Cliff Lee gives up 8 runs vs. Rangers, still gets win

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Cliff Lee just knows how to win.

While Lee was touched up for eight runs over just five innings in his Opening Day start this afternoon, he was still the winning pitcher as the Phillies pounded the Rangers 14-10 at Globe Life Park. It was the most runs the Phillies had scored in a season opener since 1900.

Lee was given an early 6-0 lead as the Phillies beat up on Tanner Scheppers, who was making his first career start. The big blow was a grand slam from Jimmy Rollins in the top of the second inning. However, Lee quickly gave up the lead by allowing four runs in the bottom of the second inning and three more in the third.

The Phillies eventually took the lead back for good in the fifth inning when John Mayberry, Jr. delivered a pinch-hit two-run double against left-hander Pedro Figueroa. They tacked on four more in the sixth, including a solo home run from offseason acquisition Marlon Byrd, and one run in the eighth on a solo homer from Cody Asche.

This was just the fourth time in Lee’s career that he had allowed eight or more runs in a start. He didn’t allow more than five runs in any of his starts last season. The veteran southpaw the first pitcher to allow at least eight earned runs in a start and still win since the Rays’ Jeremy Hellickson did it last May 17 against the Orioles. If you’ll recall, Lee didn’t get his first win July 4 in 2012 despite pitching pretty well, which tells you all you need to know about how fickle this statistic can be at times. Still, he’ll gladly take the W to start the year.

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.