The Los Angeles Dodgers won a third consecutive National League West division title last season, but again fell short of reaching or winning the World Series.
For Clayton Kershaw, as great and dominant as he’s been, his success generally included a “but” until Oct. 13, 2015.
With the Dodgers on the brink of elimination in the NL Division Series against the New York Mets, Kershaw took the ball on short rest and got the proverbial postseason monkey off his back.
Yes, a pitcher with three Cy Young Awards in four years and four straight ERA titles up to that point faced questions and doubt as to whether postseason success would ever be had.
While last season may have put a dent in the perception, Kershaw by most accounts is viewed as the best pitcher in baseball. However, he explained to Matt Perrault on Game Night that isn’t a label he seeks out:
“I don’t want to take anything away if people were to say that. It’s a huge honor and something I definitely don’t take for granted, but that’s not my goal or motivation.”
As for handling success and facing high expectations on an individual and team basis, Kershaw said being cognizant of achievements along the way is key:
“I think expectations are great. I just think you need to know when to celebrate and when to enjoy a moment. For me, that’s the most important thing. When those expectations are very high, which is awesome, our team has the same thing every single year — we’re expected to win — when you do succeed, it’s almost like what you were supposed to do. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t celebrate those moments as well as feel bad about the failures. If I have a good game and win, I’m going to celebrate that night and come back to work the next day. If I pitch bad one night and we lose, I’m going to let it marinate for a night and then come back the next day and do the same thing. I just try to enjoy it.”
Largely due to somewhat of a slow start — by his standards and under the scope of traditional statistics — Kershaw fell behind Zack Greinke and Jake Arrieta in the NL Cy Young race. Arrieta wound up winning the award, receiving 17 first-place votes.
Kershaw earned three first-place votes and finished third, snapping a two-year run of winning the Cy Young. Last season the Dodgers’ ace led in the Majors in FIP (1.99), xFIP (2.09), SIERA (2.24), strikeout percentage (33.8 percent), strikeout-to-walk ratio (29.1 percent) and innings pitched (232.2).
Additionally, Kershaw posted the first 300-strikeout season since 2002, and his 301 strikeouts were 25 more than second-place Max Scherzer of the Washington Nationals. With Greinke now in Arizona, Kershaw faces the task of leading a starting rotation without the backing of right-handed ace for the first time since 2012.