Aces low: Lots of top pitchers getting pounded in playoffs
Clayton Kershaw, raked for four home runs. Corey Kluber, clubbed. Chris Sale, swatted. Luis Severino, slammed.
This is October, right? The time when All-Star aces excel?
“I mean, I really don’t know. You kind of have seen it with every game,” Arizona lefty Robbie Ray said Friday.
“The starting pitcher has kind of given up — maybe it’s emotions. Maybe hiding emotions throughout the postseason, whereas in a regular-season game those emotions aren’t there,” he said. “But I don’t know if there’s anything physically different. It’s still baseball.”
Add Zack Greinke and Drew Pomeranz to this week’s early exit club, too.
“I’ve noticed,” said Dodgers lefty Rich Hill, set to face Ray and the Diamondbacks in Game 2 Saturday.
Not everyone has been adversely affected.
Stephen Strasburg took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of Washington’s opener. Kyle Hendricks was sharp for the Cubs and Astros teammates Justin Verlander and Dallas Keuchel did well enough to give Houston a 2-0 lead in its AL Division Series matchup against Boston.
But Kluber, Sale and Severino — the top three AL pitchers in ERA this season — have been erratic in these playoffs. Their combined totals in three starts: eight innings, 16 earned runs on 20 hits.
Sale led the majors in strikeouts this year and was chomping at the chance to make his postseason debut. Facing the high-powered Astros, the Boston lefty was tagged for three homers, three doubles and seven runs over five-plus innings in Game 1.
“It happens,” said Sale, adding, “terrible time for it to happen.”
Kluber, favored by many to win a second AL Cy Young Award, was rocked for six runs and seven hits by the Yankees on Friday. The Cleveland righty was chased in the third inning.
“Kluber finally looking like he’s human,” Indians star Francisco Lindor said after a 9-8 win in 13 innings.
Severino had the roughest start of them all. Picked to pitch the AL wild-card game for the Yankees, the 23-year-old gave up two quick home runs to Minnesota and was pulled after getting only one out.
And then there’s Kershaw, the three-time Cy Young winner and five-time ERA champ. He became the first Dodger and the eighth pitcher in baseball history to give up four home runs in a postseason game. He left after 6 1/3 innings in a 9-5 win over the Diamondbacks.
“Hopefully, when you give up hits, maybe one or two would stay in the ballpark, but tonight it didn’t seem like that was going to happen,” Kershaw said.
Aces in the hole, for sure. And unexpected in a postseason featuring 11 Cy Young Award winners.
“I can’t really put, obviously, a theory to why pitchers are getting out or it’s just not going the way for starting pitchers,” Hill said.
Twins starter Ervin Santana also got bounced fast in the wild-card loss to the Yankees.
“Common threads? I think that hitters have been aggressive and just kind of mislocation,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said. “Guys are taking good at-bats, they’re spoiling pitches. Pitch counts are getting way up there.”
“That’s the great thing about this game though, it’s just so unpredictable,” he said.
To Arizona manager Torey Lovullo, a lot of credit goes to Paul Goldschmidt, Jose Altuve and other top hitters. Especially when they’re facing pitchers who might be a bit tired.
“October baseball is the best thing in the world, as far as I’m concerned. I think these players feel it for so long that maybe they walk out on the mound, give what they can, and their tank is emptied a little sooner than later,” Lovullo said.
“And you have so many things you’re walking into today. With today’s players, they’re able to equip themselves with all sorts of information, video, advance scouting. They can direct their own swings and prepare their own swings to attack starting pitching. I think there’s a lot of things that go into that.”