One of the things that makes baseball so great is its unexplained mysteries.
A game built so heavily around statistics has spend most of the past 130 years or so defying them. That’s because men, not machines, play the game.
Matt Adams and Clayton Kershaw are men. Normally, the left-handed Kershaw, one of the most outstanding pitchers major league baseball has produced, would have the edge over the left-handed hitting Adams, in just his second full season in the big leagues.
Adams, the St. Louis Cardinals’ burly first baseman, batted under .200 against left-handed pitchers this season. And when one of those lefties throws him a curve ball, no chance. He’s batted .046 against the curve-ball offerings of left-handed pitchers during his career. And Kershaw, as you know, is a special left-hander with a curve he could spin around the moon and back to earth.
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Kershaw has won four consecutive ERA titles in the National League. This season, he was 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA. The term “unhittable” is thrown around a lot to describe certain pitchers, but with Kershaw it’s accurate more often than not.
And for six innings against the Cardinals in Game 4 of the NLDS on Tuesday night in St. Louis, it was a spot-on assessment. Kershaw allowed one hit in those six innings.
But the seventh started with Matt Holliday singling up the middle and off the glove of Dodgers second baseman Dee Gordon. The next batter, Jhonny Peralta, looped a hit that touched off the top of shortstop Hanley Ramirez’s glove and dropped into shallow center field. Two hits that could have been two outs.
And up came Adams, who fell behind in the count. Kershaw threw him a curve, only this one didn’t do much. It just sat there, over the middle of the plate, and Adams crushed it. He reacted as if he knew it was gone, then became worried when the baseball started to lose steam near the right-field wall, just in front of the Cardinals bullpen. But it had enough to make it over the wall and give St. Louis a 3-2 lead, one the bullpen would protect and one that sends the Cardinals to the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants.
Kershaw was similarly strong for six innings in Game 1 of the ALDS against St. Louis before becoming unraveled in the seventh, when the Cardinals rallied from a 6-2 deficit to take a 10-6 lead. The great Kershaw was knocked around by St. Louis in Game 6 of the 2013 NLCS at Busch Stadium, giving up 10 hits and seven runs in four innings.
The Cardinals have beaten Kershaw four consecutive times in the postseason. They have the number of a 26-year-old pitcher whose numbers are likely to land him in the Hall of Fame someday.
And as much as everyone tries to make sense of it, no one can. Baseball, more so than any other game or sport, doesn’t make sense.
Kershaw is 98-49 during the regular season with a 2.48 ERA. He well could win the National League Most Valuable Player Award this season.
The television announcers on the Fox Sports 1 spoke of Kershaw as if he was other-worldly during the NLDS. There are smart and respected baseball people who speak of Kershaw in the same breath with former Dodger lefty and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax.
Koufax, by the way, was 21-11 with a 2.74 ERA against the Cardinals during his career. The Cincinnati Reds were his bugaboo; against Cincy, Koufax was 19-20 with a 3.74 ERA. Who knows why? It cannot be explained.
Nor can Kershaw’s struggles against the Cardinals in the postseason. In five appearances against St. Louis, he has allowed 21 hits and 13 runs in 19.1 innings for a 6.05 ERA. During the regular season against the Cardinals, Kershaw is just 5-5 with a 3.46 ERA in 14 starts.
But against National League West foes San Francisco, San Diego, Colorado and Arizona, teams he sees more than any others, Kershaw is 49-23 in his career with a 2.28 ERA. He’s 14-5 with a 1.43 ERA against the Giants, LA’s most-heated rival. He’s made at least seven starts in his career against 13 teams and has an ERA below 3.00 against nine of them.
The Cardinals, though, are a team he hasn’t mastered. He made two outstanding starts during the 2014 regular season against St. Louis, striking out 21 and allowing only 11 hits in 14 innings.
And he looked like that pitcher in both ALDS starts against the Cardinals – until the seventh inning.
Through six innings of his start in Game 1, Kershaw allowed just two hits, two runs, walked none and struck out eight.
Through six innings of his Game 4 start, Kershaw allowed one hit, no runs, walked one and struck out nine.
But in the seventh inning of those games, Kershaw pitched two-thirds of an inning and allowed nine hits and nine runs.
No, wait. You shouldn’t even try.