Beginning the season in a 9-for-63 (.143) slump is bad enough, but yesterday Brad Hawpe’s early struggles extended to his defense at first base, as his misplay contributed to the Braves’ five-run inning in a 7-0 defeat of the Padres.
Hawpe had started a grand total of eight career games at first base prior to this season and any problems there defensively are no doubt being magnified by the fact that he’s replacing two-time Gold Glove winner Adrian Gonzalez.
Stepping into Gonzalez’s shoes no doubt isn’t helping Hawpe’s cause offensively either, although there isn’t much of a cause to begin with at this point. Not only is he hitting just .143 through 21 games, Hawpe has zero homers and four walks versus 23 strikeouts, leading to a hideous .382 OPS. To put that into some context, considering that NL pitchers have a .326 OPS.
Hawpe is coming off a career-worst season with the Rockies and his raw numbers with Colorado were always inflated by Coors Field, but he’s still a career .269 hitter with an .829 OPS on the road and for a modest $3 million investment he seemed like a worthwhile pickup for the Padres.
Instead he’s been perhaps the worst player in baseball through four weeks and is in danger of being replaced.
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.