The Washington Nationals advanced to the NLCS for the first time since 1981 by defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-3 on the back of a Howie Kendrick 10th inning grand slam. In their first season without Bryce Harper, they got hot late and rode that momentum into a series victory of the heavily favored Dodgers.
This would be a case of burying the lead, however. The Dodgers, as NL favorites yet again, failed to live up to their regular season pedigree due to the same issues that have plagued them every postseason since they started their recent run: stars not coming through when they are needed most.
Never mind the bats not coming alive all series long, with subpar performances from both Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner. Never mind the questionable pitching decisions by manager Dave Roberts. No one on this team has the spotlight on them nearly as brightly as Clayton Kershaw does.
One of our generation’s greatest pitching talents, he has inexplicably been nowhere near his dominant self once the playoff lights turn on. With a 3-1 lead and two outs in the 7th, Dave Roberts called on Kershaw to pitch in relief of fellow ace Walker Beuhler, who had had just walked Trea Turner and been laboring to that point.
“He’s probably the best pitcher our generation, “Roberts said of his decision. “It just didn’t work out. There’s always going to be second-guessing. I’ll take my chances any day on Clayton.”
With a rested bullpen in tow, Roberts went with his horse. Kershaw got Adam Eaton to end the 7th, but things unraveled quickly in the 8th. Two pitches are all it took as both Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto took Kershaw deep back to back.
Those would be Kershaw’s last two pitches of the night, and consequently, the postseason. He would sit on the bench after leaving the game and stare into space, not a teammate close by, pondering just how things could continue to go this wrong.
If one looks at Kershaw’s regular-season stats, they’re absurd: a 2.44 ERA, 1.008 WHIP, and three Cy Young Awards to boot. When the postseason arrives, he is nowhere near that level of player: a 4.33 ERA coupled with a 1.095 WHIP. The gap between these numbers is quite staggering.
It is quite the predicament, both for Kershaw and sports fans alike. Players of his caliber are ultimately judged upon their post-season accolades. Kershaw has the opportunity to showcase his prowess over a longer course of time, considering his Dodgers have continued regular-season success, which leads to easy playoff berths. A pitcher of his stature is held to the highest of standards, and with each crushing defeat, his narrative only grows more and more.
It is now impossible to have the Kershaw conversation without including these warts. Counting only regular-season accolades, he is as sure-fire a Hall of Famer as it gets. But how can one get past his consistent postseason letdowns?
It is a shame watching someone of his heights fall so far when the lights are brightest. He is a competitor, and someone easy to root for, but someone who falls into the unfortunate category of stars who don't shine under the brightest lights.
“I’m not gonna hang my head,” says Kershaw. “I’m gonna be here and continue to try to fight, continue to try to compete. Everything people say is true right now about the postseason. I understand that. Nothing I can do about it right now. It’s a terrible feeling. It really is.” He knows his story, and that there’s only one way to correct it.
He is no longer is the unquestionable ace of the staff (that would be Beuhler), and it is safe to say we won’t be seeing those sub-2.00 ERA’s he regularly posted again. Even a Kershaw at 31 is better than most pitchers in their prime today, and with the Dodgers’ amount of talent, they’ll certainly be competing for years to come.
His expectations will remain the same, even if he cannot physically live up to them. To never find himself alone on that bench, running his continues failures in his head on a loop, he will have to mentally live up them instead.
*preview photo credited Sports Illustrated
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