Kerry Wood to announce retirement, but may pitch one last time at Wrigley Field

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Kerry Wood has struggled since returning from a disabled list stint two weeks ago, allowing five runs in six innings following a month off because of a shoulder injury, and now the one-time phenom turned quality setup man has decided to call it a career at age 34.

Bruce Levine of ESPN Chicago reports that Wood will announce his retirement today following a 14-year career, but Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune reports that Wood will be available out of the bullpen one final time for this afternoon’s game against the White Sox at Wrigley Field. That would be one hell of a sendoff.

Wood burst onto the scene as a flame-throwing, unhittable 21-year-old rookie in 1998, striking out 20 batters in one of the most dominant performances in baseball history, but then blew out his elbow and missed all of 1999. He returned as a very effective starter, posting a 3.68 ERA in 138 starts from 2000-2004 and topping 200 strikeouts in three straight seasons, including a league-leading 266 whiffs in 2003.

However, after more injuries limited Wood to a total of 114 innings from 2005-2007 he shifted to the bullpen full time and established himself as a quality setup man. He was excellent for the Cubs last season, taking less money to return to Chicago and then posting a 3.35 ERA with 57 strikeouts in 51 innings, but this year he’s walked 11 batters in eight innings.

It’s a shame we never got to see what a healthy Wood was truly capable of, because the rookie who took the baseball world by storm in 1998 was absolutely amazing to watch and racked up a ridiculous 233 strikeouts in 167 innings before his arm gave out. He came back to throw 1,213 innings with a 3.71 ERA and 10.0 strikeouts per nine frames, which is a damn fine career by itself, but he made just two All-Star teams and never received a single Cy Young vote.

Wood’s right arm was capable of so much more if it didn’t let him down repeatedly, but it’s nice to see him go out as a Cub considering how much he loved Chicago. And he’ll be remembered long after pitchers with twice as many wins are forgotten.

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.