It's been a few days since the Dodgers were bumped from the Playoffs in the NLCS by the Chicago Cubs, but the wound is still fresh for Dodger fans. After jumping to a 2-1 lead in the best of 7 series, the Dodgers failed to capitalize and fell off dramatically not making the next three games close at all. Outscored 23-6 in Games 4, 5, and 6, it was a tough blow after a very intense and close start to the series. A lot has been made of the final game of the series across the internet because it was a Playoff game and it involved Clayton Kershaw, a topic of debate for many over the years. Kershaw has been called a "choker" and it doesn't take much searching to find image macros galore making fun of him and his Postseason performance.
However, this year in particular it's hard to fault him for pretty much anything regarding the Dodgers' fate. Out of the 5 wins the Dodgers had in the 2016 Postseason, only one of them didn't involve an appearance by Clayton Kershaw (Game 3 of the NLCS). But this is the Postseason and every loss hurts 10x worse but that should also mean every win is 10x better and Kershaw gave the Dodgers' every opportunity he could through his dominance and struggles this Postseason.
In total, Kershaw threw 24.1 innings in the 2016 Postseason (12.1 in the NLDS and 12 in the NLCS). In those 24.1 IP, Kershaw racked up 29 strikeouts to just 4 walks. That's an 11.2 K/9 and a 7.25 K/B ratio which is essentially the same as Kershaw's entire 2015 season (AKA pretty damn good). Where Kershaw wasn't as dominate in that series was in his ability to limit hitting. In the NLDS, Kershaw gave up 15 hits in his 12.1 IP which is over 1 an inning (over 11 hits per 9 innings pitched, almost double his career average). A lot has been brought to light about BABIP over the years and if that's not an extreme case in such a small sample size I don't know what is. Even the 8 runs given up by Kershaw in that series are suspect because 3 of them came in Game 4 with the bullpen faltering and giving up each inherited runner Kershaw left on. Yes he's the ace of the staff and yes he's considered the best pitcher in baseball but he's one man and the team should have his back just as much as he has theirs (and in the end the Dodgers won each game he appeared in). The one loss Kershaw suffered in the entirety of the Postseason was of course in Game 6's elimination game which will in many's eyes make all of his success prior to that game go by the wayside (even though the Dodgers' offense and defense did him zero favors). Never mind the fact that Kershaw threw 7 innings of 2 hit shutout baseball in Game 2 with only 1 run of support to help him out. There were also 4 other games that series that Kershaw wasn't a factor in and the Dodgers were 1-3 in them. That's not Kershaw choking, that's the team letting Kershaw down and that was the theme this Postseason.
Whether it came from a few bad pitches from the bullpen, an offense that fell off the face of the Earth towards the end, or even the other starting pitchers not getting the job done, this was a team effort and a team failure. Blaming Kershaw is extremely nearsighted and saying he choked is even more of an overreaction. Without Kershaw, the Dodgers most likely don't even make it past the Nationals, let alone win a couple of games from the Cubs. 2016 was still a big year for the Dodgers who despite so many injuries and juggling of roster were able to make it farther than many thought they'd ever go. With a slew of rookies getting their feet wet (including the skipper Dave Roberts) it's still a bright future for the Dodgers who should be ready for next year. Don't let one single loss in this past Postseason spoil the fact that Clayton Kershaw will be the man to lead the Dodgers and there's no one better out there who can.