Derek Jeter prepares for his final home opener and says something intriguing

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Just about everything this side of eating breakfast will be some notable “last” for Derek Jeter this season. Today is his last home opener. Which occasioned a press conference about it all, of course. Indeed, he won’t have the last of his press conferences until sometime in the mid-2020s by my calculations. You can see the whole presser here.

The highlight: Jeter said Yankees fans are the greatest in the world. He quickly followed that by saying that, in claiming Yankee fan superiority, he means no disrespect to any other teams’ fans.

Which, as usual, is a pathetic example of the controversy-courting Jeter looking to stir the pot by saying audacious things. It’s the single biggest reason he’s been so darn unpopular throughout his career.  Also:

  • Jeter said he’d try to enjoy his farewell season and farewell tour, but he doesn’t know how he’s going to balance it all given that his priority each day is the game. Getting ready to play every day, which takes a lot more work than, say, Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera had to deal with when they had their last season.
  • He mentioned that the expectation that the Yankees had to win every year started after 1996, and noted that in 1996 the Yankees “may have snuck up on some people.”

That’s a rare and candid acknowledgment from a Yankee. Since the mid-90s there has been a pretty strong drumbeat that such expectations have always existed in Yankees-land. Those of us who remember the 80s and the early 90s know better. Those older, who remember the late 60s through the mid-70s know better too. When they weren’t winning in those periods, there wasn’t some national “how can the Yankees not be winning?!” thing in the air. They were treated just like any other team. One that has good stretches and bad stretches and life goes on. Perhaps the expectations lasted during the DiMaggio-Mantle years, and they certainly have existed for the past 15-17 years or so, but it hasn’t always been the case. And if the Yankees were ever to experience another decade in the wilderness, the expectations would adjust downward once again.

Anyway: happy home opener, Captain.

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.