ARLINGTON, TX – Settings are changing, circumstances are evolving and yet it always seems that Clayton Kershaw has stretched a little too far, a promising bull fails to lift him, a powerful crime comes little, a well-oiled machine that spoils at the worst possible moment.
The background to the last collapse of the Los Angeles Dodgers was Game 4 of the 2020 National League Championship Series, played under howling winds in a neutral stadium that was only a quarter full. In particular, the bottom of Thursday on Thursday, when the powerful violation of the Atlanta Braves suddenly came to life and the star Dodgers unraveled collectively.
The Braves collected six tracks in this half of the inning, more than enough to reach a 1
Guilt does not have to be single.
You can point to their prestigious offense, which failed to do anything other than a home run in the first six assists against 22-year-old Bryce Wilson and three goals for the entire game. You can point to their supposedly deep bull, which has given up 15 tracks for 15⅔ innings in this series. You can point to Kershaw, who once again did not do enough with the balance of the season. And you can point to manager Dave Roberts, who can once again stay with his ace a little longer than necessary.
“I just thought Kershaw was throwing baseball really well and for no reason,” Roberts said when asked to go to his bull a little earlier. “I felt really good about it.”
When Kershaw ran to the mound for the bottom of the sixth, he had given up only one run and had used only 71 of his pitches. The top of the Order of the Brave had to be up. As Kershaw moved through his attack with striker Ronald Akuna Jr., Brusdard Graterol began to warm up. By the time Acuna came out of a single inside and moved to second base with a wrong throw, Graterol was almost ready. After Freddie Freeman doubled in the right field of RBI, away from the displaced Mookie Betts, Graterol watched in anticipation. After Marcel Ozuna lined up another RBI double in the left-center gap, his second of four hits was too late.
Ozuna hosted the previous time he faced Kershaw. Before the start of the postseason, he beat .356 / .463 / .867 from left-handers and .333 / .381 / .556 from curved balls, the full step he eventually included to put the third run of the Braves in the game. It was a bad match at best, an unjustified decision at worst.
“I’m not going to get Clayton out of Freeman’s bat after a weak ground ball and another ground ball,” Roberts said, adding that Ozuna’s hit ball “wasn’t hit very hard,” even though it was traveling at 108 miles per hour.
“I felt really good with Clayton at the time.”
The decision was a reminder of Roberts’ deep-rooted, perhaps unjustified, trust in Kershaw, a trait that could play a role in eliminating the Dodgers from last year’s postseason. He also revealed that the bull Roberts, who has been talking all summer, has no more than three facilitators he really believes in on-line play, one of whom is no longer Kenly Jansen. With Dustin May reserved for Game 5 and Walker Buhler basically available only with relief if Kershaw’s back was on fire again, Roberts’ options were surprisingly small.
It might not have mattered anyway, given that Graterol and Victor Gonzalez allowed five of the next six tests to reach base, and the offense only flirted with a late return. Maybe Roberts couldn’t do anything to prevent the Dodgers from melting with their season on the edge.
And maybe the story of Kershaw’s struggles after the season can never be defeated.
His ERA careers now run as follows: 2.43 in the regular season, 3.68 in the divisional series and a wild card round, 4.84 in the LCS, 5.40 in the World Series. His ERA after the season from the sixth inning onwards is 7.31, the worst of any starter with a minimum of 20 innings in this scenario, according to a study by ESPN Stats & Information. His three successful shots, allowed in the sixth inning or later in the post-season in 2013, tied for Justin Verlander for second place in that stretch.
Roberts dismissed the idea that Kershaw ended up coming out as a pitcher for big games, saying he had given his team a chance and that his offense hadn’t done enough.
“This story,” Roberts said, “could not be further from the truth.”
Here’s what’s true: If the Dodgers don’t collect three wins in a row, two of them against the two starting pitchers that closed them earlier in the series, another of their dominant seasons will end bitterly.
This may be their biggest disappointment so far.