Clayton Kershaw‘s worst postseason misadventures have mostly been tales of his having it and then losing it.

In Game 6 of the National League Championship Series, he never had it.

The Los Angeles Dodgersace left-hander was long gone by the time Yasiel Puig grounded into a double play to close a 5-0 win for the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field on Saturday nightsending them to their first World Series since 1945 and that much closer to their first championship since 1908. After setting out in his latest attempt to save the Dodgers from elimination, Kershaw lasted only five innings and allowed all five of Chicago’s runs.

That only four of those runs were earned is a small consolation prize. Kershaw’s career postseason ERA is up to 4.55 anyway. That’s the highest of any pitcher with at least 85 postseason innings.

And as noted by Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register, Kershaw’s Game 6 performance was just the latest case of his being at his worst when the Dodgers need him most:

This isn’t the only reason L.A. has yet to turn any of its four straight NL West titles into a pennant or a World Series. But it is a reason. And a big one, at that.

Of course, the Dodgers may not have staved off elimination Saturday even if Kershaw had pitched like the three-time Cy Young winner they know him to be. Chicago pitchers Kyle Hendricks and Aroldis Chapman combined to allow only four baserunners, and all four were erased on three double plays and a pickoff. It was 27 up, and 27 down. In circumstances like those, there’s only so much a starting pitcher can do.

It is the primary function of the starting pitcher, however, to at least give his team a chance to win. Kershaw couldn’t even do that.

The vibrations were bad from the beginning. After allowing only two hits and no runs in seven innings in a 1-0 win in Game 2, Kershaw served up a pair of hits and a run to the first two batters he faced Saturday when Dexter Fowler doubled and Kris Bryant singled him home. Then there was an error by Andrew Toles in left field that set up Ben Zobrist for a sacrifice fly.

At the time, Toles’ error sounded like the opening notes of a familiar tune.

Kershaw’s postseason failures are a compelling narrative, but within it is contained a subplot of his teammates letting him down. As August Fagerstrom covered at FanGraphs, it’s typically been the guys in the Dodgers bullpen who have left him unsupported. The L.A. defense’s failure to help him seemed like the next logical step.

But it was also hard to ignore just how un-Kershaw he looked in the first inning. After needing only 84 pitches to get through seven innings in Game 2, he needed 30 to get through one in Game 6. His velocity was there, but he couldn’t get his fastball to go where he wanted it to.

Kershaw couldn’t fix that as the evening wore on, and it became apparent as he threw more and more pitches that he was dealing with another problem. His curveball, one of the great weapons of mass destruction in the sport, was not there. 

Per Brooks Baseball, he threw only 15 of them out of 93 pitches. And as’s Keith Law and many others observed, few of them were any good:

This seemed to become as obvious to Cubs hitters as it was to everyone watching at Wrigley Field or at home. They had come out swinging against Kershaw to begin with and only seemed to grow more comfortable once they realized they could sit on his fastball and slider.

Willson Contreras and Anthony Rizzo did the honors of demolishing both pitches. Contreras deposited a hanging slider in the left field bleachers in the fourth inning. Rizzo went even further into the right field bleachers when he jumped on a sidearm fastball in the fifth inning.

“I think that the first thing I saw is the Cubs’ hitters, they had a great game plan tonight,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, per Ken Gurnick and Carrie Muskat of “And there was a couple mistake sliders that they took advantage of. But they were running counts, they used the whole field, and there was traffic all night for Clayton. And he gave it everything he had, but when they did—when he did make a mistake, they made him pay.”

Officially, Saturday’s outing is not the worst postseason performance of Kershaw’s career.

Per, he put up a game score of 39. He’s done worse in two starts since the Dodgers began their run four years ago: Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals and Game 1 of the NLDS against the Cardinals the next year.

But while Kershaw’s latest effort may not be his worst on paper, it may be the worst in practicality. He at least offered glimmers of hope with two shutout innings in the former and six one-run innings in the latter. A glimmer of hope never even appeared on the Chicago horizon Saturday.

Credit where it’s due: There was never a feeling that the Dodgers had the Cubs right where they wanted them even after they took a 2-1 series lead thanks to Kershaw and Rich Hill in Games 2 and 3. Beating a team that won 103 games in the regular season was never going to be that easy. In outscoring the Dodgers 23-6 in the final three games of the series, the Cubs proved just that.

“The better team won the series,” said Roberts, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.

The thing about aces, though, is that they’re supposed to be the equalizers.

A truly great starting pitcher can level any playing field and turn a squad of underdogs into snarling beasts that rip all reasonable expectations to shreds. Madison Bumgarner did it in 2014. Josh Beckett did it in 2003. Et cetera.

Kershaw has the power to do this. It’s not the constant favor of Lady Luck that’s allowed him to carve out a career 2.37 ERA and the best adjusted ERA in history. He is a perfect pitcher, combining excellent stuff with pinpoint command and a competitive fire that can melt flesh right off the bone.

But for the life of him, he just can’t get his many talents to stick in October. And until he does, disappointment will keep finding the Dodgers.


Stats courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked.

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