr. Potato Head, and even the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Kershaw turns 29 in March and will be entering his 10th season in Dodger blue next spring. We should expect nothing less than greatness from him through 162 games next summer, the big question mark will lie in if he can silence the critics and continue his dominance through October and into November then, or ever. But, at the end of 2016, he has done enough, at least in my eyes, to prove that he no longer deserves to be known as a hero in the spring and summer and nothing but a disappointment in the fall.