If LA wins, should Kershaw be WS MVP?

October 27th, 2020

If the Dodgers win one more game over the Rays, they’ll end a few World Series droughts -- the most famous one, of course, is the one that dates back to 1988, the year they won their last title. But they’ll also end a string of more modern-day postseason disappointments, for a franchise that has played into October each of the past eight seasons, so far, without winning the whole thing.

If the Dodgers pull it off, several players will receive consideration for the World Series MVP Award. Clayton Kershaw, who not long ago was discussed as a possible postseason “choker,” is one of them.

MLB.com gathered a roundtable to discuss if Kershaw deserves the distinction, should the Dodgers win it. The debate also examined the many position players who should also be in the conversation.

Alyson Footer (@alysonfooter): Let’s start off with the basic question: Kershaw -- MVP? Yes? No?

Richard Justice (@richardjustice): I’ll take co-World Series MVPs: Kershaw and . If we have a Game 7, and if Buehler repeats his masterful Game 3 performance. By the end of the World Series, I’ll bet the MVP is obvious. At the moment, it's , who has a .609 on-base percentage. The Dodgers have other position player choices -- and -- and that could help Kershaw by splitting the vote. But right now, Seager seems to be the pick.

Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello): I'm going with the traditional no with a but, which is the coward's way out. "No, it won't be Kershaw ... but if he comes into a Game 7 and throws the last two innings or something to win the first L.A. title since 1988, then yes, it'll be Kershaw." (I don't think that's what will actually happen.)

Footer: Should that happen? I mean, why tempt fate? It's blown up on them in the past.

Justice: Pitchers are the World Series MVP when they do something extraordinary or when there’s not an obvious choice among position players. Stephen Strasburg won two road games in 2019. Madison Bumgarner had one of the greatest World Series any pitcher has ever had in '14. Josh Beckett in '03, Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson in '01 and Mariano Rivera in 1999 had overwhelming performances.

Petriello: That's why I got such a kick out of people getting upset that Dodgers manager Dave Roberts lifted Kershaw in the sixth inning of Game 5. Having managed to get two outs on two pitches is nice, but it doesn't really tell you anything other than the Rays were being super aggressive on him, and if you realize that Yandy Díaz had made an out on the last pitch of the previous inning, Kershaw had allowed three straight balls in play. But mostly, imagine being mad at Roberts for lifting Kershaw too soon and not too late?

Justice: In this case, we have really good choices among position players.

Petriello: Here's the thing about the entire concept of Kershaw as MVP, in my opinion: I never really pay attention to who wins postseason series MVPs. I don't think I could actually tell you who won it for any postseason series in recent history. Who won it in the World Series last year, Strasburg? No idea. But if Kershaw wins the World Series MVP, that does more than anything to blow up his "can't pitch in October" narrative. And that is super appealing to me.

Footer: Let's review Kershaw's numbers -- impressive, but not historic.

Game 1: 6 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K
Game 5: 5 2/3 IP, 5 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 6 K.

So, yeah, Kershaw has pitched well this World Series, and I’m glad it’s softened some of the “he’s a choker” narrative that has gotten a tad out of control lately. But can we also be realistic about this? He’s been good, but let’s not pretend this is Jack Morris, Bob Gibson or Bumgarner territory. Those are legendary performances. Kershaw's outings have been plenty good to win. That doesn’t earn you the MVP.

Justice: I'll say this about Kershaw in Game 5: That guy was out there without his slider and got by. That has become a weapon akin to his curve. I love that we can have this conversation. Lots of people were rooting like crazy for Kershaw to change his postseason story, and he has, with a 2.93 ERA in five starts these playoffs. It's the first time he hasn’t been used in relief or on short rest in a postseason, and he has been the Kershaw of the regular season. So the case is basic:
• He started two of Dodgers' three wins
• 2.31 ERA
• 0.86 WHIP
• .179 BA, 11 2/3 IP, 3 BB, 14 K

Footer: So we agree that he's been really good, and we're all happy for him, but we need to find another MVP, especially with so many worthy position players.

Justice: Right now, there's a better alternative.

Petriello: Yes, definitely. I think -- knowing that we don't know what happens in Game 6 or a possible Game 7 -- it's pretty clear to me this is a two-man race. It's either Seager, who has pounded the ball (1.432 OPS) with good defense, or Turner, who has pounded the ball (1.209 OPS) with good defense.

There's definitely the extreme-chaos agent part of me that wants to see Randy Arozarena win, just so he can have the World Series MVP before he wins the 2021 American League Rookie of the Year Award, but as good as he's been, that's not happening unless he crushes in two more games and the Rays win in seven.

Justice: Yeah, that's the definition of extreme chaos.

Footer: We deserve chaos. We need chaos. Please bring the chaos.

Petriello: There's also the argument that if this goes to Game 7 and Buehler follows up his excellent first start with another one, then Kershaw isn't even the most deserving pitcher on his own staff.

