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Clayton Kershaw's reputation nearly cost the Dodgers the NLDS

Clayton Kershaw’s reputation kept him in the game, not his pitches. And it’s why his postseason reputation suffered yet again.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, right after Clayton Kershaw embarrassed the Washington Nationals in the fifth inning, I was halfway through a new article.


... it began.


... it continued.


... it continued for, like, seven more paragraphs, but it hadn’t gone to an editor yet, so there were still some tweaks to be made. I was proud of this piece.

Kershaw’s final line: 6 2/3 innings pitched, five earned runs. You don’t get to run a neener-neener post based on a line like that. It’s one of the unwritten rules of baseball writing. It was all flushed.

In its place, I present to you a compendium of Kershaw’s rotten luck. Because we should have been celebrating him unambiguously. On three day’s rest, with a wonky back, he took the ball and gave the Los Angeles Dodgers six strong innings. He looked strong. He made several Nationals look silly, and he settled down after a long, tortured first inning. Instead, that final line looks like something you would get from Ricky Nolasco (the Twins version).

It’s not fair. While I’m not going pitch-by-pitch like I did with this 2014 post, I’ve watched all of the pitches Kershaw threw in this inning and hyper-analyzed all of them. Because I need to know why Kershaw has such rotten luck and/or results when he’s extended in postseason games.


Kershaw had thrown 97 pitches on short rest. The Dodgers had a three-run lead. The reward of sending him out there was ... that he would protect a three-run lead? Anyone should be able to do that. You shouldn’t need a starter to do it for you on short rest with the pitch count getting up there.

Note: Bruce Bochy is getting roasted in some circles for doing just the opposite, taking his starting pitcher out with a high pitch count. The only rule is that if it doesn’t work, you’re going to hear about it forever.

Now we’re going to sort the inning into a couple different categories.

All the times Kershaw was screaming, "I’M TIRED, DAVE. I’M VERY, VERY TIRED" with his pitches, not his mouth.

That’s the first pitch of the inning. It is not a good location. And it’s right then when I would have gone out to get him.

Let’s go over some different kinds of red flags.

I can tell you need a new transmission just by looking at this car. Let me write up an estimate.

I’ve never watched a toddler before, but my boyfriend has, I think, and he’s coming over the second you leave.

Boy, Danny Espinosa sure looked comfortable on that swing.

That is just about the only way you can go wrong against Espinosa. As long as you don’t make a mistake in the middle of the plate, you’re fine. Kershaw made a mistake. But Kershaw doesn’t make mistakes. So ... carry the one ... my goodness, there might be a problem, here.

After striking out Pedro Severino, Kershaw had to face noted lefty masher Chris Heisey. This was a second-pitch fastball. It might be the worst pitch I’ve seen Kershaw throw this year.

This is the second pitch of the inning that would make me think, "Okay, thanks for being our ace, our horse, now back in the stable." This was the pitch that would have made me get Kershaw. Consider where it was supposed to be:

This wasn’t going to end well.

Here Kershaw is on a 1-2 pitch, trying to get Trea Turner to chase.

Not tempting. A mechanical mess. Kershaw doesn’t have a lot of command of his fastball. But at least he has command of his curveball, right?

Bad curveball! No! Bad!

Turner hit it weakly, but that’s not the point. It was a hanging curve, something you rarely see from Kershaw.

This is the third at-bat of the inning that ended on a bad pitch. More than that, the third at-bat that ended on a very un-Kershaw pitch. And with Bryce Harper coming up as the tying run. There was no way that Dave Roberts was going to let ...

oh come on


Here are two fastballs from the at-bat against a good hitter:

The first one I’m not sure about. The second one is an abomination that should have been hit over the pavilion. Look at the catcher reaching back. It could have been ugly.

Long post short: There were three times Kershaw looked tired at the end of the at-bat. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that he was imperfect against Harper when he was trying to be imperfect.

All the times Kershaw was a victim of rotten luck

The bullpen, mostly. The two relievers who came in after Kershaw needed one out. They were unable to get it. That’s not Kershaw’s fault, and we wouldn’t be here talking about this if they were competent.

There was also the hit from Turner that Seager flipped to second just a little late.

Remember that it came on a bad pitch, but it was the slight trouble Seager had getting it out of his glove that kept the inning going. It’s not that Kershaw was so brutally unlucky the whole inning. It’s that if this play happens the way it normally does, we’re not talking about anything other than Kershaw being brilliant.

If Hanley Ramirez can play a better shortstop, remember, Kershaw gets out of the first sixth inning of doom, against the St. Louis Cardinals in 2014.

The narrative that Kershaw is bad in the postseason hinges on two shortstops not doing what other shortstops might have. That seems like a bad way to evaluate a pitcher.

On the other hand, Kershaw also got away with a lot of missed pitches in this inning. So maybe "fair" is a relative turn.

All the times Kershaw looked like Kershaw

These were the reasons that made Roberts second-guess himself on the top of the dugout step. "Maybe the guy still has it."

Either he hit the glove, or the pitch was buried without the potential to cause harm. They happened. Just not enough.

The moral of the story? Kershaw probably should have come out after he got lucky with Heisey, who should have hit it 450 feet. If that had happened, he would have come out, and Kershaw would have settled for four ER, which is somewhat palatable.

Think about that, though. If Heisey does something different, Kershaw comes out. Why should it matter what Heisey does with the pitch? Isn’t it a bigger problem that the pitch exists in the first place?

The Dodgers won, so this is all just for our own edification. But it’s also instructive if they decide to use Kershaw on short rest in the NLCS or World Series. He’s fantastic, and he’s preferable on short rest to almost anyone in the world on regular rest, but that doesn’t mean the Dodgers can treat him like he’s the regular ol’ Kershaw. He gets tired. He shows signs of it.

Listen to those signs and stop pretending he’s immune to normal pitcher stuff. When you fail to do that, you feed the narrative.

Do not feed the narrative.

The Dodgers got lucky, even as Clayton Kershaw was unlucky. More than that, though, he was mismanaged. He gets tired. There’s a chance the team will learn from this, if not now, then next year, when management is contemplating starting Kershaw on short rest for the fifth straight Division Series. Dodgers fans have to hope so.