Clayton Kershaw is widely considered the best pitcher in baseball. We'll make no argument to the contrary.
Kershaw's performance over the past four seasons has been without peer. This year, he finished 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. He claimed his fourth consecutive National League ERA title, and that 1.77 mark was nearly half a run better than his closest competitor. He is a lock to win his third NL Cy Young award in the last four years.
Kershaw had a 1.83 ERA during the 2013 campaign, so that means he is just the second pitcher in the live-ball era to post an ERA of 1.85 or less in consecutive seasons. Hall of Famer Greg Maddux is the other.
Yes, Kershaw is the best in the game right now.
But you know what has eluded him to this point in his career? Postseason success. I've heard some people compare Kershaw to another former Dodgers' lefty, Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. Some say Kershaw may go down as the best pitcher to play in the live-ball era once he's all done. Who am I to say he can't do that? But if he is going to be considered better than Koufax, he better figure out a way to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs.
The Cardinals will take a 2-1 series lead over the Dodgers into Tuesday's Game 4 of the National League Division Series. Kershaw is taking the ball on three days' rest. The season is on the line for the favored Dodgers.
Normally, a team feels pretty good about sending its ace out there in a must-win game, but Kershaw's postseason numbers are inexplicably terrible.
In 10 postseason games (7 starts), he's 1-4 with a 5.20 ERA. He has lost each of his last three playoff starts, all against the Cardinals. In two of those outings, he got bombed.
Kershaw went to the mound in a similar situation in Game 6 of last year's NLCS. The Cardinals were up 3-2 in the series, at home and looking to clinch. St. Louis roughed up Kershaw to the tune of seven earned runs on 10 hits over four innings. The Cardinals won, 9-0, and advanced to the World Series.
In Game 1 of this NLDS, Kershaw was staked to a 6-1 lead. He coughed up the whole thing, allowing eight earned runs on eight hits over 6.2 innings pitched. The Cardinals rallied to win, 10-9.
In Kershaw's last two playoff starts, he's allowed 15 earned runs on 18 hits over 10.2 innings pitched. Those aren't numbers you would associate with someone whose name is being mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.
Most experts picked the Dodgers to win this series, because they figured the combination of Kershaw and teammate Zack Greinke would be too much for the Cardinals to handle. Greinke did his part in Game 2, a 3-2 Dodgers victory, and he's poised to pitch Game 5 back in Los Angeles if Kershaw can lead the Dodgers to a win in Game 4.
This game is a defining moment for Kershaw. His postseason failures are a black mark on an otherwise brilliant resume. As of this writing, we're just three hours from the first pitch of Game 4. I'll be interested to see how Kershaw responds in this pressure-packed start.