LOS ANGELES — The feeling is a bit surreal, but we really might have just witnessed the final start of Clayton Kershaw’s Dodgers career. Given the contrast in his career when it comes to the regular season versus the postseason, even if some of the “choke” narrative is completely unfair, I suppose it’s only fitting he gave up three home runs in Game 5 as he saw his team come up short in the World Series for the second consecutive year.
Now, before we continue, it’s worth noting a few things:
Got it? Good!
The story of Clayton Kershaw’s career with the Dodgers to this point is a complicated one. It’s definitely two-fold, though.
There’s regular-season Kershaw. The three-time Cy Young winner who also finished second twice, third once and fifth once. He even won an MVP. He led the league in ERA five times. He was widely considered the best pitcher on the planet for a stretch of roughly seven years. He led the league in strikeouts three times and topped 300 once. His career ERA of 2.39 is best among active starting pitchers. He’s a seven-time All-Star. He’s won a Gold Glove. Hell, he’s even won a Roberto Clemente Award for his humanitarian work. He’s never been in trouble and he’s a genuinely nice guy. He’s accountable when things don’t go his way on the mound.
Kershaw is like the model face-of-the-franchise type of player.
There’s also playoff Kershaw, though. We could do all the mental gymnastics in the world here, but the reality of the situation is his numbers in the playoffs are significantly worse than in the regular season. Things happen. There’s context to every start. There are circumstances, such as when he’s taken the ball on short rest and pitched well. Playoff teams on average are obviously better than a full regular season of competition. On the whole, though, he’s just been worse.
It’s not even a small sample. Kershaw has now worked 152 postseason innings. He’s allowed 78 runs, 74 of which were earned. Despite having thrown at least 200 innings five times in his career and more than 170 eight times, he has never in a season allowed 78 runs or 74 earned runs. Four times in the regular season, he topped 225 innings. His highest earned run total in those years was 64.
Looking side by side, it’s evident he was different.
As things stand, a historically great pitcher going to the playoffs six straight years and not coming away with a World Series ring seems a little incomplete, no? We’ve seen great pitchers — who were definitely less great than Kershaw — put their teams on their back in the World Series before. Kershaw never did it. Some of it wasn’t his fault. Maybe a lot of it wasn’t his fault, but I don’t think we can completely absolve him.
My hunch is there is a segment of the Dodgers fan base that will always regard Kershaw, ultimately, in a negative way. For no matter how many unbelievable moments he provided them in the regular season and postseason alike — not to mention they don’t have all these playoff games without him — the taste at the end comes out bitter with zero rings. That’s just the way fan bases go.
You can’t blame them. They have had six straight years in the playoffs and have not gotten the ultimate fan payoff. Scapegoating the best player, especially when he’s faltered in key spots at times, is absolutely going to happen in every single fan base. I 100 percent do not single out Kershaw in the Dodgers’ failures to win the title and it’s unfair that anyone would. You know what, though, life’s not fair. Being The Man in a high-profile professional sport has an attachment that comes with it. If you falter in the championship round, you’re gonna wear the blame from many people.
That’s why, as noted, I think that there will be a segment of Dodgers Nation that kind of resents Kershaw — even if it’s deep down — until the Dodgers win a title with him.
And now, there’s an opt-out clause in Kershaw’s contract. He has two years and $70.2 million left on the deal. He won’t be getting an average annual value of over $35 million anywhere else, but surely he’s going to get a contract with more years and more total dollars, so the guess is he opts out.
Maybe a divorce here would be best anyway? Walker Buehler appears ready to be the ace and the Dodgers have lots of rotation options and money to spend on replacement(s).
If that’s the case, Kershaw leaves behind an amazing — albeit complicated and probably incomplete — legacy at Dodger Stadium.
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