On Sunday night, Clayton Kershaw took what was perhaps his biggest step toward reversing the narrative that he is a terrible playoff pitcher. He threw five and two-thirds innings, giving up just two runs of five hits with six strikeouts. Most importantly, however, he exited the game with the Dodgers up 3-2. They would go on to win the game and take a 3-2 lead in the World Series.
It was Kershaw’s fourth start this postseason in which he went at least five innings and gave up three or fewer runs. It was also his fourth win of the postseason and second of the World Series.
Over his career, Kershaw has developed a reputation as a serial playoff choker who could never get it done when his team needed him most. A lot of the Dodger’s recent playoff failures have fallen on his shoulders.
It is completely unfair to blame one of the greatest starting pitchers of all time for his team’s consistently underwhelming playoff performances. I am not going to argue that Kershaw is a phenomenal playoff performer, but I also think he in unfairly maligned.
He has had plenty of poor performances, such as giving up nine earned runs in 11 innings in the 2018 World Series and his disastrous performance in Game 5 of the 2017 World Series, when he gave up six runs in under five innings.
However, the both the 2017 and 2018 postseasons are great examples of how, so often, a few bad performances outweigh a higher number of good ones. In 2017, Kershaw was 3-0 entering the World Series and also responded to his terrible Game 5 start with four shutout innings just three days later in Game 7. In 2018, he got the win in Game 5 of the NLCS to swing the series back in the Dodgers’ favor and pitched a perfect ninth inning to close out Game 7 and send the Dodgers to the World Series.
Kershaw has had his share of rough performances in the playoffs, but he has also been a victim of bad managerial decisions and poor relief pitching. Since 2013, the Dodgers have made the playoffs, and Kershaw has made a total of 32 appearances. He left 17 runners on base across the eight appearances that he left the game with runners on. Of those 17 runners, 15 scored. That is a colossal failure on the part of the Dodgers’ bullpen.
The most important job for a reliever is to stop runners from scoring, and the Dodgers relievers have not helped Kershaw one bit over the last eight years. In addition, in three of those eight games, he was taken out in the seventh inning, having thrown at least 110 pitches. Multiple times in his postseason career, Kershaw has been left on the mound too long, and then when he allows baserunners and is taken out, the bullpen has not helped him at all.
In addition, Kershaw has been brought out of the bullpen far too many times in the playoffs in his career. Managers like to bring their aces on in relief in key situations, but Kershaw, who has never been a great playoff pitcher, should not be used in that role.
The bottom line is that while Kershaw deserves a good deal of blame for not showing up in the playoffs, people should look at the circumstances surrounding the Dodgers’ playoff failures and not just blame Kershaw when things go wrong. He is one of the greatest pitchers of this generation, and personally, I hope he finally captures that elusive ring.
Will Cunningham is a sophomore studying journalism at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Will know by emailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org.