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Thursday, October 10, 2019

In Defense of Kershaw


There was plenty of blame to go around in yet another Dodgers elimination.

Photo: Star Tribune
Following the Washington Nationals’ stunning comeback victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the final game of the best-of-five National League Divisional Series, the blame game ensued in full earnest.  Much of the blame by annually disappointed Dodger fans and media has been directed towards manager Dave Roberts but the remainder appears to be aimed at future Hall of Fame pitcher Clayton Kershaw.

Indeed, Kershaw whose performances in post-season are far less successful than his regular season stats (he has a 2.44 ERA during his career, but in 158 ⅓ career postseason innings, he has a 4.33 ERA), served up back-to-back home runs in the 8th inning that nullified Walker Buehler’s scintillating effort after he came in to relieve. Kershaw dispatched Adam Eaton on 3 pitches to end the rally in the 7th inning only to return in the 8th.

On the second pitch to Anthony Rendon, a notorious low ball hitter, Kershaw threw a slider down at the knees—a good pitch to a more mortal batter—and Rendon, in his walk year, reached down and yanked the ball over the left field wall.  The next pitch was a cookie slider to Juan Soto, 20, a budding super star in the league, crushed it 449 feet in the right center pavilion to tie the game.

So, based on Kershaw’s mediocre record in post-season games, the finger pointing headed Kershaw’s way—an inescapable occurrence that Kershaw acknowledged.

“When you don’t win the last game of the season and you’re to blame for it, it’s not fun,’’ he said following the loss to the Washington Nationals. “…Yeah, it’s just a terrible feeling.’’

“There’s no excuses. Just didn’t make pitches,’’ Kershaw said and later added, “Everything people say is true right now, about the postseason. I understand that.’’

Those two pitches only tied the game at 3-3.  Why is he blamed for the loss?  The Dodgers had every opportunity to break the tie in the bottom of the 8th and 9th innings but failed to do so. In the 10th the underappreciated Nationals, with their own post-season miseries until this year, had shocked the baseball world with veteran Howie Kendrick blasting a grand slam over the center field fence to give the Nats a 7-3 lead, which held up for the win.

Davey Martinez, the Nats manager, always said as most managers do, that it takes 25 players to contribute to team’s success. It’s not about one guy or two guys. Everyone has a role to play and they all need to step up.
Howie Kendrick blasts game winning grand slam.
Photo: Los Angeles Daily News

Clayton Kershaw is only one of the Dodgers’ 25 man roster. He’s getting the blame for allowing the game to be tied but some of the other players need to be called out. 

For one thing, Joe Kelly loaded the bases in the 10th including a dubious intentional base on balls then delivered the game winning gopher ball to Kendrick.   MVP candidate Cody Bellinger batted .211 in the series with zero RBIs. AJ Pollack went 0-13 with 11 strikeouts, an amazingly horrendous performance. Corey Seager batted .150.  Rookie catcher Will Smith hit .077. Chris Taylor .125…I can go on. Except for the outlier game, a 10-4 thrashing of the Nats in Nationals Park in Game 3, the Dodgers were extremely feeble with men in scoring position.

Roberts, for his part, is getting eviscerated in the press and on social media for his in-game decision making. Much of the second guessing regarding the usage or lack thereof of the bullpen is legitimate.  In addition, I found two instances whereby he blew it and I said so prior to the consequences from those decisions.

The first is not having veteran catcher Russell Martin start in this key game when he was so potent in Game 3.  The other was giving the intentional pass to Soto in the 10th.  Left-handed specialist Adam Kolarek should have faced Soto again as the young phenom had been 0-3 against him in the playoffs. If successful, Roberts could then choose to intentionally walk Kendrick setting up a double play possibility with Kenley Jansen coming in to face a DP-prone Ryan Zimmerman.

Regardless of the second guessing and finger pointing, there was a ton of blame to go around, but Clayton Kershaw cannot and should not be considered the reason the Dodgers lost.

Baseball is a team sport.

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