San Francisco Giants fans watched on as Clayton Kershaw had yet another chance to prove his postseason legacy. Once again, the Los Angeles Dodgers’ ace failed to capitalize on baseball’s biggest stage, proving he is no MadBum.
With the Dodgers facing elimination down 3-1 in the World Series on Sunday night, Kershaw gave up four runs in seven innings, including three home runs. Los Angeles lost 5-1, giving the Boston Red Sox their fourth championship this decade. Kershaw’s World Series ERA is now 5.40. That’s in 26 2/3 innings pitched.
His struggles in the biggest moments in baseball lead to a heated debate, especially between Dodgers and San Francisco Giants fans.
Is it better to have a pitcher who is the best pitcher in baseball in the regular season (Kershaw) but struggles in the postseason (he has a career playoff ERA of 4.32, which is bad for his standards)? Or is it better to have a pitcher who is good in the regular season but exceptional in the postseason, specifically the World Series and in elimination games?
The latter has worked great for the Giants.
As a key cog in each of the three Giants’ recent championship seasons, Madison Bumgarner has a career World Series ERA of 0.25 in 36 innings pitched. The lone run he gave up in the Fall Classic was a solo home run by Salvador Perez in 2014 World Series Game 1. Bumgarner still pitched seven innings that game en route to a 7-1 win against the Kansas City Royals.
As a 21-year-old rookie on Halloween Night, Bumgarner threw eight scoreless innings against the powerful Texas Rangers in Game 4 of the 2010 World Series, leading the Giants to a 4-0 shutout.
In 2012, Bumgarner shut down the juggernaut Detroit Tigers, pitching seven innings of shutout ball, striking out eight. This came after struggling in NLDS and NLCS starts that year.
But it was 2014 when Bumgarner cemented himself as a World Series legend. In 21 innings that World Series, Bumgarner gave up one run and only nine hits. That includes five shutout innings to end Game 7, earning him a save and World Series MVP.
On the other hand, there’s Kershaw.
After a masterful World Series debut in 2017, he struggled in his second turn. In Game 5 against the Houston Astros, with the series tied 2-2, Kershaw failed to hold an early 4-0 lead, giving up six earned runs in 4 2/3 innings. Among those runs included a monster game-tying, three-run homer off the bat of Yuli Gurriel in the fourth inning.
If Kershaw and the Dodgers hold this lead, they would have gone back home up in the series 3-2 and most-likely would have clinched their first World Series title since 1988. To the delight of Giants fans, it did not happen.
Fast-forward to 2018.
To have a legitimate chance in this year’s World Series, they had to find a way to steal at least one of the first two games in Boston. They didn’t.
Granted, the Dodgers were up against the great Chris Sale, but an ace like Kershaw is supposed to match his counterpart zero for zero. It didn’t happen. Sale was OK but Kershaw was worse. In that key Game 1, Kershaw went just four innings, giving up seven hits and five runs. The Red Sox went on to win that game 8-4 and then Game 2 for a commanding 2-0 series lead.
And in Game 5 when the Dodgers needed to stay alive, Kershaw went seven innnings but gave up four runs and seven hits, including three home runs. Hardly an ace-like performance.
This sums up just how much better Bumgarner has been in the World Series than Kershaw:
Then there are those all-important elimination games. The games that either let you live another day or get out of town. Thankfully for the Giants, Bumgarner has excelled in these pressure situations.
In four elimination games, Bumgarner is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA. That includes complete-game shutouts in each of the two winner-take-all Wild Card games and that masterful relief appearance in Game 7 of the 2014 World Series.
On the other side of the coin, after Sunday’s World Series Game 5 loss, Kershaw has a 6.06 ERA in elimination games, the worst in Major League Baseball history (minimum four games).
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Overall, Bumgarner has a 2.11 ERA in the postseason, while Kershaw is 9-10 with a 4.32 ERA.
And if you want to talk sabermetrics, Bumgarner wins out in the postseason too.
- Bumgarner’s Postseason Clutch Number: 0.60
- Kershaw’s Postseason Clutch Number: -0.68
- Bumgarner’s Wins Probability Added in Postseason: 2.49
- Kershaw Wins Probability Added in Postseason: 0.02
There is no doubt Kershaw is a fantastic overall pitcher and is better than Bumgarner stuff-wise. But Bumgarner seems to have that intangible that the number-crunchers can’t quantify with sabermetrics–that toughness and nose for victory when it ultimately matters most.
If a pitcher is excelling–or is the best–in your sport’s biggest stage, then that should hold weight in his overall evaluation.
The goal is to win championships, not participation trophies.
The Giants have done exactly that, and done so on the backs of their ace. What’s