LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw gets the start in Game 1 of the National League Division Series on Friday night against the Mets, looking forward but mindful of the past.
Kershaw followed up a four-year run that saw him win three Cy Young Awards and finish second in the other year with a season arguably just as good as any of them, and maybe better. The Dodgers' left-hander put up a 2.13 ERA and led the majors in both innings pitched (232⅔) and strikeouts (301), becoming the first pitcher since 2002 to strike out 300 batters.
But over the last two postseasons, Kershaw is also 1-4 with a 4.79 ERA (and roughly a 2.30 FIP, for what it's worth, with 47 strikeouts and nine walks in 35⅔ innings). All four losses were to the Cardinals, and they represent his last four playoff starts. The Dodgers led with Kershaw on the mound in the seventh inning in both losses last year.
"Nobody would see the six scoreless, on short rest," said Don Mattingly, referring to the 2015 NLDS Game 4 defeat. "Nobody's going to talk about should we have made the play at short, should we have made the play up the middle at second? Should there have been two outs in that inning? All you all see is the end result and that's what gets reported. I kind of felt bad for him from that standpoint."
Kershaw is the only Dodgers pitcher to ever lose four straight postseason starts. But he's not the only great pitcher to do that.
David Price on Thursday lost his sixth straight playoff start. Randy Johnson lost seven straight playoff starts at one point, then carried the Diamondbacks on his back to a World Series win in 2001.
"I look back at Kersh's last few years, and there have really been only a couple of pitches that were the determining factor, and possibly having a little more options to go to might have made those choices different at the time they were made," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "For the most part he's kept us in games, but we just haven't scored runs for him outside of Game 1 last year.
"Each year is a different year. He continues to be steady as a rock. I'd still take my chances with him on the mound at any time."
Kershaw was a little more blunt.
"The way I look at it, 29 teams fail every year, and one team succeeds," Kershaw said. "So no different for us. No different for me personally. It's the same thing this year."
That World Series-or-bust goal starts in Game 1 on Friday night at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw was asked if his playoff defeats give him any extra motivation.
" I don't need to be fueled by too much," he said. "I definitely remember, but it's a new team, new season, and hopefully for me a new outcome."
Kershaw took a perfect game into the seventh inning en route to a three-hit shutout on July 23 at Citi Field, but that lineup had John Mayberry, Jr. batting cleanup and Eric Campbell batting fifth.
"Yeah, it's a completely different lineup, not just Cespedes. You go back and look at the lineup I faced before the trade deadline, and I don't know if there's going to be more than two or three guys that are the same," Kershaw said. "There's a lot of guys that I'll be seeing for the first time this season at least. So, yeah, definitely a completely different team. Obviously, a lot better than what we faced in July."
Kershaw is 6-0 with a 1.34 ERA in nine career starts against the Mets. He has allowed four total runs, two earned, in 30 innings in four starts against New York at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw is 3-0 in those home starts, but in a no-decision on July 3 allowed one run in seven innings in a game New York eventually won in the ninth inning.
Jacob deGrom was similarly dominant against the Dodgers this year, allowing only two hits while pitching into the eighth inning on July 26 in New York, striking out eight.
The Dodgers beat deGrom twice in two tries in his rookie season in 2014, scoring eight runs in 12 innings and hitting four home runs against him. But the 27-year-old right-hander came into his own in 2015, making the All-Star team and putting up a 2.54 ERA that ranked fourth in the National League, behind the Big Three (Kershaw was third, at 2.13).
"This guy had to work harder than other people to get to the big leagues," Mets manager Terry Collins said on Thursday. "So he not only got here, he had very, very good success here. I think he believes he can get anybody out. I think he trusts his stuff which is another thing, because we've all seen him when he's had a bad outing, he just seems to get better as the outing goes because he's not afraid to continue to throw strikes and I think it makes a difference."
Game 1 info
Time: 6:45 p.m. PT
TV: TBS (6:30 p.m.)
Radio: AM 570 LA Sports, ESPN Radio