After attending Drive Line in the offseason and improving his velocity, Los Angeles Dodgers’ veteran Clayton Kershaw was lights out during the 2020 season. Dodger fans were confident going into each and every Kershaw Day start; their ace was back. But the postseason was another story.
Baseball fans have all heard it by now. When October comes around, Kershaw is referred to as Choke-shaw by other fan bases, sometimes, even by his own. It’s been over a decade of stunningly high highs and rock bottom lows for Kershaw in the postseason. With a career postseason ERA of 4.22 over 183.1 postseason innings since the 2008 NLCS, Kershaw looks to set all that aside in 2020 and get his well-deserved ring at last.
2020 is the year of the shortened regular season and expanded playoffs. In his starts in the Wild Card, NLDS, and NLCS, Kershaw posted a 3.32 ERA over 19 innings pitched with 23 strikeouts. In the first game of the World Series earlier this week, the Dodgers’ veteran arm threw 78 pitches over 6 full innings, striking out eight batters and walking one. He only allowed two hits, one of which was a home run. This fall classic debut was especially impressive given the Rays’ propensity for destroying curveballs. His start in the opening game of the Fall Classic brought his 2020 Postseason ERA down to 2.88. It was also his 9th career postseason start of six or more innings in which he did not allow more than one run and one walk. According to Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats), no other pitcher in MLB history has more starts of this caliber.
Let’s go back to 2019. Clayton Kershaw was used as a reliever in Game 5 of the NLDS against the 2019 World Series Champions, the Washington Nationals. Were the two back-to-back homers his fault? In my opinion, no. For the majority of his career, Clayton Kershaw has been a starting pitcher, not a reliever, though he did make his postseason debut pitching in relief in Game 2 of the 2008 NLCS against Philadelphia, the first of 7 career relief appearances in the postseason (he’s made 29 postseason starts). But in 2019, Kershaw should not have been in that position to begin with. 2020 is the first time in 8 seasons that he hasn’t been used on short rest or in relief in the playoffs, and his stat line thus far speaks volumes:
25 innings pitched. 31 strikeouts. 3 walks. a 2.88 ERA and a 0.84 WHIP.
Unfortunately, we can’t talk about Clayton Kershaw’s October career without talking about 2017. Without getting into the whole Astros situation, it’s important to note that his career World Series ERA should come with… an asterisk. In Game 1 of that World Series in Los Angeles, he went 7 innings, struck out 11 batters, and only allowed one run. But when the series returned to Houston, the scheming team used their sign-stealing system to help them score 6 runs off of Kershaw in Game 5. According to Molly Knight of The Athletic, his World Series ERA would be a 3.75 if not for that disastrous Game 5 in Houston.
For years now, Los Angeles Dodgers’ Manager, Dave Roberts, has been picked apart and blamed by Dodger fans and baseball fans because of his pitching decisions. From taking Rich Hill out in the 2018 World Series, to keeping Kenley Jansen in the closer job, they blame him for all of it. Yes, using Kershaw in relief in 2019 was a mistake. But to blame a manager for every bad thing that happens in a game is to ignore the full picture. In this particular case, the Dodgers have also won their division in every year of Roberts’ tenure as manager (since 2016), and won the pennant in three of those seasons (2017, 2018, 2020). They say hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in sports, so think about how difficult it is to even reach the postseason, let alone win the whole thing. But of course, ‘it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that ring.’
All this being said, I think that 2020 could be Kershaw’s year to set aside that narrative and finally bring home a championship. If that happens, will fans finally put the “Choke-shaw” narrative to bed, or will it come back next October as soon as he gives up another homer? Stick around and find out.
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