Clayton Kershaw and David Price are often spoken of in the same sentence about failed playoff pitchers. That tired comparison needs to end.
We hear the narrative ad nauseam every postseason: David Price and Clayton Kershaw are terrible postseason pitchers.
Under the intense pressure that October baseball brings, these two All-Star left-handers pitch more like scrubs in a Pacific Coast League throwaway game, the pundits say.
Their combined 5-14 playoff record only provides tinder to the fire takes of the Twittersphere.
But let’s make one thing clear here — only one of these pitchers has been consistently awful in the postseason and it isn’t Kershaw.
The Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace was charged with five runs in six-plus innings on Tuesday against the Nationals, but the line score is not fully indicative of his performance.
He struck out 11, yes 11, Nationals in the 6.2-inning start before exiting, albeit too late in the game, especially after Dave Roberts had a chance to pull him twice — once at the end of six and once in the middle of the seventh.
Although if it were not a questionable call on an outside pitch to Bryce Harper with two strikes and two outs, Kershaw would have trotted off the mound to more cheers and blue towels waving at Dodger Stadium. Lest we not forget this was on short rest, by the way.
Instead, was replaced by Pedro Baez with the bases loaded, which almost always feels like a formula for disaster (read: this exact same situation came back to bite the Dodgers last NLDS).
And what do you know, Baez and Luis Avilan allowed all three inherited runs to score and the game was tied in the blink of an eye. For a team in a city filled with stars, the Dodgers seem to leave Kershaw with a supporting cast of B-listers.
Twice in as many postseasons, has Kershaw been let down by his bullpen in the NLDS. The narrative of his playoff career (or at least the last two seasons) might be spoken about differently if his relievers came through for him, as they did in Game 1 of this series.
Yes, Kershaw could have easily been Jose Lima in a Clayton Kershaw costume during many of his earlier playoff starts, most notably the ones against the Cardinals, so we’re not forgetting that. But his last four playoff outings have been far from poor.
A Baez-less meltdown against David Wright last year and Kershaw leaves Game 1 with one earned run and 11 strikeouts. Pretty good, right? Well, he left and his final line read: three earned runs and a loss. Strikingly similar to Tuesday’s game, minus the fact this time he gladly settled a no-decision and a Dodger win.
In Game 1 of this year’s series, Kershaw was clearly not at his best, but gutted his way through five innings and helped the Dodgers stay in the game and eventually win. Nevertheless, Kershaw took the heat for not pitching his best, which is fair in and of itself. He wasn’t the Cy Young-caliber Kershaw we normally see each time he steps out on the field.
Neither him nor Price has been himself in the postseason. But that’s where the comparisons need to end.
Kershaw is nowhere near the level of bad Price continues to be in the playoffs.
Price has never won a postseason start in nine chances. His only two wins have come in relief, once in his rookie season and one last year where the Blue Jays held a five-run lead.
For pitcher of his stature, or really anyone for that matter, that’s just not where you want to be. A career postseason ERA at 5.54 and more hits allowed than innings pitched, Price does a fine job escaping the limelight because he doesn’t last long enough to be there.
He pitched just 3.1 innings against the Indians in his one and only start in these playoffs, looking below average after a dominant first inning. In all, he was charged with five runs, which is the third time in his last four playoff starts that he’s allowed as many runs. Lonnie Chisenhall took him deep, a man with a lifetime .657 OPS against lefties who hit exactly zero homers against southpaws in 2016.
You can make the argument that his teammates haven’t helped him much either, but they’re usually trying to dig out of a hole too deep to overcome.
Admittedly, this is all in a small sample size. Any pitcher can have a short bad stretch of starts. It’s part of baseball.
But when you’re paid as much as Price ($217 million over seven years) people expect you to pitch your best when it matters the most. For the most part, he hasn’t, fair or not.
And you can say Kershaw hasn’t lived up to his contract in October, either. Just don’t put him in the same conversation as Price.
Because when Kershaw is pitching on short rest, Price is doing his best to make sure he doesn’t get the chance.