Loss of Youkilis adds another bump to a rough road

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The Red Sox might not be doomed yet, but the team with the eighth-best record in baseball just became an even bigger long shot to play in the postseason after losing Kevin Youkilis to a season-ending thumb injury.
In the midst of a third straight wildly productive season, Youkilis was hitting .307/.411/.564 up until hurting his thumb Monday. He ranked fourth in the league with a 975 OPS, and it wasn’t as though Fenway was really dragging his numbers up: his road OPS stood at 967.
What the Red Sox desperately need now is for Mike Lowell, a player whom the team gladly would have given away had anyone wanted to take on a significant portion of his salary, to come through with the kind of big finish that may make him put off thoughts of retirement.
After spending six weeks on the DL, Lowell homered on the first pitch he saw Tuesday against the Indians. His .214/.305/.381 line in 84 at-bats for the season is practically irrelevant, considering that he hasn’t seen steady action at any point. Still, even if he bounces back to his 2009 level of performance — he hit .290/.337/.474 in 445 at-bats — it’ll be a big drop off from what Youk has provided.
Heading into Thursday night’s action, the Red Sox are seven games behind the Yankees and 6 1/2 games behind the Twins for a postseason spot. We’ll ignore the AL Central loser for now and assume that if the Red Sox can pass one of them, they’re in.
The Yankees (67-40) currently have 55 games left, while the Rays (67-41) and Red Sox (71-47) have 54. Let’s say one of the AL East leaders falls off and plays just .500 ball for the rest of the year: 27-28 for the Yankees, 27-27 for the Rays. That would put the second-place team at 94-68. To match that, the Red Sox would have to go 33-21, a .611 winning percentage, which is significantly better than their current .565 mark.
Realistically, both the Yankees and Rays figure to play at least .550 ball for the rest of the year. They’re currently at .626 and .620, respectively. At .550, the Yankees and Rays would finish 97-65. That’s probably where the Red Sox need to be to have a shot. To do that, they’d have to go 36-18, which is .667 ball.
It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. The Red Sox did go 36-18 over the course of 54 games from April 23-June 19 and from May 5-July 3 (obviously, a lot of that was the same stretch). But it is a long shot, and if neither the Yankees nor Rays hit a dry spell, there just won’t be any chance at all.

The “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the postseason” narrative should be dead

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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.