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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Choker or Champion? Why the 2020 World Series will define Clayton Kershaw

What will Clayton Kershaw’s legacy be? This World Series will tell.
What will Clayton Kershaw’s legacy be? This World Series will tell.
Image: (Getty Images)

For sure, a legacy hangs in the balance of this World Series.

This isn’t so much about the legendary Los Angeles Dodgers trying to end a championship drought the size of California, or even the lesser-known Tampa Bay Rays trying to capture their first title ever.

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And while both are compelling storylines, make no mistake about it. Neither is the story.

This Fall Classic is about Clayton Kershaw.

The shoo-in Hall of Fame lefty pitcher has the most riding on this best-of-seven series.

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Hence, it’s only fitting that Kershaw is on the mound tonight for the Dodgers in Game 1 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.

More than any other player in recent MLB history, Kershaw has to win a World Series ring.

This World Series is about his reputation, about how we view this man and his career going forward.

Normally, ring-talk is seldom discussed in baseball. So many things have to go right to win a World Series. It’s hard to place blame on just one player.

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We get into debates much more about championship rings in the NBA. And it totally makes sense because in that league an individual player can have so much more of an impact on a championship series.

But Kershaw’s case is different.

He isn’t just a good or great pitcher. He is considered the greatest pitcher of our generation. His accomplishments and regular-season numbers are truly second to none.

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Kershaw is an eight-time All-Star. He has won three Cy Youngs. Better yet, Kershaw’s 2.44 career ERA and 1.01 WHIP are the lowest amongst starters in the live-ball era (minimum 1,000 innings pitched).

Enter October.

That dominant hurler turns into goo.

Kershaw’s impressive regular ERA goes from 2.44 to a chubby 4.23, almost two more runs per nine innings in the playoffs. That’s a huge jump.

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It’s the biggest reason most baseball fans consider Kershaw not a big game pitcher, a choker, if you will.

Yes, Kershaw, 32, has let the Dodgers down over and over. He has been nothing close to an ace on the big stage with the bright lights.

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And the numbers in those big pressure-packed spots simply don’t lie.

The ugly postseason results are everywhere for Kershaw.

In Game 6 of the 2013 NCLS, the lefty gave up seven runs in four-plus innings. It sealed the Dodgers’ fate that year. In 2016, Game 6 of the NLCS, Kershaw gave up five runs in only five innings in a series elimination game against the Chicago Cubs.

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In 2017, Kershaw gave up not one, but two leads or three runs or more in the World Series against the Houston Astros.

We can cut Kershaw some slack on that World Series since we found out that the Astros were sign-stealing that year. It’s definitely easier to hit when you know what’s coming.

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Still, there’s no excuse for all the other postseason failures.

It’s not that Kershaw has had to be perfect, win every game he pitched in October. It’s just that things have gone so horribly wrong.

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This Dodgers team has won eight NL West titles in a row. But to this point, they have nothing to show for it.

The idea that this team could be this good with one of the greatest pitchers MLB has seen and they couldn’t win a single World Series would be an indictment on Kershaw and his postseason woes.

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Let’s face it. A gem by Kershaw in one or two starts along the way could have been the difference in the Dodgers winning multiple titles.

Instead, the Dodgers have a good chance of becoming MLB’s Buffalo Bills with another World Series loss. The Bills lost four straight Super Bowls.

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For sure, there are plenty of great players who never won a World Series, including Ken Griffey Jr, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds. But Kershaw is different. He had more control over games than most star players in that spot.

Worse, he’s failed so many times. The clock is running out on Kershaw. Without question, his legacy and reputation are at stake.

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After this World Series, he will either be a confirmed choker or finally a champion.

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