A terrible, all-too-common sight in this area, at this time of year, was Clayton Kershaw’s hands resting on his knees, head bowed, legs slightly bent, and back toward home plate as the ball soared into the air. In the first 10 minutes of Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Saturday night, a rookie catcher named Gabriel Moreno hit a three-run home ball to give the Arizona Diamondbacks a five-run advantage. Kershaw then recorded the first out.
The Los Angeles Dodgers have never needed Kershaw more, with their starting rotation in disarray as October approaches. However, they are now more unsure than ever about what he can offer them.
They may have had the worst postseason start in baseball history with six runs allowed, one out, and their first playoff game.
“Disappointing,” Kershaw said after an 11-2 loss. “Embarrassing. You just feel like you let everybody down. The guys, a whole organization, that looked to you to pitch well in Game 1. It’s just embarrassing, really. So I just feel like I let everybody down. It’s a tough way to start the postseason. Obviously, we still have a chance at this thing, but that wasn’t the way it should’ve started for me.”
Kershaw pitched superbly during the final two months of the regular season despite having a sore left shoulder. He pitched to a 2.23 ERA in eight starts, and was limited to only roughly five innings at a time in order to keep his arm fresh for the games that counted the most. His fastball was a tick or two slower, and his outings came after an extra day or two of rest.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts stated at the start of Game 1 that “this is as good as he’s felt physically in the last couple months.”
As the game came to a close, Kershaw became the first pitcher in major league playoff history to record an out before giving up five hits and five runs. In his 454 career starts, Kershaw failed to complete the first inning for the first time. Only three other players in postseason history have allowed six or more runs while recording one out or fewer, with Kershaw and his notoriously shaky postseason track record among them.
Will Smith, the catcher for the Dodgers, stated that Kershaw’s pitching “looked like the normal stuff that it’s been all year.” Kershaw agreed with Roberts’ assertion that there was nothing physically wrong.
After being lined 116 mph to center field and bouncing off James Outman’s glove, Kershaw’s second pitch, a 73 mph curveball that was slightly low, probably ought to have been called an error. The ball sped up on youngster Outman, who also claimed that his “nerves kind of got the best of me.”
After consecutive singles from Corbin Carroll and Tommy Pham, Christian Walker added a double, and Moreno, whose condition was unknown after he was struck in the head by a backswing during Arizona’s final game on Wednesday, blasted a 419-foot home run to left-center field, the Dodger Stadium crowd fell silent in shock.
The performance raised Kershaw’s playoff ERA in 19413 innings from 4.22 to 4.49. It ranks as the highest among the 31 pitchers in big league history with more than 100 innings pitched in the postseason. It is two runs more than his excellent regular-season ERA of 2.48.
The discrepancy has proven to be a significant stain on Kershaw’s reputation, but it is also problematic because it involves multiple appearances in which he threw on little rest, was employed as relief pitching, or was held in longer than usual. This time, it increased noticeably at a time when Kershaw, who is 35 years old, has pitched nearly 3,000 innings and has a history of ailments, is not at full strength.
According to Roberts, Kershaw’s next start is still scheduled for Game 4 at Chase Field in Phoenix on Thursday. This start will go forward unless the Dodgers get swept.
The only member of the Dodgers’ first rotation left alive is Kershaw. In addition, Julio Urias is on administrative leave due to charges of domestic abuse, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin endured season-ending surgeries, Noah Syndergaard toiled terribly before being dealt away, and Walker Buehler didn’t return from his second Tommy John surgery in time to assist.
The Dodgers’ postseason pitching lineup has a lot of relievers, rookies, and other unusual pitchers. However, they need Kershaw to rediscover some of his greatness if they are to make another deep run and avoid the early-round disappointments that have dogged them in recent years.
He must significantly recover for Game 4.