For the second time in a row, the Cardinals took Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw to the cleaners in a playoff game. In Game 6 of the NLCS last year, they battered him for seven runs in four innings; last night in the opening game of the NLDS, they scored eight times against him in 6 2/3 innings, six of which scored in their eight-run seventh inning as they erased a four-run deficit.
There has to be some explanation for this, right? Kershaw, who has led the league in ERA four years running, who is about to win his third Cy Young Award, who is this generation’s Pedro Martinez — he can’t just fall apart in back-to-back post-season starts like this, can he?
Answering questions like those has led some to speculate that Kershaw has been tipping pitches. Mike Petriello of Dodgers Digest and FanGraphs dug into the video and the stats, concluding that the pitch-tipping theory is bunk:
Hey, maybe the Cardinals really did pick up on something that absolutely no one else could. Good on them, if so, and since the only two hits Kershaw had allowed in the first six innings had been solo homers, the idea that the Cardinals couldn’t take advantage until they finally got a runner on second makes for a tidy narrative. It just doesn’t really fit the evidence, particularly when we have real, actual evidence that a tiring Kershaw changed his release point, changed his pitch selection, and started throwing some ugly pitches to good hitters, which ended poorly for him. It’s unfortunate that none of those liners happened to go right to Juan Uribe or Hanley Ramirez, but that’s the luck of baseball.
While it’s certainly rare for Kershaw to allow so many runs — including two home runs — it’s not unprecedented. The Diamondbacks scored seven runs off of Kershaw in 1 2/3 innings back on May 17, Kershaw’s third start after returning from the disabled list due to a back problem. After that, Kershaw was nearly unhittable, as we saw in month after month after month after month. That Kershaw has struggled in back-to-back post-season starts, against the same team no less, creates a nice narrative, but it’s more coincidental than anything else. Had the Pirates won three more games and the Cardinals three fewer, we might instead be talking about the Pirates’ resolve to overcome Kershaw rather than the Cardinals’ curious mastery of the best lefty in baseball.