Clayton Kershaw's complicated relationship with the postseason moves front and center Thursday as the Los Angeles Dodgers oppose the visiting Milwaukee Brewers in Game 2 of the National League wild-card series.
When Kershaw was last seen in the playoffs, it was another Dodgers meltdown as the Washington Nationals rallied in the decisive fifth game of the 2019 NL Division Series.
The result left Kershaw with a 9-11 postseason record accompanied by a 4.43 ERA, shockingly mediocre numbers when compared to his Hall of Fame regular-season form -- 175-76, 2.43 ERA.
Called on in relief of starter Walker Buehler to protect a two-run lead in that game, Kershaw got out of an inherited seventh-inning jam. The eighth was another story. Back-to-back home runs from Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto tied the game 3-3 and Kershaw was removed.
Washington won it in the 10th when Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam off Joe Kelly. Adding to the pain of the defeat, the Nationals went on to win a World Series the Dodgers thought they were primed to take.
A pitcher who exudes invincibility could not hide that day.
"Everything people say is true right now about the postseason," a typically defensive Kershaw said in a rare moment of vulnerability.
Even in his lone previous playoff series against the Brewers, Kershaw again displayed his postseason ups and downs. In Game 1 of the 2018 NL Championship Series, he gave up a home run to Milwaukee pitcher Brandon Woodruff as the Brewers won. Woodruff will pitch for the Brewers on Thursday.
Kershaw made three appearances in the 2018 NLCS and had a 4.09 ERA but also got the final three outs in relief of a 5-1 victory in Game 7.
A victory Thursday would move the Dodgers to the NLDS at Arlington, Texas, after a 4-2 Los Angeles victory over Milwaukee on Wednesday. However, the outcome doesn't figure to do much to alter the perception of Kershaw's postseason struggles.
In 15 career regular-season starts against Milwaukee, Kershaw is 6-5 with a 2.87 ERA.
"I'm hopeful that some of the things that I've done, because I've been sort of beat up in the past, has prepared me to kind of maintain what I've got going right now," said Kershaw, who was 6-2 with a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts this season. "We'll see."
Woodruff earned the victory in Game 1 of the 2018 NLCS with two scoreless innings against the Dodgers, and he had a 1.93 ERA in three appearances and 9 1/3 innings during the series.
In two career regular-season matchups against the Dodgers (one start), he has a 9.39 ERA. He was 3-5 with a 3.05 ERA over 13 starts in the 2020 regular season.
As for the home run against Kershaw, Woodruff said Wednesday he hasn't discussed it with the Dodgers pitcher even in the few times they shared the same space.
"I mean, you're looking at a guy who's going to be a Hall of Famer, and he's probably not too worried about some guy who's fresh in the big leagues who hit a home run off home off of him," Woodruff said. "He's had an incredible career and he's still at the top of his game. He's just a special pitcher, just kind of a once-in-a-lifetime type of talent that you get to see."
Woodruff won't get a chance to repeat the feat Thursday, as all games in the 2020 postseason are being played with a designated hitter batting instead of pitchers.
--Field Level Media