Los Angeles Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has been viewed as the best pitcher in baseball for the better part of the last decade. He’s won three National League Cy Young Awards and an NL MVP while finishing in the top five of Cy Young voting in every season since 2011.
Kershaw got off to a good start in the first half of this season, going 14-2 with a 2.18 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. Kershaw reached a milestone on June 2 against the Milwaukee Brewers, as he struck out Jonathan Villar to record his 2,000th career strikeout.
He was the fifth youngest player in Major League history to reach that mark, as well as the second-fastest pitcher at 277 games behind only Randy Johnson (262 games). Kershaw led the Majors in wins and earned a selection to his seventh straight All-Star Game.
But he did not appear in the Midsummer Classic because of starting the final game of the first half. Then two starts into the second half, Kershaw was removed on after pitching two innings on July 23 because of back discomfort.
While the injury wasn’t as serious as his herniated disc in 2016, it kept Kershaw out over a month as he did not return until Sept. 1. It slowed the left-hander, as he was 12-0 over 16 starts from May 1 to Sept. 7.
In 27 starts on the season, Kershaw went 18-4 with a 2.31 ERA, 3.07 FIP and 0.95 WHIP while striking out 202 and walking just 30 in 175 innings. He finished second in the NL Cy Young voting to Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer.
But as is always the case with Kershaw, his success would be judged by how he pitched in the postseason. Although he was stung by the home run, the Dodgers won each of Kershaw’s three starts leading up to the World Series.
For the first time in his career, Kershaw had an opportunity to pitch on the biggest stage of them all against the Houston Astros. He was brilliant in Game 1, earning the win. But despite his team spotting him seven runs in Game 5 on the road, Kershaw was not able to hang on for the win as he was roughed up for four hits and six runs in 4.2 innings.
He then threw four innings of shutout ball in relief in Game 7, although the damage had already been done off Dodgers starter Yu Darvish, and Los Angeles went on to lose to the Astros, 5-1.
Kershaw’s World Series Game 1 start often goes overlooked because the Dodgers ended up losing the series partly because he did not pitch well in Game 5. But it does not change the fact that in his first World Series start, the guy who everyone said cannot pitch in big games, was simply magnificent.
He gave up three hits and a run in seven innings, striking out 11 without allowing a walk as the Dodgers went on to win the game 3-1 to take a 1-0 series lead.
Kershaw still has three years remaining on the seven-year extension he signed in 2014, although he has the ability to opt out of his contract after the 2018 season and likely will.
But he has spent time on the disabled list in three of the last four seasons, so he will look to prove he can have a healthy season before hitting free agency at the end of the season.