Can Kershaw do his part?
By asking that question, what I mean is, can Clayton keep his team tied or better by the time he’s lifted by Dave Roberts? Max Scherzer will be a stern test, it could very well be much like Wednesday’s game when Thor/Bumgarner threw zeroes at each other. The difference in the game was that Thor was done after seven and Bumgarner was not.
Andy McCullough offers up a thoughtful piece on Clayton Kershaw. It is a great read from beginning to end but the final paragraph is what caught me eye.
“Nobody talks about the success I’ve had in the postseason,” Kershaw said. “That’s fine. Ultimately, what it comes down to is if we win the World Series, everybody will stop saying everything, good or bad. That mindset is what I have to think about.”
I think the reason is simple.
No one talks about the regular season success of Madison Bumgarner because of Clayton Kershaw and the postseason bar that Bumgarner has created. No one talks about the postseason success of Clayton Kershaw because of Madison Bumgarner, and because of the bar that Kershaw has created with his regular season success. Each on their own could stand proud, but when compared to what each other has done respectively those accomplishments pale.
During the regular season, Kershaw has been the best pitcher in baseball for five years running. His cumulative fWAR is 41 which is 15 points above his closest NL competitor Johnny Cueto. That is a ridiculous number, so ridiculous that Clayton Kershaw can lay claim to being the greatest pitcher of the 21st century without too much of an argument.
Bumgarner has been the fifth best NL pitcher in this same time frame within five points of Cueto. Still, many find it hard to acknowledge he’s been one of the best regular season pitchers during the Kershaw run.
On the flip side Bumgarner has been the best postseason pitcher since 2010. How he stands among the greatest postseason pitchers is still a matter of debate, but his 2014 run was a postseason run for the ages. It is hard to compare what pitchers did who only had to pitch in the World Series compared to pitchers who have to make a Wild Card, Division Series, Championship Series, and World Series run.
Kershaw has zero World Series starts. He’s had one good NLCS start, his two worst starts occurred in the NLCS. His two best games were in the NLDS. Sure, Clayton has had some nice games in those ten starts, but he hasn’t won a deciding game yet though he should get credit for the Uribe deciding game four victory over the Braves. Unfortunately for Kershaw, he has had to face the Cardinals more than the Braves.
For me, I simply expect the best pitcher in baseball to out pitch his opponent or break even at least 75% of the time, not 40%. None of his ten postseason starts rank among the top 250 games ever pitched in the postseason. His best postseason game ranks 20th among LAD pitchers. Going game by game he led two times when he left, was behind six times when he left, and the score was tied twice when he left. If Kershaw isn’t leaving the game in the 7th inning at least tied, I don’t think he did his job even if that requires throwing zeroes.
I have high expectations but that is only because I’ve seen elite performances from LAD pitchers time and time again. Don Sutton pitched his team into the World Series in a playoff format. Fernando pitched his team into the World Series in a playoff format. Orel pitched his team into the World Series in a playoff format. Tommy John pitched his team into the World Series in a playoff format. You simply have to pitch better than your opponent. They all did that. Clayton did it last year in his last postseason start and everyone was happy. And if he had done that in his first NLDS start last year it would have meant the team was moving on. But he didn’t and they didn’t, because Greinke couldn’t do his part.
Are my expectations too high? I don’t think so, not for the best pitcher of the 21st century in his prime. I expect greatness from greatness, I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t.