Clayton Kershaw Will Never Be the GOAT As Long As Postseason Flops Continue

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistOctober 13, 2018

Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) reacts after giving up two runs during the fourth inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers Friday, Oct. 12, 2018, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
Jeff Roberson/Associated Press

What do Clayton Kershaw and pumpkins have in common?

They both get carved up in October.       

Is that a bit of a cheap shot? Sure.

Does the Los Angeles Dodgers ace deserve it after yet another embarrassing performance on the October stage? Yes.

To put a finer point on it: After Kershaw's latest flop Friday in Game 1 of the National League Championship Series, it's worth wondering if he'll ever cement his status among the greatest pitchers of all time.

In a scant three innings against the Milwaukee Brewers at Miller Park, Kershaw coughed up five runs (four earned) on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts.

Most damningly, he surrendered a game-tying home run to Milwaukee reliever Brandon Woodruff, who was hitting from the left side.


Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

It was far from the dominant showing the Dodgers were counting on and teed up a 6-5 Brewers victory.

There's plenty of series left. Los Angeles can bounce back, and Kershaw will almost assuredly pitch again.

But it was yet another checkered chapter in Kershaw's up-and-down postseason history. Great as he's been overall, his bumpy playoff resume is a significant blemish on his permanent record.

After Friday's outing, Kershaw's career postseason ERA sits at 4.26 in 133 innings. That's enough of a sample size to draw conclusions, and they aren't great. In fact, they're downright mediocre.

All too often under the game's brightest lights, Kershaw has wilted.

No one denies he's a generational talent. He's won three NL Cy Young Awards, an NL MVP trophy and amassed 50.7 WAR since 2011, according to FanGraphs, easily the highest total of any pitcher during that span. 

In March 2017, The Ringer's Ben Lindbergh made a credible case for Kershaw as a historically special arm, in the company of hallowed, top-tier Hall of Famers.

With all that stipulated, he needs to do it now. He needs to dig in his heels and prove his mettle when the pressure and stakes are cranked up to eleven. 

Kershaw is 8-8 in the postseason after laying an egg in Game 1 against the Brewers. That's the definition of mediocre and wholly unbecoming a transcendent player.

The Dodgers showed resilience Friday despite Kershaw's ho-hum effort and made it a game to the bitter end. They might come back against the Brewers regardless of Kershaw's contributions, though defeating the defending champion Houston Astros or potent Boston Red Sox in the World Series will be a taller task.

Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Los Angeles hasn't hoisted a Commissioner's Trophy since 1988. Kershaw has done incredible things in Dodger blue, but he hasn't carried his club across the finish line. 

Listen to what he told reporters after the Dodgers' Game 7 loss to the Astros in the 2017 Fall Classic: "Maybe one of these days, I won't fail, we won't fail and we'll win one of these things. There's only one team that can succeed. There's only one team that wins the last game, so that's tough."

Setting aside the defeatist language, he's right. It is tough.

So were the four errors the Dodgers committed in their Game 1 loss. There was blame to go around, as Mike Petriello of MLB.com noted:

Mike Petriello @mike_petriello

Feels like the loud part here is going to be "Kershaw loses a postseason game" and the quiet part will be "... and the Dodgers forgot how to play defense, entirely."

A big blame scoop must be heaped on Kershaw's plate, however. He was asked to summon greatness, and he responded with a less-than-replacement-level effort.

His average fastball velocity dipped to 91.4 mph this year from a career average of 93.8 mph. He's wrestled with back and arm injuries and will turn 31 in March. If you're searching for red flags, you can find them.

On the other hand, he's carved up enough big leaguers to deserve a seat at the all-time greatness table. Recall, he twirled eight shutout innings in a division-series win Oct. 5 against the Atlanta Braves

On the other, other hand, after another playoff face-plant, he remains a pumpkin.

Is that a cheap shot? Sure.

Is it also accurate until further notice? Yes.


All statistics current as of Friday and courtesy of FanGraphs