When I first wrote about this topic more than five years ago (here)- the first time of many, as it would turn out (here, here, here, here, and here)- I had assumed that another postseason shortcoming from Clayton Kershaw would be enough to turn public opinion against him. I’ve been wrong about many things in my life- but rarely have I been SO wrong about anything as I have been about this.
Before writing anything, I want to go on the record and say for the first five or so years of his career, I was as big of a Clayton Kershaw fan as anybody. Even as my main focus has turned to his postseason shortcomings, his rarely-criticized antics about staying on the mound, and- above all else- the unprecedented support he receives, I fully recognize his greatness. He is a first ballot Hall of Famer, quite possibly the greatest regular season pitcher of all time, and apparently a true philanthropist. None of those things excuse the continuous lack of criticism he receives for his postseason failings, half of which would have sunk just about anyone else’s reputation for life. If anything, some of them actually enforce it.
This is not to say Kershaw hasn’t endured SOME criticism for his numerous subpar outings in the postseason. But given that it is literally a perennial October custom now- eight straight seasons, including this one- it would be impossible, even for him, to avoid it completely. But to whatever extent it exists, it’s almost in the form of sympathy, as no other superstar athlete, let alone an ordinary one, could ever dream of conjuring up. Instead, the bulk of the ire usually falls at the feet of-
-An offense that doesn’t give him a lot of runs.
-Relief pitchers who allowed his inherritted baserunners to score.
And, my all-time “favorite” go-to…
–A manager- first Mattingly and now Roberts- who simultaneously take heat for either leaving him in too long, or taking him out too early, depending on the outcome. (Even Joe Torre got a taste of this back in 2009, when then 21 year old Kershaw got the nod as a game 1 starter against the Phillies in the NLCS, only to be knocked out early.)
I won’t go over the entire history again, as there are plenty of examples to examine in the previous blog posts above. But already this postseason, we have new examples to look at- and not just when Kershaw pitches poorly, either. Ironically enough, it is his BEST start this postseason that reminds me of what I find most galling about all of Kershaw’s defenders, as well as the man himself.
Against the Milwaukee Brewers during the…whatever Major League Baseball is calling that ridiculous new round round, but that’s for another time…Kershaw was pitching like his regular season self. (With the shortened season, perhaps he’d been fooled into thinking that it was only June! But again, I digress.) Up by three runs in the eighth inning, he ran into a bit of trouble, allowing a walk. Dave Roberts seemed concerned- understandable, seeing how he takes the bulk of the heat when things go wrong with Kershaw. Preparing himself or his staff for a mound visit, Kershaw waved them off. Think about that for a minute- a pitcher with a postseason record of .500 and an ERA well above 4.00, telling the staff not to even bother coming out to the mound for a visit! And hey, why should he- if all goes well, he’ll be praised to the high heavens. If not? Well…you know EXACTLY who will be taking the blame for it. We’ve seen throughout his entire career.
Luckily for the Dodgers and Kershaw, it was the former result in this case. To the extent that there was any scrutiny for Kerhsaw “sonning” his coaching staff, it was praise for what a badass Kershaw was! See for yourself with this Jomboy breakdown- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJFlrBKDyBk. Mentioned are Kershaw’s being “one of the greatest pitchers of any generation” (true), and how it “wasn’t scary” when Kershaw allowed a walk with a not-fully-comfortable three run lead, adding that “no one cared” about. (I’m pretty sure Dave Roberts could tell us otherwise.) In addition, Kershaw was even allowed to scrape dirt off his shoe- apprently thinking the pace of play isn’t slow enough- as the world patiently waited for him to do so. (Good luck trying THAT one, Mr. Middle Inning Relief Pitcher!) Conspicuously absent from Jomboy’s commentary was any recognition at what has happened to managers- time and time again- when allowing Kershaw to clean up his postseason messes goes wrong. For one past example, click here- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CopB9fjJSX0.
To top it all off, responses to the Jomboy video were even more gushing…
“I love that Kersh still has confidence in himself after all this time. And this time it really showed. (3,200+ likes)
“That smile he gives after he’s telling them not to come out is one of the most wholesome things I’ve ever seen in baseball.” (1,200+ likes. As a sidenote, I doubt if Cam Newton or LeBron James smiled at their coach after refusing to come out of the game, it would be described as “wholesome”.)
“The way he laughed him off is gold. He’s like “I’m Kershaw” (83 likes)
“Clayton Kershaw is one of the greatest pitchers of all time, but I feel like he’s very under appreciated” (92 likes)
“He needs that ring man. As a Giants fan I even want him to get one now because he really deserves it.” (???) (18 likes)
Just imagine saying that if “anyone” has earned the right to wave off a coach, it’s Kershaw! By that logic, just imagine what kind of rights Madison Bumgarner has earned! (A few of them can’t be repeated here- this is a “family blog”, after all.) Also worth noting is how many fans believe that Kershaw “deserves” a World Series ring, as though he hasn’t been in complete control of that fate himself. Even if we allow for the fact that he was done dirty in 2017, what are the excuses for all the other seasons?
As if to put an exclamation on the point, Kershaw’s next two outings after his masterpiece against the Brewers were, once again, substandard. Once again, the questions- and much of the outrage- were pointed in the direction of Dave Roberts. Luckily for both men, the Dodgers managed to overcome both starts, to yet again make it to that final, coveted round. And hey, whaddya know- Kershaw really was great in Game One! But after last night’s stunning loss- one which Dave Roberts truly deserves to take a few arrows for- he’ll need to rely on Clayton Kershaw to TRULY be Clayton Kershaw.
Many things have changed since I wrote that first blog post in 2015- for the Dodgers, for the world, and even for myself. But for Clayton Kershaw and his legions of defenders? It’s like Groundhog Day all over again. I hope that’s not the case tonight. I hope Clayton Kershaw is phenominal. For his sake, for Dave Roberts’ sake, and for my own. I’m tired of writing about this.