Clayton Kershaw postseason timeline: Breaking down playoff struggles of the Dodgers' ace after Game 5 meltdown

On Wednesday, the top-seeded and two-time defending NL pennant winning Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated from the 2019 postseason by the NL Wild Card winning Washington Nationals in extra innings in Game 5 of the National League Division Series. The Dodgers were just six outs away from securing their fourth consecutive appearance in the NL Championship Series, but L.A. lost their 3-1 lead in the eighth inning when Clayton Kershaw gave up back-to-back solo home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto, on consecutive pitches. Kershaw was five days removed from his start in Game 2.

The only other time Kershaw has surrendered home runs on successive pitches also happened in the playoffs, when Arizona Diamondbacks Ketel Marte and Jeff Mathis connected in Game 1 of the 2017 NLDS. Kershaw gave up four homers in that game, but the Dodgers got away with the win. At the time, that tied an MLB record for most home runs allowed in a postseason game.

It was a questionable move on Dodgers manager Dave Roberts part, to even bring in Kershaw out for a relief appearance in the first place. Bringing out Joey Kelly out in the ninth and tenth in a tie game (he hadn't thrown more than one inning since Aug. 24) instead of Kenley Jansen was questionable as well. But, to keep Kershaw in after he had retired Adam Eaton on just three pitches for the final out of the seventh inning was the real head scratcher. Kenta Maeda was warming up in the bullpen, so it really wasn't necessary to get a longer outing from Kershaw in the game. 

"I felt good about Clayton right there," Roberts told reporters after the game. "I just think it's one of those [situations] where it was easy for me to get Clayton, with the low pitches to get Rendon and to go out there and get Soto. And to have Kenta behind him. That was my thought, and not have Kenta go through Soto."

"He's probably the best pitcher of our generation. For him to make himself available tonight and got us out of a big spot right there and it just didn't work out. So there's always going to be second-guessing when things don't work out, but I'll take my chances any day on Clayton, and it just didn't work out right there."

Kershaw, who will turn 32 in March, has an impressive regular-season resume which includes three NL Cy Young Awards, five ERA titles, a pitching Triple Crown and even an NL MVP Award. In 2019 -- his 12th season in MLB -- he finished 16-5 with a 3.03 ERA and was voted to his eighth All-Star Game. But, his painful October history paints a completely different picture. Kershaw's career postseason numbers over 32 appearances dating back to 2008, are atypical when compared to his regular-season stats. He has a win-loss record of 9-11, an ERA of 4.33 (158 1/3 IP, 78 ER) and has given up 24 home runs. What's even more unusual is that Kershaw struggles are more apparent when he pitches in win-or-go-home postseason games.

Worst ERA when facing elimination (Min. 20 IP):

  • Tim Wakefield - 6.75
  • Clayton Kershaw - 5.77
  • Roger Clemens - 5.28
  • Pedro Martinez - 5.17

Wednesday's loss left the veteran southpaw completely deflated.

"Everything people say is true right now about the postseason," Kershaw told reporters after the game. "I understand that. Nothing I can do about it right now, it's a terrible feeling."

Kershaw has had his fair share of postseason success, but the hurt from the bad parts can somehow outweigh the thrill from the good parts. Some of the most recent successful moments from Kershaw's playoff career include impressive starts in Game 1 of the 2017 World Series against the Astros, Game 2 of the 2016 NLCS against the Cubs as well as Game 4 of the 2015 NLDS against the Mets.

This season's ending for the Dodgers leaves the club wondering what they have to do to after seven straight postseason appearances where they've come up short, and Kershaw's outing on Wednesday added another chapter to his history of postseason woes.

2018 World Series vs Red Sox, Game 1

Kershaw's first World Series start last season saw him credited with the loss. He allowed five earned runs over just 4 innings. Kershaw gave up a pair of first-inning RBI singles to Andrew Benintendi and J.D. Martinez, an RBI double to Martinez in the third and left the fifth inning after walking Mookie Betts and giving up another single to Benintendi. Dodgers couldn't recover and fell to the Red Sox 8-4, and put them in at an 0-1 series deficit.

