It’s easy to say that Clayton Kershaw can’t throw more than seven innings in the postseason. Before Sunday night, the longest he’s ever thrown in a game is exactly seven innings—first in 2013 during game one of the NLDS and again in 2015, in NLDS game four.
That’s not to say he hasn’t thrown gems before in the postseason. Take a look at the pitching lines below.
Quality starts, a lot of them. Some would say, though, it wasn’t enough to get them to the World Series. Some would say that the team’s nine losses in 16 Kershaw appearances doesn’t show that he’s a proven starter in the postseason.
The postseason is this: A lot of sample sizes. It’s not to say that a pitcher is good or bad, but you’re going off a small sample of starts, especially if a team is not often in the postseason. The Dodgers, regardless of how good their Kershaw was, went from 2010 to 2012 without a postseason appearance. They have since been in every postseason since 2013.
Kershaw is an established starter on his own, having won the Cy Young three times and was voted the NL MVP once—and even in a year, 2014, when his team was eliminated from postseason play in the NLDS.
However, the narrative could be persistent because Kershaw started in elimination games in 2013 and 2014 and pitched in relief in an elimination game in 2009. The Dodgers did not advance after those games.
Despite this, he has thrown fairly well in a few postseason games before Sunday night, such as both NLDS games in 2015 and game one of the 2013 NLDS. It isn’t that he’s a bad pitcher, but circumstances and intangibles happen.
But then there was Sunday night, game two of the NLCS at Wrigley Field. Seven innings pitched, two hits given up, one run, six strikeouts, and zero runs. Not only that, but he had a perfect game going until the fifth inning. Never mind the fact that he did this against the Cubs, the team that is arguably the best in baseball.
Everything was working for Kershaw, and it showed in his seven innings of work. It’s hard to say that he doesn’t have the caliber to hold his own in the postseason when he can turn in a pitching line like this.
Now, the Dodgers are tied 1-1 in the NLCS. Postseason performances can turn a player into a hero on a dime. But it doesn’t matter how well a player does if they lose the series and don’t advance.
If the Dodgers don’t make it to the World Series, no one will remember Kershaw’s brilliant performance agains the Cubs that Sunday night. People will remember only the defeat and agony of the Dodgers’ elimination.
And that’s the small sample size of the postseason. One or two starts won’t make a pitcher a hero—advancing to the biggest stage in baseball does. One or two home runs doesn’t turn a hitter into a hero—unless it’s something that saves a game, or even a series.
That doesn’t make them any less of a good pitcher, or hitter, or both. We remember Joe Blanton as the pitcher who hit a home run in the 2008 postseason with the Phillies because, well, pitcher home runs and because the Phillies won the World Series that year. We remember Madison Bumgarner’s dominant postseason run in 2014, solidifying him in San Francisco Giants folklore when the team won three in five. We remember the names and faces and plays and fastballs that add to the theatrics and the tension that is the MLB postseason.
Jen Mac Ramos is a Contributing Writer for Beyond the Box Score. Their work can also be found at MLB Daily Dish. You can find them on Twitter at @jenmacramos.