Justice: Split it!

Footer: Getting back to Mike's comment, "Well, if he pitches two innings to close out Game 7..." Here was a question posed on our staff Zoom this morning: If the Dodgers are up by an insurmountable number of runs in the ninth, should Roberts let Kershaw close it out? Like as a symbolic reward of some sort? My take: Horrible idea. He’s not retiring. He's not riding off into the sunset on a unicorn. What say you? Like if the score is 13-1 or something.

Justice: You know, Seager is kind of his own redemption story with the injuries and that he didn't become an overnight superstar. How many redemptions can one World Series have? We've reached our limit.

Petriello: Oh no, did I miss a staff Zoom? I think that depends entirely on what happens in Game 6. Obviously, the Dodgers would need to lose to get to Game 7, and that might mean that Tony Gonsolin didn't go far, and that the bullpen got eaten up, and if that's the case then ... yeah? Maybe?

Footer: (We'll invite you to the next one, Mike.)

Justice: I don't think the Dodgers would do that. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his staff aren't into the feel-good story of the moment.

Footer: Agree completely.

Petriello: I'm trying to think of what the score would need to be to feel good about that. 25-1? And even then it almost feels more disrespectful than fulfilling.

Justice: Side note: How have the Dodgers kept the faith with Dustin May?

Petriello: I can confirm that May is not going to win the World Series MVP Award, but man, did he make Roberts look a lot better about taking Kershaw out there. May threw a fastball 101.5 mph with movement to get the whiff -- nasty stuff.

Justice: I admire their unwavering belief in him. They never wavered on how good he is. Future World Series MVP.

Footer: And with a tremendous head of hair, NFN.

Petriello: Going from May, a rookie, to Victor González, a rookie, to back up Kershaw is something else. Maybe that goes to show weird the 2020 season is, but it says a lot about the young pitchers the Dodgers have and how much confidence they have in them in big spots. (Gonsolin, the Game 6 starter, is also a rookie. So is Brusdar Graterol.)

Justice: It's a reminder of their core belief: talent plays.

Footer: OK, moving on... Let’s talk about the other worthy MVP candidates. The Dodgers have three position players -- Turner, Seager, Muncy. Your front-runner is clear heading into Game 6.

Petriello: Seager. I think Muncy is a distant third. Give me the shortstop playing good defense who has a .609 OBP(!) and a pair of dingers.

Justice: To me, Seager's numbers are pretty much overwhelming, and he plays the most difficult position on the field. Right, .609!

Footer: Seager is slashing .471/.609/.824 for an obscene 1.432 OPS.

Petriello: And some excellent baserunning in Game 5, too.

Justice: Yes, baserunning. You watch him run the bases that way, and you think, "That guy is feelin' it right now." He's 26 years old. Just when you tell yourself he's a disappointment, you're reminded he's still in the first half of his career.

Petriello: Remember when it was seen that maybe they should have drafted Michael Wacha and would have regretted not doing it? No? Me neither. I'm trying to come up with reasons to not say "Seager" and I really can't. Turner's been good. Muncy's been good. Kershaw's been good. Seager's been better.

Footer: Richard, you wrote a terrific column about Muncy after he absolutely annihilated a baseball in the form of a 434-foot homer, off a 99 mph fastball from Tyler Glasnow in Game 5. He’s walking a ton and scoring even more. He has a 1.113 OPS through five games of the World Series. That has to at least give us pause.

Justice: Maybe there'll be a signature moment in Game 6 that'll hand it to someone else. But there's no one else close at the moment. Sure, Muncy, Turner, Seager. That's how you win a World Series. They've had, what, 10 players hit homers and 10 score runs? That's what has made this such good theater: a deep lineup vs. a team with three or four closers.

Petriello: It says a lot about how good this team has been that they've made that cursed Tampa Bay bullpen alarm clock of arms seem a lot less dangerous.

Justice: Our man David Adler shared that Muncy took 9.64 seconds to go from home to first. I asked David to put that in context, and he said, "It was a man admiring his work."

Footer: To wrap this up, can we at least discuss Turner for two minutes as a sentimental favorite?

Justice: Turner is having a monster World Series: 1.209 OPS, two homers, four doubles. Also -- and this is something we don't really know -- he appears to be big on helping the young players and in setting an example. Not sure what that's worth, but if the Dodgers have mentors, they're Turner and Kershaw.

Petriello: It's definitely enjoyable to see a player who grew up a Dodgers fan in Southern California, who's been there longer than anyone outside of Kershaw and Kenley Jansen, turn his career around to become a legit star and possibly push his team to the ring. (Side note: It is also cool that Ryan Yarbrough and Brett Phillips grew up as Rays fans, but also that makes me feel old. Didn't the Rays just start playing a few years ago?)

Justice: Did you guys see Turner lobbying for Kershaw to stay in the game on Sunday? That's when you've got some gravitas.