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As “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs” narrative resurfaces, a reminder

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Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw couldn’t make it through the fifth inning of Sunday night’s start against the Astros in Game 5 of the World Series. He gave up six runs on four hits and three walks with two strikeouts on 94 pitches. That sent his career playoff ERA, now across 23 appearances and 118 innings, up to 4.50.

Prior to Sunday’s start, Kershaw had pitched well this postseason, carrying a 2.96 ERA in four starts. And most of the damage came in his Game 1 start in the NLDS against the Diamondbacks, when he surrendered four solo home runs. His World Series Game 5 start, however, resurfaced the old “Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs” narrative.

It’s true: Kershaw’s stats in the postseason aren’t good. But there’s a bit of context that’s often left out of the conversation, which is that relievers that have come in after Kershaw have also not done a great job. Following Jose Altuve‘s three-run home run off of Kenta Maeda in the fourth inning, on which two of Kershaw’s runners scored, Dodgers relievers had allowed 10 of 16 of runners inherited from Kershaw to score. That’s a 62.5 percent rate of failure, or a 37.5 percent success rate. Since Kershaw debuted in 2008, the major league average strand rate (success) for relievers has ranged between 72.8 percent and 75.2 percent. In other words, Dodgers’ relievers — when relieving Kershaw — have been half as effective as a major league average reliever.

Here’s the full list:

Year Series Game IR Scored IR Scored% Reliever(s)
2008 NLCS 2 1 0 0.0% Cory Wade
4 2 1 50.0% Chan Ho Park
2009 NLDS 2 1 0 0.0% Ronald Belisario
NLCS 1 1 0 0.0% Ramon Troncoso
5 0 0
2013 NLDS 1 0 0
4 0 0
NLCS 2 0 0
6 2 1 50.0% Ronald Belisario
2014 NLDS 1 1 1 100.0% Pedro Baez
4 0 0
2015 NLDS 1 3 2 66.7% Pedro Baez
4 0 0
2016 NLDS 1 0 0
4 3 3 100.0% Pedro Baez, Luis Avilan
5 0 0
NLCS 2 0 0
6 0 0
2017 NLDS 1 0 0
NLCS 1 0 0
5 0 0
WS 1 0 0
5 2 2 100.0% Kenta Maeda
TOTAL 16 10 62.5%

If the Dodgers’ relievers had done their jobs perfectly, stranding all 16 of runners inherited from Kershaw instead of six, Kershaw’s postseason ERA would be 3.28. Kershaw’s mental fortitude wouldn’t even be a topic of discussion. Of course, one would argue that Kershaw shouldn’t have allowed those runners to get on base to begin with, but the purpose of a bullpen is to sometimes bail out a starter once he gets into a pickle — especially in the postseason. Dodger relievers — notably Pedro Baez — have done an absolutely terrible job of backing up Kershaw over his career and that needs to be remembered when people bring up Kershaw’s perceived postseason issues.

Zack Cozart thinks the way the Rays have been using Sergio Romo is bad for baseball

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The Rays started Sergio Romo on back-to-back days and if that sounds weird to you, you’re not alone. Romo, of course, was the star closer for the Giants for a while, helping them win the World Series in 2012 and ’14. He’s been a full-time reliever dating back to 2006, when he was at Single-A.

In an effort to prevent lefty Ryan Yarbrough from facing the righty-heavy top of the Angels’ lineup (Zack Cozart, Mike Trout, Justin Upton), Romo started Saturday’s game, pitching the first inning before giving way to Yarbrough in the second. Romo struck out the side, in fact. The Rays went on to win 5-3.

The Rays did it again on Sunday afternoon, starting Romo. This time, he got four outs before giving way to Matt Andriese. Romo walked two without giving up a hit while striking out three. The Angels managed to win 5-2 however.

Despite Sunday’s win, Cozart wasn’t a happy camper with the way the Rays used Romo. Via Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic, Cozart said, “It was weird … It’s bad for baseball, in my opinion … It’s spring training. That’s the best way to explain it.”

It’s difficult to see merit in Cozart’s argument. It’s not like the Rays were making excessive amounts of pitching changes; they used five on Saturday and four on Sunday. The games lasted three hours and three hours, 15 minutes, respectively. The average game time is exactly three hours so far this season. I’m having trouble wondering how else Cozart might mean the strategy is bad for baseball.

It seems like the real issue is that Cozart is afraid of the sport changing around him. The Rays, like most small market teams, have to find their edges in slight ways. The Rays aren’t doing this blindly; the strategy makes sense based on their opponents’ starting lineup. The idea of valuing on-base percentage was scoffed at. Shifting was scoffed at and now every team employs them to some degree. Who knows if starting a reliever for the first three or four outs will become a trend, but it’s shortsighted to write it off at first glance.