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Clayton Kershaw’s postseason reputation marred by incompetent relief pitching


If you didn’t watch Tuesday evening’s NLDS Game 4 between the Nationals and Dodgers and just looked at the box score, it looked like manager Dave Roberts’ decision to go with Clayton Kershaw on short rest didn’t pan out. The lefty’s final line: 6 2/3 innings, seven hits, 5 earned runs, two walks, 11 strikeouts on 110 pitches.

It was a little bit more complex than that. Kershaw was a bit shaky early, allowing a first inning run, but really gave the Dodgers exactly what they needed. He faltered in the seventh inning. He allowed a leadoff single to Danny Espinosa, then struck out Pedro Severino and got pinch-hitter Chris Heisey to fly out. Trea Turner then singled and Bryce Harper walked after another long at-bat (Harper saw 25 pitches in his four at-bats against Kershaw) to load the bases.

At that point, Roberts finally pulled Kershaw, bringing in Pedro Baez with the bases loaded and two outs. Baez threw only one pitch and it hit Jayson Werth to force in a run. Let’s count: Kershaw left with three runners on base and so far, the bullpen allowed one to score. Roberts then brought in Luis Avilan to face Daniel Murphy and Murphy ended up knocking in two runs with a single. Three inherited base runners, all three scored. Those three runs were charged to Kershaw’s ledger. He now has a career 4.83 ERA spanning 12 playoff starts and three relief appearances. For as much as Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner is revered for his postseason performances, Kershaw is reviled for his.

The truth is that the Dodgers’ bullpen has let Kershaw down in the postseason a lot. I went through Kershaw’s postseason game logs and found that he had left the game with 15 runners on base. The Dodgers’ relievers allowed  eight of them to score.

  • October 10, 2008 (NLCS Game 2) @ Phillies: Kershaw, in his second inning of relief work, walked Eric Bruntlett before departing in the eighth inning. Cory Wade got Jayson Werth to line out to end the inning. [1 inherited runner, 0 scored]
  • October 13, 2008 (NLCS Game 4) vs. Phillies: Kershaw walked Ryan Howard and allowed a single to Pat Burrell to lead off the sixth inning. Shane Victorino advanced both with a bunt before Kershaw left. Chan Ho Park came in and uncorked a two-out wild pitch that allowed Howard to score. Burrell would be stranded. [2 inherited runners, 1 scored]
  • October 8, 2009 (NLDS Game 2) vs. Cardinals: In the seventh, Kershaw allowed a single to Mark DeRosa followed by a double to Colby Ramus that allowed DeRosa to score. Rasmus was thrown out at third base trying to stretch it into a triple. Kershaw induced a pop-up from Adam Wainwright, then yielded a single to Julio Lugo before departing. Ronald Belisario came in with two of Kershaw’s runners on base and stranded both. [2 inherited runners, 0 scored]
  • October 15, 2009 (NLCS Game 1) vs. Phillies: In the fifth, Kershaw allowed a two-run double to Ryan Howard before departing with two outs. Ramon Troncoso came in and got Jayson Werth to fly out to end the inning. [1 inherited runner, 0 scored]
  • October 21, 2009 (NLCS Game 5) @ Phillies: Kershaw pitched two innings of relief and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 3, 2013 (NLDS Game 1) @ Braves: Kershaw pitched seven innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 7, 2013 (NLDS Game 4) vs. Braves: Kershaw pitched six innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 12, 2013 (NLCS Game 2) @ Cardinals: Kershaw pitched six innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 18, 2013 (NLCS Game 6) @ Cardinals: In the fifth, Kershaw allowed consecutive singles to Yadier Molina and David Freese followed by an RBI double to Matt Adams. Belisario came in and induced a fielder’s choice ground out from Shane Robinson, getting Freese out at home. Adams would later score on another fielder’s choice. [2 inherited runners, 1 scored]
  • October 3, 2014 (NLDS Game 1) vs. Cardinals: Kershaw left after allowing a three-run double to Matt Carpenter in the seventh inning. Pedro Baez came in, walked a batter, then served up a three-run home run to Matt Holliday. [1 inherited runner, 1 scored]
  • October 7, 2014 (NLDS Game 4) @ Cardinals: In the seventh, Kershaw allowed back-to-back singles to Holliday and Jhonny Peralta before serving up a three-run homer to Matt Adams. Baez came in and relieved him. [0 inherited runners, 0 scored]
  • October 9, 2015 (NLDS Game 1) vs. Mets: Kershaw walked three batters before departing with two outs in the seventh. Pedro Baez came in and allowed a two-run single to David Wright. [3 inherited runners, 2 scored]
  • October 13, 2015 (NLDS Game 4) @ Mets: Kershaw pitched seven innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 7, 2016 (NLDS Game 1) @ Nationals: Kershaw pitched five innings and did not leave in the middle of an inning.
  • October 11, 2016 (NLDS Game 4) vs. Nationals: Kershaw left with two outs and the bases loaded. Baez came in and hit a batter. Avilan came in and allowed a two-run single. [3 inherited runners, 3 scored]

So that’s 15 inherited runners, eight of whom were allowed to score by Dodger relievers. As Kershaw has allowed 41 total runs in the postseason, they account for 19.5 percent of the total runs Kershaw has allowed. If these inherited runners scoring didn’t factor into Kershaw’s ERA, he would have a 3.89 ERA in the playoffs. Still not amazing, especially considering it’s Kershaw, but it’s a lot better than 4.83.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Nationals 13, Pirates 0: The scores of the last five games the Nationals have played: 13-0, 16-8, 15-14, 2-1, 17-7. Which of these doesn’t belong?

