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Clayton Kershaw's Disappointing NLDS an Unfortunate Ending to Monumental Season

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterOctober 8, 2014

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There are times when "the narrative" has a point. But there are also times when it can be downright unfair.

For Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw, this is one of those times. After what he did in the National League Division Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, the narrative is about to pin a big ol' "Yeah, but" on the tail of his truly remarkable 2014 season. If he's lucky, that's all it will do.

Since this is unfair, I say screw the narrative. Let's tell it like it really is.

The numbers are ugly. Kershaw started in the Dodgers' 10-9 loss in Game 1 and their 3-2 series-ending loss in Game 4 on Tuesday, and in all, he allowed 12 hits and 11 earned runs in 12.2 innings.

That's a 7.82 ERA that jumps off the page, grabs you by your shirt collar and insists in ominous tones that every pitch Kershaw threw in the series was an utter disaster.

But you and I actually watched Kershaw pitch. And while there's no getting around that the results are disappointing, that means you and I know that Kershaw was actually Kershaw for the most part.

Through six innings in Game 1, Kershaw had allowed only two runs on solo home runs by Randal Grichuk and Matt Carpenter. In Game 4, he allowed only one hit and zero runs through his first six innings of work, impressive stuff considering that he was starting on only three days' rest.

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Focus on those 12 innings. Those are the good ones. As far as those innings are concerned, the guy who pitched to a 1.77 ERA in the regular season pitched to a 1.50 ERA in the NLDS. These are the 12 innings that say, "Clayton Kershaw was here."

Alas, it's those dastardly seventh innings that ruin everything.

In the seventh inning of Game 1, the Cardinals put together a rally that touched up Kershaw for six hits and six earned runs. As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan highlighted, the Cardinals simply weren't missing the ace lefty's mistakes. As a result, a brilliant performance in the making was destroyed in the series of a few batters.

What happened in Game 4, however, was even more heartbreaking.

It started when Matt Holliday hit a ground ball that nicked off a diving Dee Gordon's glove for a single. The next batter up was Jhonny Peralta, who hit a soft liner that managed to evade a leaping Hanley Ramirez. Like that, it was clear that the BABIP gods were suddenly not on Kershaw's side.

That brought up Matt Adams, whom Kershaw should have had dead to rights after two pitches. 

Here's David Schoenfield of ESPN.com:

Adams swung through a 93 mph fastball up in the zone. Kershaw came in with his famous curveball, regarded as maybe the most unhittable pitch in the game. In the regular season, batters hit .122 against it with one home run. Over three seasons they hit .101 against it with one home run. It's unhittable. 

Except it isn't. 

Adams made that last point plenty clear with this blast:

Via Newsday's David Lennon, the man himself was willing to take the heat for this one:

No. No, it can't happen.

And by all rights, it shouldn't have happened.

The matchup between Kershaw and Adams was a matchup between a pitcher who limited left-handed batters to a .252 slugging percentage and a hitter who only slugged .298 off of left-handed pitchers. And in choosing his curveball to get strike two, Kershaw was basically going with a foolproof pitch.

Beyond the numbers Schoenfield mentioned, there's this: Kershaw had never given up a home run on a curveball to a lefty batter before. That's according to both Brooks Baseball and BaseballSavant.com.

Kershaw chose the right pitch. It can be noted that he didn't throw his best curveball, but then you wonder how many of the literally hundreds of curveballs he threw to lefty batters before that one could be classified as "his best." Certainly not all of them, and yet none got taken over the wall anyway.

A lefty taking Kershaw's curveball yard was going to happen sooner or later. That it happened at the least opportune time imaginable is not a case of him choking. Kershaw's outing and, ostensibly, his season ended because baseball decided to be baseball.

And that's a shame. I say that not because of an incurable Dodgers bias—folks around here tend to think I'm actually a San Francisco Giants homer—but because Kershaw deserved a better ending for what was, again, a truly remarkable season.

Want to remember the good times? 

Yeah, let's remember the good times.

The following is what's going into the books for Kershaw's 2014 regular season:

Clayton Kershaw's 2014 Season
GSW-LCGIPK/9BB/9K/BBFIPERAERA+
2721-36198.110.81.47.711.811.77197
Baseball-Reference.com

Boy howdy, is there a lot of good stuff up there. Naturally, some of it can be put into nifty historical context.

If wins are your thing, Kershaw is the first pitcher since Ernie Broglio in 1960 to win 21 or more games in 27 or fewer starts. Also, only he and Gio Gonzalez have ever won 21 games while pitching under 200 innings.

If you're more of an ERA person, Kershaw's 1.77 ERA made him the first pitcher to dip into the 1.70 range since Pedro Martinez in 2000. And while his 197 ERA+ is only good enough to place in the top 40 all-time, his 1.81 FIP is the best since Martinez in 1999 and in the top 25 all-time.

As for Kershaw's Wins Above Replacement, Baseball-Reference.com put it at 7.5. He's the first pitcher to accomplish such a feat in 27 or fewer starts since Greg Maddux in 1994. FanGraphs only put Kershaw's WAR at 7.2, but the only pitchers to ever manage to do that in so few starts are him, Maddux in 1994 and Rube Waddell in 1902. 

It's hard to say exactly how historic Kershaw's season was from a statistical perspective, there being so many numbers to take in and all. But there's enough that says he pitched the best season in recent memory, and you can also say with a straight face that he pitched one of the greatest seasons ever.

And included among it, of course, was one of the greatest games ever pitched.

With a Game Score of 102, Kershaw's 15-strikeout no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies in June checks in as the second-greatest performance (maximum of nine innings) in league history behind only Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout game in 1998. And though a Hanley Ramirez error cost him an official perfect game, Kershaw did notch the highest Game Score ever for a no-hit, no-walk performance.

It all didn't begin especially well, of course, as Kershaw was limited to 27 starts because of an injury that sidelined him for all of April. And ultimately, it didn't end well, either.

What the narrative of Kershaw's 2014 season should be, however, is that a pitcher who was already great put together his magnum opus. And, on a related note, that it was damn fun to watch.

Mourn the final destination if you must, but don't forget to celebrate the journey. 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted/linked.  

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