We all know Clayton Kershaw isn’t the pitcher he once was, but his performance in Game 2 of the Wild Card Series last night was not only his best playoff performance ever, it was his best start in more than four years.
Kershaw’s 8-inning, 13-strikeout performance against the Brewers earned him a Game Score of 88. It was his highest in any outing since May 23, 2016, when he posted an 89 Game Score in a shutout of the Reds. Game Score is far from the be-all, end-all, but (like WAR), it gives a rough approximation of how a player’s game (season) went.
No, this isn’t going to put the Kershaw postseason narrative to bed — he did dominate the hapless Brewers — but it does give some optimism for the upcoming playoff round(s).
Kershaw — and every other starting pitcher — isn’t dealing with 180-220 innings of regular-season work. He logged 58 1/3 innings this season, which included a short injured list stint. The fewest regular-season innings he has logged before a postseason was 107 in 2008 — his rookie season. Over the previous four years, he has averaged 166 innings per season. This is a long-winded way of saying Kershaw is the most rested he has ever been heading into the playoffs. It took a pandemic for that to be the case and, while that obviously isn’t preferred, it’s the reality of the situation.
Kershaw’s improved fastball velocity, some unscheduled rest and his slider looking as devastating as it ever has, and there should be some (admittedly) cautious optimism for the NLDS and (hopefully) beyond. His slider got 20 swinging strikes last night. It was the second-most swinging strikes on a slider in the majors since 2008. His previous career-best was 17, which he set in 2016 and earlier this season.
This was the final Dodgers’ game at Dodger Stadium for 2020. Kershaw sent all the cardboard cutouts home in style. Now, it’s onto Arlington, which will never not be weird.
Here’s hoping the Dodgers have as much success in the bubble as the Lakers have had so far.