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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.

Mariners sign Ichiro to a minor league deal

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USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that the Mariners will sign Ichiro Suzuki to a minor-league deal. If he makes the roster he’ll make $750,000. At least until he retires.

I say that because it seems quite clear that the idea here, telegraphed since last season, is to activate Ichiro for the Mariners’ series against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20-21 and for hoopla surrounding it all. The Mariners and A’s will have a 28-man roster for that series, which is officially part of the regular season schedule, but it will be pared back down to 25 once games begin in the United States.

Suzuki, 45, hit .205/.255/.205 in 47 plate appearances through May 2 last season, at which point he agreed to be deactivated to join the Mariners’ front office. Many assumed Ichiro would announce his retirement later that season or during the offseason, but the Japan Series soon crystalized as an obvious way for him to offer his final farewell to both his American and his Japanese fans.

Unless of course he goes 6-10 with three doubles in that series, at which point everyone will be tempted to keep him on the roster past Japan. Which, given the Mariners’ rebuild and likely poor performance this coming season, wouldn’t exactly be hurting anyone, would it?