Heh, trick question. All but the 2-1 score don’t belong because the rest are football scores that, however fun they may be in isolation, are the products of the sort of breakdown of baseball aesthetics which I ranted about yesterday. I mean, I guess there’s something in every game for everyone, but at some point these conga-line-around-the-base-paths games become dreary as hell, yes?

At least this one had some pitching from one of the teams, as four Washington pitchers combined on a four-hit shutout. But even then it was the equivalent of a bullpen game, with the starter, Joe Ross, only going three and a third innings thanks to being hit with a comebacker. So you didn’t even get the benefit of a traditionally nice starting pitching performance. Oh well. Asdrúbal Cabrera homered and drove in five runs. Adam Eaton, Matt Adams and Trea Turner went deep for the Nats as well. Juan Soto reached base five times. Someone missed an extra point along the way. Whatever. These are kinda fun games when they’re rare, but when they happen every night you can have ’em.

Royals 5, Orioles 4: Nicky Lopez and Nick Dini hit back-to-back homers on consecutive pitches in the seventh inning to turn a one-run game into a three-run game. By virtue of a late O’s comeback that fell short, those dingers proved to be essential game-winners. Guess you could say they hit those . . . in the nick of time?

[Ed: You could say that, but I’d really prefer you didn’t]

Who’s that talking?

[Ed: It’s me, your editor]

But I don’t have an editor. I thought that was fairly obvious.

[Ed: Just go back to recapping, Craig]

Um . . . OK. That’s eight straight losses for the Orioles. We need a ten-game series between them and the Pirates right now.

Mariners 9, Rays 3: The M’s jumped all over Brendan McKay, scoring seven off of him — though only three earned — in the first two innings. After the game he was optioned back to Durham, so no, not a great night for the kid. He’ll be back, though. He’s too talented not to be. Tom Murphy homered twice and drove in four for Seattle and Austin Nola also went deep and drove in three.

Padres 3, Reds 2: The starting pitching matchup was Trevor Bauer vs. Eric Lauer — Bauer vs. Lauer! — so that’s fun. Neither pitched poorly — Bauer bounced back from his nightmare start against the Nats last week, allowing three over seven and striking out 11 — but Bauer took the loss. Lauer allowed only one run over four and the Pads bullpen only surrendered one more over five. Francisco Mejía homered for San Diego. Manny Machado had an RBI single, which makes him 10-for-15 in his career off Bauer with four homers, two doubles and six RBI. He owns Bauer so thoroughly that he’ll have to give permission to whatever team tries to sign him when he hits free agency after next season. The Reds mounted a ninth inning rally against Kirby Yates, loading the bases and getting three hits, but he got out of it having allowed only one run to cross the plate.

Cardinals 3, Brewers 0: Dakota Hudson took a no-hitter into the seventh but was lifted when he reached 111 pitches and started to get into some trouble. The Cardinals bullpen carried the no-no on into the eighth, but Yasmani Grandal broke it up with a double. It happens. Still, St. Louis got the shutout — a one-hitter — and that’s pretty sweet. Paul DeJong homered for the Cards, who have won eight of ten and hold a half game lead over Chicago.

Rangers 8, Angels 7: The Angels held a 7-1 lead after two innings but would not score again. A Rougned Odor RBI single in the eighth tied things up and forced extras and then Isiah Kiner-Falefa hit a chopper that turned into a walkoff infield single, scoring Jose Trevino for the win. Trevino homered earlier. Hunter Pence had three hits and reached base five times. Shohei Ohtani had a big night for L.A. in a losing cause, hitting an RBI triple, reaching base four times and scoring twice.

Astros 5, Tigers 4: Yuli Gurriel had two hits and drove in two as the Astros jumped out to an early lead and then held on despite allowing scads of Tiger baserunners. Fourteen hits for Detroit, in fact. Like strikes in bowling, however, bunching hits up is sometimes more important than the number you have.

White Sox 6, Twins 4: José Abreu hit a three-run homer in the Sox’ four-run third inning while Ivan Nova allowed only two runs over six despite giving up ten hits. Apart from that homer, Kyle Gibson pitched well for the Twins. Let’s check in on both starters’ assessments of their nights. First Gibson:

“In this case, I picked the wrong time to not execute a pitch. When I look back at how many pitches I executed and where my stuff was, it’s one of those weird nights where I felt like I threw the ball pretty well and unfortunately got beat by the wrong guy at the wrong time.”

Now Nova:

“This was one of the best games I pitched the whole year. Guys might say, `Why?’ The way that I was throwing the first two innings it felt like I didn’t have my best stuff. I was able to get to the sixth and only give up two runs. They got 10 hits, and to be able to keep them to two runs with a lineup like this it’s a lot of hard work.”

Baseball be like that sometimes.

Diamondbacks 5, Rockies 3: Carson Kelly — which sounds more like the name of a Pac-10 quarterback than a big league catcher, but we’ll let that go for now — hit a tie-breaking homer in the eighth inning which was followed by a two-run triple by David Peralta to help the Snakes rally for three and the win. Kelly now has 18 homers on the season. Seven INTs, though, and we got what looks to be a trap game against Oregon State next week. Can’t look past them to Oregon or U-Dub, not when you’re playing in Corvallis. These conference games all matter, Jim. There are no patsies.

[Ed: Who’s Jim? And are you feeling OK?]

God, it’s nice not to have an editor.