Saturday, October 4, 2014
Like it or not, Kershaw still has plenty to prove in the postseason
Michael Jordon had the Pistons.
And now, after yet another dominant season, which led to another poor outing in October, it appears as if Clayton Kershaw has the Cardinals.
Like the magnificent Jordon had to prove, sometimes you have to go through that one team before you achieve greatness when it counts the most. Jordon got his six rings, but only after finally conquering the Bad Boys.
Kershaw can only hope he gets another chance to overcome the Cards.
He'll need the rest of his rotation to pick things up, his bullpen to pitch better, and his offense to continue to stay hot if he wants another crack at the Cardinals. For now, he'll have to settle for yet another shellacking at the hands of St. Louis, as the Dodgers dropped a heartbreaker in Game 1 of the NLDS at home 10-9. Yasiel Puig struck out with a runner on third to end the game.
It was one of the strangest games you'll see, as Kershaw toggled between getting pounded all over the park from straight fastballs down the middle, to absolutely baffling the Cardinals to the tune of 16 straight retired and 10 strikeouts. Very little about the game made any sense, and Kershaw is right at the top of that list.
We've seen plenty of times in the past where Kershaw was robbed of wins because his offense only scored a run or two. Heck, he only won 16 starts last year and 14 the year before, yet made 33 starts in each of those seasons compared to 27 this year. So when he was spotted a 6-1 lead in the sixth, it looked like the focus of the baseball world should turn to Anaheim where the Angles were hosting the Royals.
Not so. Kershaw simply ran into a wall. And boy did he hit that wall hard.
As I tweeted out during the game, it's hard to ever question Kershaw over anything. You don't get to be 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA by accident, it takes a lot of hard work.
With that said, it sure looked like we saw another side of Kershaw - stubbornness. Most of the time, that's called "competitiveness," but not on Friday.
The seventh inning showed that negative side of him, as he simply refused to rely on his secondary pitches. It was one fastball after another after another after another. It was a pattern even the most casual of baseball fan could pick up on.
Want further proof? According to the MLB.com pitch tracker, Kershaw threw 29 pitches in that fateful seventh: 20 fastballs, 8 sliders, and 1 curveball. He pretty much abandoned his curveball after Randal Grichuk homered off of it in the first. His slider has been his most effective pitch all season, but he also seemed to lose faith in that, despite striking out Oscar Taveras with it for the second out.
Nope. Instead, with his arch nemesis Matt Carpenter up, Kershaw tried to blow it by him for the third strike one too many times. Carpenter responded by missing a grand slam by a few feet. That was ultimate KO punch. Carpenter sat on the fastball, and whether pitches were being tipped or not, he had no reason not to think the hard stuff was coming. He ended up with two hits - a solo shot and a bases clearing double.
Now it's back to the drawing board for Kershaw, and as I stated before, he can only hope and pray that his teammates pick him up and give him the ball back in the series at some point. For the next few days, he'll have to stew on the fact that his postseason numbers aren't anything close to his regular season numbers: 10 games (7 starts), 1-4, 5.20 ERA, 1.27 WHIP. It's not like he's been awful every start, but his two clunkers against the Cardinals and a poor outing in 2009 against the Phillies have ballooned his ERA.
The next few days will be huge for the Dodgers, as they obviously have a smaller window in a five-game series to come out on top. It's also huge for Kershaw, as the last thing he wants to do is face an offseason with more questions about his playoff shortcomings.
He also doesn't want to face those questions as he's picking up his Cy Young and MVP awards. That will be an awkward press conference to say the least.