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Clayton Kershaw: Heartache & heartbreak

If my heart could cry, it would have after Game 5

MLB: NLDS-Washington Nationals at Los Angeles Dodgers Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

My heart hurts for Clayton Kershaw. The shot of him in the dugout — sitting alone with his head down — after allowing back-to-back home runs in the eighth inning is heartbreaking.

This team, and Kershaw himself, has caused a lot of heartache for Dodger fans over the last seven years, but I can’t help but feel legitimately bad for him.

Dave Roberts didn’t do him any favors on Wednesday night by putting Kershaw in a spot to fail — much more than to succeed. Kershaw got out of the Walker Buehler-induced jam in the seventh inning, but he couldn’t get by two of the Top 20-25 hitters in baseball in Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. He shouldn’t have even pitched last night, but Roberts seemed destined to stick to his script of piggybacking Buehler with Kershaw. But that’s another article for another time.

Back to Kershaw. He’s the greatest pitcher of his generation, so it’s immensely frustrating to see him struggle so much in October. Since he debuted in 2008 at the ripe age of 21, Kershaw is at or near the top of every pitching category. He’s about 1 WAR behind Justin Verlander, but Kershaw has thrown almost 310 fewer innings over that time. His 2.45 ERA is the best and his 2.74 FIP is second-best since that time.

He’s had some heroic moments in October — Game 5 of the 2016 NLDS, Game 1 of the 2017 World Series — but he still owns a 4.43 ERA over 158 13 innings. His home run rate is higher in the postseason than the regular season (1.36 vs. 0.69 HR/9), while his K-BB% is lower (21.1 vs. 19.3 K-BB%). The worst part is, he’s aware of it, as he admitted to the media following Wednesday night’s game. That’s ... not good.

Despite all that, the guy is going to walk into Cooperstown five years after he retires.

At this rate, he might do that without a championship.

Kershaw wants it as bad as anyone else in the sport. His work ethic is second to none. His will to win is there. Unfortunately, his body hasn’t cooperated the last couple years. And even when he was at his physical peak, he faltered and, at the same time, didn’t get a ton of help from his teammates.

This underscores just how hard it is to win a championship and, no matter how great a player/pitcher is, he cannot do it on his own. When Kershaw was great, his teammates weren’t. When he wasn’t great, well, his teammates weren’t.

The best chance he had to win a ring was 2017. He’s one of the key culprits in the Dodgers still being in this World Series drought, as his Game 5 performance had a domino effect on that game and the Dodgers couldn’t recover.

It’s really, really tough to come to grips with the fact that a pitcher as great as Kershaw — a person, even — may never hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. This isn’t to say the Dodgers won’t win their eighth consecutive division title and be right back as the NL favorites next year, but no matter how great a franchise is set up and run, outside factors can never be truly predicted. Also, Kershaw (and some of the other veterans) have a finite amount of time to be able to perform at the highest level of professional baseball. At some point, things could falter, no matter how well the decision-makers plan for such things.

Kershaw is signed for two more years after inking his three-year, $93 million extension last winter. He probably isn’t going anywhere and he might be nothing more than a low-end No. 3 starter, but that still has value. Still, Roberts (or whoever manages the Dodgers in the future) has to use Kershaw more effectively in the playoffs. He isn’t the guy who can reach back for 96 and blow it by hitters. His slider isn’t as sharp as it used to be and he doesn’t want to throw his curveball, for some reason. Oh, and he’s never going to learn a changeup.

It’s tough to see one of the game’s greats — and one of my favorite Dodgers ever — struggle so mightily. It legitimately makes me sad (almost to the point of tears) that he’ll never be able to shake the postseason narrative that comes with Kershaw. It hurts to see him so dejected after he failed. It just hurts, period.

Here’s hoping things are different next year, but if history is any indicator, we’ll be in for some more heartache in 52-55 weeks, and it’ll hurt even more for Kershaw.