It’s been one of the more predictable and boring storylines early in camp, as referenced here and here, and Derrek Lee has already had enough. During an appearance on a Chicago radio show, the Cubs first baseman said the following regarding the Byrd-Bradley comparisons:
“It’s ridiculous,” Lee told Bruce Levine and Jonathan Hood on ESPN
1000’s “Talkin’ Baseball” Saturday morning. “If it was a white guy who
came over [to the Cubs] would he be [called] the ‘anti-Milton Bradley’?
It just makes no sense. Marlon’s a completely different guy. He wasn’t
traded for Milton. He signed here as a free agent, so why even bring
Milton Bradley’s name into it? It really makes no sense and it’s just,
again, the media trying to make something out of nothing.”
It would be pretty reckless to couple Byrd with Bradley based solely on race, and I can’t say I’ve seen a lot of that in the press. They’ve been stressing the contrast, if anything. I can’t help but think that these comparisons were inevitable, even if the Cubs signed Rick Ankiel or Scott Podsednik, but the fact that the two were teammates in Texas plays into this, at least a little bit.
While this is ultimately a needless distraction, Lee laments that comments by former Cubs Bradley and Jacque Jones could keep other African-American players away from Chicago:
“It’s definitely not a positive when you’re looking at coming to
Chicago,” Lee said. “But I think overall, the positives do outweigh the
negatives and we’re baseball players, so we’re pretty good at kind of
blocking out all of that outside stuff and focusing on in between the
lines. And in between the lines, Chicago’s a good place to play.”
Kerry Wood recently acknowledged that he personally witnessed African-American players who received hate mail during his time with the Cubs, but it would be very dangerous to single out Chicago when we know that this goes on in other places. We just don’t hear about it.
For years, a bulk of the postseason coverage surrounding Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw focused on his poor results once the regular season ended. The three-time Cy Young Award winner carried a career 5.68 postseason ERA following his NLDS Game 1 start against the Diamondbacks last year, a sample size spanning 15 starts and four relief appearances totaling 95 1/3 innings.
Kershaw had a subpar start against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series last year and the narrative hit a fever pitch. I dug into the numbers at that point and found that a not-insignificant portion of Kershaw’s playoff ERA could be attributed to relievers coming in after him and failing to strand their inherited runners. At the time of that writing (October 30, 2017), Dodger relievers allowed 10 of 16 runners inherited from Kershaw in the playoffs to score, a strand rate of 37.5 percent. That’s roughly half of the league average (around 75 percent).
Kershaw finished out the World Series last year by pitching four scoreless innings of relief in Game 7. He returned to the postseason, starting Game 2 of the NLDS against the Braves this year and tossed eight shutout frames on just two hits with no walks. The narrative should have died there, too. It, of course did not. As the Dodgers advanced to the NLCS, Kershaw got the Game 1 nod against the Brewers and struggled. The Brewers got him for five runs (four earned) across three-plus innings. One of those runs included a home run hit by the opposing pitcher (Brandon Woodruff). Kershaw was also hurt by a passed ball and catcher’s interference on the part of Yasmani Grandal in the third inning. Not a great outing, but not as bad as the line score read, either.
In Game 5 of the NLCS on Wednesday evening, Kershaw once again redeemed himself. He limited the Brewers this time around to a lone run on three hits and two walks with nine strikeouts over seven innings of work. The only run came around in the third inning when Lorenzo Cain hit an RBI double to center field. Kershaw’s career postseason ERA is now 4.11 and it would be much lower if his bullpen had, in the past, done its job more effectively.
According to Katie Sharp of The Athletic, tonight’s postseason start was Kershaw’s eighth in which he allowed one run or fewer and three hits or fewer. No other pitcher in baseball history has made more than five such starts. That’s partially a function of opportunity, as the Dodgers have been in the postseason every year dating back to 2013 as well as in 2008 and ’09. But Kershaw still has to go out there and make the pitches, and he largely has. The “Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative is dead. It never should have lived.