Clayton Kershaw’s postseason narrative has taken on many forms over the course of his career. But one thing is undeniable: He’s now a World Series champion. It took him some time to get here, and he’s had both good postseason outings and bad, but it has all led to a 2020 ring.
Just how long did it take? Kershaw played in 19 postseason rounds before the 2020 World Series. That’s the most played before appearing in a World Series that led to a title. That’s right -- nobody has played more rounds before finally winning it all. It is worth noting that one player did play more rounds and never won it all: Kenny Lofton, who played in 20.
Of course, the way the postseason has functioned lately -- especially in the Wild Card Era (since 1995) -- makes this a lot more likely to have been a recent player atop this list. Before 1969, the only postseason round was the World Series. From 1969 through 1993, there was only a League Championship Series and a World Series -- with the exception of 1981, which had an extra round. After 1995 we had three rounds until the 2012 postseason expanded it to four. This year we had more teams play in that fourth round than ever.
But that is part of the point. There have been players to appear in the postseason a fair amount before finally winning a title -- but none did it in the sheer quantity of rounds that Kershaw did. Some of that is circumstance, but it also illustrates all that Kershaw went through before this World Series.
Kershaw’s first postseason appearance came in relief in Game 2 of the National League Championship Series in 2008. He faced six batters in the seventh and eighth innings: Pedro Feliz, Jimmy Rollins, Shane Victorino, Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Eric Bruntlett. He made another relief appearance in Game 4 of that series, facing Howard, Pat Burrell and Victorino.
His first postseason start came the following year, in Game 2 of the NL Division Series against the Cardinals. He allowed two runs in 6 2/3 innings in an eventual Dodgers win. His postseason highs include a 13-strikeout outing in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series this year, when he threw eight scoreless innings. He also notched 11 strikeouts and no walks in his World Series debut, in Game 1 in 2017.
Kershaw has appeared in the postseason so frequently that he’s found himself at or near the top of nearly every counting-stat leaderboard -- good, bad and in between. He’s made 30 career postseason starts, tied for fourth-most in history, not to mention seven relief outings. His 207 postseason strikeouts are the most all-time, and his 28 homers allowed rank second behind only the 31 allowed by Andy Pettitte, who also leads the way with 44 starts.
In other words, he’s pretty much done it all in the playoffs, from every angle. And now he has a title, too.
Others atop the list
It follows logically that a few of his teammates are also close to the top of the list. Closer Kenley Jansen is second, with 16 rounds before winning this first title, and third baseman Justin Turner is tied for third, with 14 -- along with Carlos Beltrán, who won in 2017 with the Astros and Manny Ramírez, who first won in 2004 with the Red Sox.
Jansen first pitched in the playoffs for the Dodgers in 2013, appearing in six games and recording two saves in the NLDS and NLCS combined. Turner had two plate appearances for the Dodgers in the 2014 NLDS, both as a pinch-hitter, in Games 1 and 4. He really introduced himself to the playoffs in 2015, when he hit .526 in a Dodgers’ NLDS series loss against his former team, the Mets.
The next two on the list, who are tied for sixth, both joined this group lately, so they’re worth mentioning, too: Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, with 13 each -- a handful of appearances that came together, with the Tigers. Verlander won in 2017 with the Astros, and Scherzer won in 2019 with the Nationals.