Wednesday, October 24, 2018

GUEST POST: Clayton Kershaw Chokes ... Again

A familiar October sight (via @LOLKNBR on Twitter) 

There probably isn’t a God. At least, not the one with a fluffy beard that holds odd grudges and wipes out entire tribes in The Bible. There really isn’t much evidence for it.

 But let me present you with Exhibit A in my case against God’s existence: Clayton Kershaw.

The longtime Dodgers ace had another ugly playoff performance in Game 1 of the World Series last night. Four innings pitched, 5 earned runs. It was the latest postseason faceplant in a career unfortunately full of them for Kersh.

Never mind that Kershaw’s defense did him no favors in the first inning. (David Freese looked like he was failing a field sobriety test as he tried to track down Mookie Betts’ foul ball.) Or that the bullpen later allowed two runs to score on his dime. Or that the offense let several opportunities slip by. Or that Alex Wood essentially sealed the Dodgers’ fate, allowing a late 3-run blast. The Dodgers needed Kershaw to come through. They needed him to pitch like the best pitcher of his generation. And he didn’t. Again.

The latest implosion marked the sixth time in 23 postseason starts he’s been charged with 5 earned runs or more. That’s one out of every four games he gets absolutely rocked. And that’s not even counting several other flops — like the 4 runs he allowed in three innings a few weeks ago against the Brewers in Game 1 of the NLCS.

For comparison purposes, he’s had 18 games total out of 316 career starts with 5 earned runs or more in the regular season. In short, he’s four-times more likely to self-combust in the playoffs.

Of course, some of this is understandable. He’s playing against better competition, for one. And a few of his early career meltdowns can be chocked up to Don Mattingly leaving him in the game too damn long. Many Dodgers fans love to point to the bullpen routinely giving up inherited runs on Kershaw’s behalf — pumping his postseason ERA even higher. His 3.58 postseason FIP suggests he hasn’t been as bad as his 4.28 ERA would lead you to believe. And how can he be a choker? He’s thrown plenty of playoff gems, including two this year alone.

I get it. But this is who he is in the playoffs — an enigma. Years of mounting injuries certainly aren’t helping. And crying “small sample” offers no refuge. He's pitched 145 postseason innings at this point — the ninth most in MLB history. By postseason standards — where everything is a small sample — this is anything but a small sample. He walks more guys, allows more hits, and allows twice as many home runs in the playoffs as he does in the regular season.

Even factoring in bad luck, he isn't the same generational talent once the playoffs start. Blowing a four run lead and a three run lead in Game 5 of last year's World Series should've crystallized that once and for all. Any Dodgers fan telling you they feel confident about Kershaw heading into a big game is either lying or delusional.

Which brings me all the way back to my initial claim. Sports are pretty dumb. Jerry Seinfeld famously joked we’re just cheering for laundry. But Kersh is one of those guys that transcends the laundry. You enjoy cheering for him. He seems like a nice dude, even though we really don’t know these guys at all, obviously. His family is adorable. He’s good at ping-pong. He’s got that cool Texas drawl. He’s on the God Squad. He’s dedicated to his craft.

Seriously, how can this guy be the face of postseason failure? I say it with tongue firmly in cheek — because why would god care about sports? — but it seems cruel for a loving deity to routinely punish someone like Kershaw.

Every time a Fox camera catches him sighing in disgust in the dugout — an annual sign Halloween is right around the corner for Dodgers fans — my heart hurts, like I'm watching a family member fail on the biggest stage. If this sounds a little too emotional — approaching Bill Simmons on Roger Clemens territory — well, it probably is. But quotes like this don't help:

"Maybe one of these days I won't fail, we won't fail, and we'll win one of these things," Kershaw told USA Today, after the Dodgers lost Game 7 to the Astros last year. "It's hard. You go through this much effort to win that many games against this many good teams and it's, I mean, I hope to get to this point again."

Well, he's at this point again, but after his first night in Boston, it doesn't look like it's going to go any better.

So God, how about this: instead of striking me down with a bolt of lightening to prove a point, help Kersh get to the mountain top. Just once in his career. And I’ll take that as a sign I need to head back to church. Sadly, I'm doubting that'll ever be the case, though.
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