Clayton Kershaw can’t shake his postseason curse, not even in a neutral-site NL Championship Series a few miles from his hometown.
The longtime ace of the Dodgers faltered at the start of the sixth inning against Atlanta at Arlington, Texas, allowing three straight hits before watching the rest of a six-run outburst in the Braves' 10-2 win in Game 4 on Thursday night.
Kershaw’s franchise-high 12th postseason loss put Los Angeles down, 3-1, in the best-of-seven series at the home of the Texas Rangers, on the brink of a second straight defeat in the NLCS after posting the best record in the majors during the pandemic-shortened season.
The three-time NL Cy Young Award winner — pitching two days after he was scratched from a Game 2 start because of back spasms — allowed four runs in five-plus innings, boosting his career playoff ERA to 4.31.
While Kershaw is also the club’s career leader in postseason wins with his 11-12 record, his October résumé simply doesn’t match his stellar regular-season numbers: 175-76 with a 2.43 ERA.
In LA’s seven trips to the NLCS over Kershaw’s 13 seasons, the Dallas native is 3-6 with a 4.84 ERA. And now he’s been outpitched by a rookie making his postseason debut: Atlanta’s 22-year-old Game 4 winner, Bryse Wilson.
Kershaw was handed a 1-0 lead on Edwin Ríos’s homer in the third, but gave it up on Marcell Ozuna’s solo shot in the fourth, the first of two for Ozuna.
In the sixth, Ronald Acuña Jr.'s high chopper eluded the glove of a leaping Kershaw behind the mound for an infield single. Freddie Freeman and Ozuna followed with consecutive RBI doubles, and Kershaw was done in Los Angeles’s third loss in four games since winning its first five in the playoffs.
Kershaw had never pitched near his Dallas home before doing so twice in a week and a half in this unusual postseason, first without fans in an NL Division Series sweep of San Diego and then a pandemic-reduced crowd in the NLCS.
The eight-time All-Star recorded his 11th postseason win in the Dodgers' 6-5 victory in Game 2 of the NLDS, but he was far from dominant. Manny Machado and Eric Hosmer hit back-to-back homers to cut into a 4-1 deficit.
If the Hall of Fame is in his future, Kershaw won’t be alone among star pitchers who struggled in the playoffs.
Greg Maddux was 11-14 in the playoffs, most of those decisions when Atlanta won just one World Series during a run of 14 straight NL East titles. Randy Johnson was 7-9, and fellow lefty Steve Carlton just 6-6.
Another lefty, David Price, was 2-9 before winning his final three decisions for Boston when the Red Sox won the World Series two years ago.
Each of those has at least one title, though. Kershaw still doesn’t have one despite the club record in playoff starts (28) and innings (177).
Kershaw now has 11 career postseason starts of allowing at least four runs, tied with Maddux for the second-most. Only Andy Pettitte, another lefty, has more.
Ozuna’s first homer in Game 4 was the 27th Kershaw has allowed in the playoffs, breaking a tie with Justin Verlander for second-most, also behind Pettitte (31).
Rays' offense silent
Except for an occasional homer, the Tampa Bay Rays' offense has fallen largely silent on the brink of the World Series.
For all their superb pitching, sublime defense, tactical innovation and relentless cheerleading from the dugout, the Rays might not go any farther if they can’t simply put some men on base and score a few more old-fashioned runs than the Houston Astros.
Tampa Bay hit three solo homers and stranded nine runners in a 4-3 loss Thursday in Game 5 of the AL Championship Series at San Diego, failing to finish off the series for the second straight day while absorbing back-to-back defeats for the first time since Sept. 8-10.
“That big hit has continued to elude us with guys on base,” Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash said.
With Carlos Correa’s walkoff homer against formidable Tampa Bay reliever Nick Anderson, the Astros avoided elimination and trimmed the Rays' once-daunting series lead to 3-2 after a string of missed offensive opportunities for the AL East champions.
Given two chances in about 24 hours to clinch their franchise’s second trip to the World Series, the Rays came up with just three runs and seven hits apiece in their two losses. Tampa Bay went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position in Game 5 after going 1 for 4 in Game 4.
It’s no secret the Rays are struggling at the plate in the postseason, batting just .210 with a .695 OPS — both easily the lowest among the four teams still alive. It hadn’t really hurt them until the last two days in the ALCS, when the Astros squeaked out a pair of wins.
“We’ve been streaky throughout the course of these playoffs,” Tampa Bay outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. ''We’ve had some offensive outbursts a few games, and then we’ve been quiet for a lot of them. Our pitchers have been so good that if we squeak three or four across, we win a lot of these games.
“Guys are doing everything in their power to get locked in and get good at-bats, but it’s the ALCS,” said Kiermaier, who hasn’t started the last two games because of an injured hand. “They’re going to throw out good pitcher after good pitcher, and we’re going to do the same. We need to do a little bit better job of that, take our walks and create runs in many different ways. We need to get on base and put pressure on them.”
Cash sees his team’s offensive woes as “a combination” of several factors. The Rays have three wins despite scoring just 17 runs in the ALCS.
“Look, they’ve pitched well,” Cash said. "They’ve pitched us tough.''
The Rays still had a handful of big hits. Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena homered early in Game 5, and Ji-Man Choi provided an indelible moment with his tying homer and a major bat flip in the eighth.
“I guess we had the momentum going into the ninth,” said Choi, who went 2 for 2 with two walks. “But no one said it was going to be easy.”
Indeed, the Rays left the bases loaded in the second inning and stranded two runners apiece in the fourth and fifth, failing to break open the game against the succession of rookies coming out of the Houston bullpen.
“I don’t think we’re getting home run happy,” Cash said. “We need to get back to what makes us good offensively, and the homers don’t get in the way of that. Let’s try to get some guys on base before the home runs.”