With the National League Championship Series beginning on Saturday in Los Angeles, this might just be the year two pivotal postseason narratives come to an end.
Every postseason, two narratives reemerge, both surrounding Clayton Kershaw. The first narrative is that Kershaw seems to struggle in October. The second being the recurring theme of the Dodgers starting Kershaw on short rest. This is the year that both of those narratives encounter their happy endings.
Clayton Kershaw is going to Cooperstown. The first ten years of his career have been nothing if not extraordinary. A World Series Championship is the only thing missing from his nearly immaculate resume. Kershaw’s postseason statistics will reflect that he hasn’t always been great. But, at the end of the day, he’s still Clayton Kershaw.
According to Baseball Reference, Kershaw has pitched in 19 Postseason games, combining for 95.1 innings. In those innings, he’s faced 394 batters, striking out 113 and walking 30. He’s given up 49 earned runs and is taking a postseason era of 4.63 into the NLCS. Kershaw’s playoff stats are notably different from his regular season stats, and there isn’t any specific answer as to why.
One reason could be that, in the postseason, almost every situation is a high leverage one and sometimes pitchers, even the best pitcher on the planet, fail to walk away unscathed. Even though Kershaw’s numbers are worse in the postseason, he’s still Clayton Kershaw, and I think he’s pitched himself to the point where his statistics don’t always decide his role, his experience does.
The Dodgers also have a history of starting Kershaw on short rest. Last postseason, it worked out pretty well in the NLDS, but failed to have the same effect against the Cubs. This year, however, the Dodgers’ rotation is deeper. Instead of feeling the pressure to start Kershaw on short rest, the Dodgers know they have other reliable options.
The Dodgers Have Options Outside of Clayton Kershaw.
Rich Hill had a great start in Game 2 of the NLDS against Arizona. Yu Darvish had a terrific outing on Monday, helping the Dodgers to a series win. If there had been a Game 4 against the Diamondbacks, Alex Wood would’ve taken the mound.
Hill, Darvish and Wood are all reliable starters, and they all have the potential to win pivotal games for Los Angeles in October. The Dodgers no longer need to rely on Kershaw because they have proven that they can win games when he’s on the mound, and when he’s not.
Look at it this way, the Dodgers have someone who is repeatedly referred to as the best pitcher on the planet, and they don’t have to fully rely on him in order to win the World Series.
The Dodgers are a complete team, and they proved that this year.
The postseason can cause teams to make unconventional decisions. In Game 4 of the ALDS on Monday in Boston, both Chris Sale and Justin Verlander pitched; they just didn’t start. The postseason is often surprising, yet at the same time, a team doing everything they can to avoid elimination is the least surprising thing of all.
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Take Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS, for example. The Dodgers are leading the Washington Nationals by a score of 4-3 heading into the bottom of the 9th. Kenley Jansen has been on the mound for two innings already. Suddenly, the visiting bullpen doors swing open and Clayton Kershaw jogs out.
It’s an unconventional move; so unconventional that Dave Roberts and the Dodgers’ front office didn’t even consider it. Kershaw threw over 100 pitches two days before in Game 4, but there he was. Soon after he jogged out the Dodgers were NLDS Champs, providing further proof that October is where the unconventional thrives.
This year, the narrative shifts for Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers are about to make history. They are about to change the game, and Kershaw could continue to pitch his way into the record books.
The Dodgers have everything working for them now. They know what their starters, their relievers, and their offense is capable of in the postseason. I think the NLCS is when the Dodgers will really hit their stride, and from what I’ve seen, once they get moving, very few things in this game can stop them.