Clayton Kershaw: Los Angeles Dodgers ace attempting to set aside postseason demons

By The Sports Xchange  |  Oct. 20, 2017 at 6:52 PM
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It has been 29 long years since the Los Angeles Dodgers were part of the World Series, a drought perhaps best summed up by this factoid:

Clayton Kershaw was seven months old when the Kirk Gibson-led Dodgers knocked off the Oakland Athletics for the 1988 crown.

And now it is Kershaw's time to shine in the postseason spotlight. The ace left-hander with the three Cy Young Awards and the 2014 National League MVP in his trophy case will have the opportunity to quiet some of his career demons, regardless of whether the American League representative is the Houston Astros or New York Yankees.

Kershaw is an unstoppable force in the regular season. But "Postseason Kershaw" hasn't been so dominant and Thursday's 11-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs in the National League Championship Series improved his playoff ledger to 6-7 with a 4.40 ERA in 21 career appearances (17 starts).

Kershaw knows the chatter -- he hears it regularly from fans and through questions tossed out by the media -- but all he is focused on is what happens in the next series.

"I think at the end of the day, yeah, winning the World Series is really all that we play this game for," Kershaw said. "All the individual stuff is great, but at the end of the day I just want to win a World Series."

Kershaw's performance in two NLCS starts against the Cubs was fine -- he went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA -- and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts named him the starter for Game 1 of the World Series while the team was still celebrating its NL pennant.

Los Angeles posted the best record in the majors (104-58) during the regular season and was dominating for a large part of the season. But the feeling around the club is that this squad needs to finish the deal with a world championship.

Third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen each had opportunities to leave as free agents before staying put, and Turner felt there was more to achieve when he elected to remain in Los Angeles.

"It's incredible. Kenley and I talked about it in our press conference when we signed back here," Turner said. "We talked about unfinished business and wanting to bring a World Series back to Los Angeles.

"We had a bad taste in our mouth the last four years, you know, not finishing what we started."

This version of the Dodgers is more than star power.

When mainstay first baseman Adrian Gonzalez had to go on the disabled list with back issues, rookie Cody Bellinger became a force and slugged 39 homers. Versatile Chris Taylor was rescued from the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A team in the summer of 2016 and batted .288 with 21 homers and 17 steals this season and then shared NLCS MVP honors with Turner.

Enrique Hernandez finds a spot in the Game 5 lineup and ties league championships records of three homers and seven RBIs.

All-Star shortstop Corey Seager was unavailable for the NLCS with a back injury and Charlie Culberson received an opportunity and went 5-for-11 with three extra-base hits.

Manager Dave Roberts will have some roster decisions to make as he says Seager is expected back for Tuesday's World Series opener.

"He's doing everything he can to get healthy," Roberts said. "We expect him back for Game 1. So obviously when you have a guy like Charlie Culberson that can fill in like that, made some spectacular defensive plays, some big hits, it was great to see from Charlie, but obviously we're hoping to get Corey back for the World Series."

Los Angeles is loaded with key players and has a solid cast of utility players and relievers. But the presence of one guy will overshadow them all.

Will it be regular-season Kershaw or "Postseason Kershaw" out there on the mound trying to deliver the franchise to that long-awaited World Series crown?

After all, Kershaw resided in a cradle when the Dodgers last celebrated a title.

"Who knows how many times I'm going to get to go to the World Series," Kershaw said. "I know more than anybody how hard it is to get there. So I'm definitely not taking this one for granted."

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