With a strong performance in Game 7 of the World Series, Clayton Kershaw can stake his claim as one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history.
I thought we were done with the “Clayton Kershaw can’t pitch in the playoffs” hot takes. Really, I thought that narrative had died for good last Tuesday night when the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander spun seven masterful innings, holding the Houston Astros to a single run on three hits with 11 strikeouts. In the process, Kershaw ran his record to 3-0 and lowered his 2017 postseason ERA to 2.96.
Kershaw, it seemed, had vanquished his October demons once and for all.
Except he hadn’t. He was staked to a 4-0 lead after the Astros punted the ball all over the field to start Game 5 on Sunday night. It only lasted three innings. The ace, who had been cruising, had his own Brad Lidge and Albert Pujols moment with Yuli Gurriel and could only watch as Kenta Maeda surrendered a three-run bomb to Jose Altuve to knot the score at seven in the fifth inning. Kershaw’s line — 4.2 innings, four hits, three walks, six runs, two strikeouts and only four swinging strikes on 94 pitches — put him right back in the crosshairs.
Somehow, the Dodgers found a way to pick themselves up off the mat after a devastating loss in one of the all-time great games in World Series history. There will be a Game 7, and Clayton Kershaw would like us all to know that he is ready to do whatever it takes to make sure the Dodgers win their first World Series since 1988.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has ridden his bullpen into the ground this postseason. No one looks fresh, least of all closer Kenley Jansen, who has blown two games in the World Series and just got six outs to cement Game 6. Maeda and Brandon Morrow were also used heavily yet again. Those three have now thrown over 70 percent of pitches by Dodgers relievers in the playoffs. They’re running on fumes, as evidenced by the collapse in Game 5. Roberts will need Kershaw ready at the slightest sign of trouble for Game 7 starter Yu Darvish.
It’s all going to fall on Kershaw to save the day for the Dodgers, and the scenario could not be more similar to the 2014 World Series where the San Francisco Giants used their ace, Madison Bumgarner, for five innings in Game 7, also on two days rest. Bumgarner allowed only two hits and the Giants won the World Series. That performance catapulted MadBum to living legend status in the eyes of many baseball fans.
Now, it’s Kershaw’s turn.
This game has the potential to finally erase any doubt that Kershaw belongs in the conversation among the top five MLB pitchers in history. He has the regular-season numbers to back it up. He’s carried a sub-2.00 ERA for five years running, notched a 300-strikeout season, won three Cy Youngs, took home an MVP and threw a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts. Kershaw is the active leader in almost every major statistical category for starting pitchers and is the all-time leader in ERA+ for starting pitchers, seven points better than Pedro Martinez.
But still, Kershaw needs this moment tonight to silence the doubters forever. There are few moments in sports bigger than Game 7 of the World Series, and it’s all lined up perfectly for Kershaw to put the “Playoff Kershaw” taunts to bed for good. The stakes couldn’t be higher. The moment couldn’t be bigger, and there couldn’t be a better time for Clayton Kershaw to take his rightful place with MLB’s immortal playoff heroes.