Ridiculous K helps Kershaw reclaim all-time postseason lead

October 14th, 2022

LOS ANGELES -- Few in the baseball world would argue with the notion that Clayton Kershaw will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But when it comes to his overall legacy, things get more complicated when the subject of his postseason resume arises.

The overarching story of Kershaw’s history in the playoffs contains stellar starts and duds alike -- with short rest often factoring in. Most of the time, though, at the very least, he’s been serviceable, pitching well enough to keep the Dodgers in the game. And that’s what the Dodgers got from Kershaw in their 5-3 loss to the Padres in Game 2 of the National League Division Series on Wednesday night at Dodger Stadium.

However one may choose to evaluate “playoff Kershaw,” he has one thing going for him -- his 213 postseason strikeouts are the most in AL/NL history. His six strikeouts in Game 2 allowed him to retake the lead from Justin Verlander, who had passed him in the ALDS on Tuesday.

None of Kershaw's strikeouts on Wednesday was more memorable than Jurickson Profar’s in the top of the fourth. Leading off, the Padres’ left fielder swung at a curveball that bounced well in front of home plate.

Most postseason K's, all-time 

  1. Clayton Kershaw: 213 
  2. Justin Verlander: 208 
  3. John Smoltz: 199 
  4. Andy Pettitte: 183 
  5. Roger Clemens: 173

Kershaw didn’t always have his best stuff in Game 2, however, as the Padres forced him to work in a way they did not in their two regular-season meetings. But he held them to three runs despite giving up six hits in five innings.

“It was huge to get him through five,” manager Dave Roberts said. “Allowed us to stay away from some [relievers]. … I just felt that he wasn't sharp. I thought it was a grind all night for him.”

The Padres got to Kershaw early, with Manny Machado crushing a 2-1 hanging slider over the left-field wall in the first inning. They threatened again in the second, a pair of base hits and a wild pitch leading to a one-out, second-and-third jam that Kershaw escaped with key strikeouts of Trent Grisham and Austin Nola, both on his slider.

Kershaw wasn’t so fortunate in the third, when the top of the Padres’ order tagged him for three straight hits to open the inning, including an RBI double from Machado. Another run came in on Jake Cronenworth’s groundout to first base. The 26 pitches Kershaw threw in the frame ran his count up to 60 for the game.

Then, Kershaw bounced back nicely with a pair of 1-2-3 innings, including a top of the fifth that saw him retire San Diego’s top three hitters on 11 pitches.

“The homer to Manny was a mistake, and the two-strike hit that Profar got [in the second inning] was a mistake,” said Kershaw. “Then I left a slider up to [Juan] Soto, too, that he got a hit on [in the third]. I definitely made some mistakes that they made me pay for. … I would like to have a few pitches back, but it definitely could have been worse, for sure.”

With the best-of-five series now even at a game apiece, the Dodgers and Padres are guaranteed to play two at Petco Park. Following the loss, Tony Gonsolin was announced as the Game 3 starter, meaning Game 4 will go to Tyler Anderson. Game 1 starter Julio Urías would be lined up to start Game 5 on full rest, if necessary.

Could Kershaw -- who has seven career postseason relief outings -- enter that equation with yet another short-rest playoff appearance?

“I think everybody will be ready,” said Kershaw. “Hopefully we don't get there, but I think everybody will be ready for that.”