Kershaw moves into 2nd for postseason K's

October 21st, 2020

Seven regular seasons of 200-plus strikeouts are already on ’s Hall of Fame resume, and now there’s this: two-hundred-plus strikeouts in his postseason career.

Kershaw tamed an initially temperamental slider and delivered six strikeout-filled innings in the Dodgers' 8-3 win over the Rays in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at Globe Life Field in Arlington, adding eight more punchouts to his well-examined postseason record for 201 in his career. In baseball history, only Justin Verlander has banished more playoff hitters back to the dugout, and Verlander’s all-time record of 205 strikeouts is in sight should Kershaw be needed again in the Series.

“I was fortunate to make it through that first [inning,” Kershaw said. “I was bouncing my slider at like 48 feet.”

“We talked after that inning,” Dodgers catcher Austin Barnes said. “He said he would find it, and he did.”

What gave Kershaw that confidence?

“Well, I don’t really have an alternative,” he said, laughing. “I kind of have to figure it out.”

He did figure it out, and delivered another solid entry to what is shaping into one of Kershaw’s best postseasons. He had swing-and-miss stuff to open this latest Dodgers playoff run, with a personal-best 13 strikeouts in a win over the Brewers in Game 2 of the National League Wild Card Series. But Kershaw posted more modest numbers in the NL Division Series against the Padres (six strikeouts in Game 2) and in the NL Championship Series against the Braves (four strikeouts in Game 4 after being pushed back by a bout of back stiffness), once again stirring the discussion of why one of the best pitchers of his generation sometimes looks less than that in October.

Against the Rays in Kershaw’s fifth career World Series start, and his third World Series Game 1, Kershaw once again had swing-and-miss stuff after making an adjustment in the first inning. His first strikeout of Hunter Renfroe helped the Dodgers escape a two-on, one-out situation in the first inning, and he struck out multiple batters in each of the the third and the fourth, when Manuel Margot’s inning-ending swinging punchout gave Kershaw 199 career postseason strikeouts to tie John Smoltz -- on hand at Globe Life Field to call the game for FOX -- for second all-time.

When Kershaw retired Joey Wendle and struck out Willy Adames to open the fifth for career postseason strikeout No. 200, he had retired 13 consecutive hitters. But the streak came to an abrupt end when the next Rays hitter, Kevin Kiermaier, hit a slider for a home run that cut the Dodgers’ lead to 2-1.

Kershaw stopped the inning there with, yep, another strikeout. He ended his night with eight strikeouts over six innings on only 78 pitches as the Dodgers had pulled out to an 8-1 lead. Seven of the eight strikeouts came on well-executed sliders.

Kershaw finished with 19 misses on 38 swings against him, a 50 percent whiff rate that marked the highest of any start of his career in which he’s thrown at least 25 pitches, including his outings in the postseason. According to Elias, only seven pitchers since 2000 have induced more swings and misses in a World Series game: The Yankees’ Orlando Hernandez in 2000 (24 swings and misses), the Giants’ Tim Lincecum in 2010 (22), the Astros’ Verlander in 2017 (21), the Yankees’ Roger Clemens in 2000 (21), the Royals’ James Shields in 2014 (20), the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner in 2014 (20) and the Yankees’ Mike Mussina in 2001 (20).

Kershaw allowed two Rays hits and one walk, making him the first pitcher with at least eight strikeouts and three or fewer baserunners in a World Series start since Kershaw himself. Of the six players in history who have accomplished the feat, only Kershaw has done it twice. The players are:

Kershaw (Tuesday)
Kershaw (2017 Game 1)
Hernandez (1999 Game 1)
Moe Drabowsky (1966 Game 1)
Monte Pearson (1939 Game 2)
George Earnshaw (1931 Game 4)
Rube Foster (1915 Game 2)

“You can appreciate and totally see why he’s heading to the Hall of Fame one day, whenever he’s done,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Whenever he pitches again, Kershaw will be fresh. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts indicated Kershaw would be on his regular turn for his next start, lining the lefty up for a potential Game 5 on Sunday.

Kershaw is pitching in the World Series for the third time in four years, and he’s been a part of all of the so-called “failures” for a Dodgers team that has won the National League West eight straight years but has not won the World Series since 1988. Kershaw has shouldered his share of the blame, and whether that’s fair can be debated. So far this postseason, he is 3-1 with a 2.88 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 25 innings. That will play.

After a game like Tuesday, does Kershaw allow himself to think about what it would feel like to finally win a ring?

“It's hard not to think about winning. It's hard not to think about what that might feel like,” he said. “But I think what I have to do, what we have to do as a team, is just [focus on] tomorrow. Just constantly keep putting in your brain, ‘win tomorrow, win tomorrow, win tomorrow.’ When you do that three more times, then you can think about it all you want.

“It is hard not to let that creep in, but I know that I'm going to pitch again this series and I know that we've got three more games to win. And that starts with tomorrow.”