It's Still Baffling To Me How Bad Clayton Kershaw Is In October
He’s the best pitcher of a generation for 11 months of the year.
In fairness, last night was not some classic Kershaw October blowup. He did go five innings and ended up with a no-decision against the Padres. The usually dominant Dodgers bullpen gave up two late-inning runs and took the loss. But this has frustrated me every October since I was in high school because I love Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw, at his best, is still better than any pitcher this generation has had to offer. Despite his injuries over the last few seasons, his career ERA still sits at 2.48. By comparison, Max Scherzer, a future first-ballot Hall of Famer, has only had two seasons in which his ERA was lower than Kershaw’s career ERA. The guy has been allergic to giving up runs most of his career, except in October.
I think it’s probably fair to say that Kershaw’s postseason woes didn’t become fully evident until 2014. Kershaw entered October on top of the world in what was a truly dominant MVP season by the lefty. That year he had a 2-month stretch in which he started 11 games, pitched 86 innings, and gave up nine runs. So naturally, Kershaw got to the postseason, pitched 12.2 innings, and gave up 11 runs against the Cardinals in 2 starts, taking a loss both times. He was the losing pitcher in the Cubs pennant-clinching game in 2016. He gave up a home run to a pitcher in his 2018 start against the Brewers in the NLCS. He was 0-2 in the 2018 World Series, and the back-to-back home runs he gave up to the Nationals in Game 5 of the 2019 NLDS kicked off their World Series run.
The most puzzling thing about Kershaw is that it’s not like he’s incapable of pitching well in October. Certain guys will never deliver on a big stage, but Kershaw has had playoff starts in which he’s gone 7+ innings and dominated. He is the all-time record holder for postseason strikeouts, though that’s mainly a cumulative statistic. The Dodgers have been to the postseason ten years in a row. He was going to have a lot of opportunities. But how he pitched in the 2020 Covid year was one of the shining moments of his career. He was 4-1 that postseason with a 2.93 ERA. That’s going to play every day of the week. But in my attempt to be as cynical as possible, I should point out that the 2020 season was a clusterfuck. Marcell Ozuna nearly won the Triple Crown, and Luke Voit was an MVP candidate. He deserves credit for how he pitched, but I can’t say he exactly exorcised all demons.
Even beyond the numbers, Kershaw has never passed the eye test in the postseason. I’ve watched him be as even keeled as possible in the regular season, but even when he’s at his best in October, something always seems a little bit off. The demeanor has been noticeably different. And it sucks because I’m one of those weirdos who likes it when the best are at their best. I haven’t enjoyed watching Scherzer and Verlander get rocked this postseason. I know they’re better than that. That’s been Kershaw for the majority of his career. And the Dodgers are still the odds-on favorite to win this thing, but if they do so, Kershaw will have to play a prominent role.