Clayton Kershaw did it again.
When the Los Angeles Dodgers needed their ace to be strong and hold the fort, he wilted like a week-old tulip and surrendered. The Atlanta Braves lit him up for four runs in five-plus innings and took a commanding 3-1 lead in the National League Championship Series Thursday night. Once again, the best pitcher of his generation couldn't be relied upon in the postseason.
Kershaw got through five innings having only allowed one run, as the game was knotted at 1-1. He appeared to be cruising along entering the bottom of the sixth inning -- then the floodgates opened. Ronald Acuna Jr. opened the frame with an infield single and advanced to second on a error. At that point, something changed for Kershaw. Freddie Freeman followed with a double to score Acuna, then Marcell Ozuna doubled to score Freeman. Both balls were absolutely murdered and it was clear Kershaw had nothing left. That was it, as he was yanked after 87 pitches.
Brusdar Graterol relieved the Dodgers' ace and got knocked around, which didn't help matters. All-in-all, the Braves plated six runs in the sixth (three charged to Kershaw) and took a 7-1 lead. After that, Atlanta backstroked to a 10-2 win and crushed any momentum the Dodgers built during a 15-3 win in Game 3.
Los Angeles called on Kershaw to be their stopper and even the series in Game 4 and, once again, he couldn't come through when it mattered most. A future first-ballot Hall of Famers was outdueled by 22-year-old Bryse Wilson, who had logged a total of 42.2 innings in his career and had never pitched in the postseason. Baseball is a crazy game.
Kershaw's postseason ERA is now 4.31, which is the highest ever among pitchers who have thrown at least 100 innings. Baseball has been around a long time, it's really hard to be the worst all-time at something, especially when you're as talented as he is.
Kershaw's regular season career numbers are brilliant: 175-76, 2.43 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 2,526 strikeouts in 2,330 innings. In the playoffs he's been a completely different pitcher. After taking the loss Thursday night, Kershaw is now 11-12 in 35 postseason appearances (28 starts), with the aforementioned 4.31 ERA, a 1.09 WHIP and 193 strikeouts in 177.1 innings. He's Jekyll in the regular season and Hyde once the calendar flips to October.
No one can explain why Kershaw suddenly becomes hittable in the postseason. It's one of the greatest mysteries in baseball history. Yet somehow it keeps happening.
Unless the Dodgers pull off a miracle comeback, Kershaw won't get a chance to redeem himself in 2020 and it's unclear how many more opportunities he'll get to do so. He'll be 33 when the 2021 season starts, he's been dealing with persistent back issues for years and he's put a ton of miles on his arm. He'll also be in the final year of his contract with the Dodgers.
Los Angeles and Kershaw have certainly never had a better chance to win a World Series. The Dodgers were MLB's most dominant team all season but appear to be hitting a wall in then playoffs again. The franchise hasn't won a World Series since 1988 and Kershaw has never been able to string together consistent starts in the playoffs. The team and pitcher continually melt down in big spots. It's inexplicable but it seems to happen regularly in the biggest games.
Kershaw has put the Dodgers on the brink of another disappointing playoff exit. Now his teammates will need to step up and be better in the clutch than he's ever been.