2018 World Series vs Red Sox, Game 5

Kershaw's second 2018 World Series outing didn't end well either. In Game 5, with the Dodgers facing elimination, Kershaw couldn't get it done on the mound. The lackluster performance from the Dodgers offense against Red Sox starter David Price certainly didn't help either. Kershaw gave up a first-inning two-run home run to the eventual World Series MVP Steve Pearce, and later he'd give up two more home runs, to Betts in the sixth and Martinez in the seventh.

2018 NLCS vs Brewers, Game 1

Kershaw pitched two scoreless innings before giving up two runs in the third (Brandon Woodruff solo home run, Hernan Perez sacrifice fly) and two mores in the fourth (Domingo Santana two-run single). The Dodgers beat the Brewers in last year's NLCS in seven games, but Kershaw's start in Game 1 helped put the Dodgers in an early hole in the series.

2017 World Series vs Astros, Game 5

Another Game 5 World Series start gone bad for Kershaw. He was charged with six earned runs in the Dodgers extra-innings loss to the Astros. In the fourth inning, he gave up back-to-back two-run doubles to Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel, and then issued back-to-back walks in the fifth inning, setting a Jose Altuve three-run home run off Dodgers reliever Kenta Maeda. With it, the Astros tied the game 7-7, coming back from a four-run deficit. Alex Bregman had the walk-off RBI single in the 10th off Kenley Jansen. In all of Kershaw's 2017 postseason six games, he gave up a the most home runs (eight) in a single postseason.

2016 NLCS vs Cubs, Game 6

Kershaw got the loss in this win-or-go-home game. The Cubs scored three runs in the first two innings off Kershaw, and then he gave up a solo home run to Willson Contreras in the fourth followed by an Anthony Rizzo solo shot in the fifth. The Dodgers were down five runs entering the sixth, and they would not be able to recover.

2014 NLDS vs Cardinals, Game 1

Kershaw was hit for a whopping eight earned runs in his first start of the 2014 postseason. He gave up a solo home run to Randal Grichuk, the second batter he faced in the game. Ok, not so bad. Another solo shot, in the sixth, to Matt Carpenter. Still not so bad, Dodgers are up 6-2 entering the seventh. That's when Kershaw collapsed and gave up five runs. He blew the Dodgers four-run lead, and the Cardinals scored eight runs to take their first lead of the game. Kershaw got credited with the other three runs that came via Matt Holliday's three-run homer off Pedro Baez, after he gave up a double to Carpenter and walked Randal Grichuk.

2014 NLDS vs Cardinals, Game 4

Kershaw's second (and final) start of the 2014 postseason didn't go much better than his first. The Dodgers entered Game 4 down 2-1 in the series, and led 2-0 late in the game. But Kershaw gave up a seventh-inning three-run homer to Matt Holliday, and the Cards took the lead and walked away with the eventual victory as they advanced to the NLCS.

2013 NLCS vs Cardinals, Game 6

Kershaw (7 ER, 10 hits, 2 BB in 5 innings) put the Dodgers in an early hole after a four-run third inning. It was two innings later when St. Louis would blow the game wide open and jump to a 9-0 lead. 

2009 NLCS vs Phillies, Game 5

Again, when fighting for their season to stay alive, the Dodgers were eliminated behind a rough Kershaw outing. He came in out of the bullpen for this appearance as a 21-year-old. The Dodgers were behind 6-3 in the fifth when Kershaw came in. But Kershaw gave up a Shane Victorino two-run homer in the sixth to give the Phillies an 8-3 advantage, one the Dodgers would not be able to come back from.

2009 NLCS vs Phillies, Game 1

The Dodgers held onto to a 1-0 lead entering the fifth inning, but Kershaw gave up five runs to the Phillies. A three-run Carlos Ruiz home run and a two-out Ryan Howard two-run double were the big swings.


Each of these outings are brutal for a future Hall of Famer. Over the last decade, Kershaw and the Dodgers, as well as the team's fans, have faced familiar anguish in the postseason. Kershaw signed an extension to stay with L.A. through 2021 this past offseason, so he should get another chance to alter his haunted playoff past. But the pain from how the 2019 season ended will linger all winter.

Katherine Acquavella joined CBS Sports in 2018. Her work has appeared in Yankees Magazine and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum's Memories and Dreams magazine. She is a graduate of St. John's... Full Bio

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