Are the Dodgers setting up Clayton Kershaw for the ultimate postseason redemption?

The Los Angeles Dodgers retook control of the World Series Friday night, rolling over the Tampa Bay Rays 6-2 in a well-rounded Game 3 performance.

With the win, the Dodgers are now two victories away from claiming the franchise's first World Series championship since 1988. And if you look ahead at the schedule, there's a chance the stars may also be aligning for Clayton Kershaw to finally get his ultimate postseason redemption.

Thanks to the off day on Thursday, the Dodgers will only need four starting pitchers in the series. After starting — and winning — Game 1 on Tuesday, Kershaw would be available to start Game 5 Sunday on regular rest. If the Dodgers win Game 4 on Saturday, then Kershaw would be starting with a chance to clinch the World Series and exorcise every postseason demon that has followed him around for the last 13 years.

Recalling Clayton Kershaw's postseason misery

Eight years of disappointment is a lot to overcome, but the last eight days have positioned Kershaw to do just that.

After Game 4 of the National League Championship Series, it looked like Kershaw was heading into another offseason surrounded by disappointment. On that night, the three-time Cy Young award winner was outpitched by Atlanta Braves rookie Bryse Wilson, allowing four runs in five-plus innings in a loss that pushed Los Angeles to the brink of elimination.

On a personal level, the loss was Kershaw's 12th in the postseason. And that doesn't even include last year's blown save against the Washington Nationals in Game 5 of the NLDS. Not every setback has been his fault, but Kershaw has been front and center time and time again in season-defining games that didn't go the Dodgers way.

Just focusing on the Dodgers’ seven trips to the NLCS during his career, Kershaw is 3-6 with a 4.84 ERA. That's a far cry from Kershaw's standard regular season performance, which over 13 seasons has netted an ERA exactly half of that — 2.43.

Here's the biggest difference in 2020: The Dodgers have had Clayton Kershaw's back.

They stormed back to win the NLCS in seven games. In Game 1 of the World Series, Los Angeles scored eight runs in support of Kershaw, who struck out eight batters over six innings of one-run ball. Now, they've taken control of the World Series and created a situation where, potentially, Kershaw will be pitching to win a championship rather than pitching to save a season.

Arlington, Texas,  Tuesday, October 20, 2020 Los Angeles Dodgers starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw (22) yells out in frustration as he heads to the dugout after the  surrenders a homer to Tampa Bay Rays center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) in game one of  the World Series at Globe Life Field. (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Could Clayton Kershaw's postseason saga finally get a happy ending? (Robert Gauthier/ Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

Can resilient Rays prevent Clayton Kershaw's shot at redemption?

The Dodgers still have serious work to do to give Kershaw this opportunity. As we've seen throughout the postseason, the Tampa Bay Rays are a resilient group, priding themselves on overcoming odds and taking down baseball's titans. Just ask the Yankees and Astros. The Rays will not go away quietly. They will make the Dodgers earn it, and if the Dodgers falter in Game 4, then the tenor of Kershaw's Game 5 start — and the series in general — will completely change.

Working in the Dodgers’ favor is the outcome of Friday's pivotal Game 3. They solved Charlie Morton, the Rays right-hander who had been unbeaten in his last eight postseason starts. They also showed the world they can win baseball games in every conceivable way. Now the pressure is on Tampa Bay to find answers, and that won't be easy for a team that didn't know who their Game 4 starter would be — they’ve since announced Ryan Yarbrough — while Game 3 was taking place.

The Dodgers? They know Julio Urías will start Saturday and he's given them no reason to lack confidence.

What about Game 7?

Even if the absolute best-case scenario doesn't pan out for Kershaw and the Dodgers, there’s always a chance this series will go seven games. Perhaps we should even expect that after watching the ALCS, NLCS and last year’s World Series all go the distance.

The Dodgers have not hesitated to use Kershaw in a relief role in past postseasons. The results have been mixed, with a slight lean toward not good. But the Dodgers bullpen isn’t without flaws, either, which could create a need for bullpen Kershaw to make another dramatic postseason appearance.

Maybe we’re being overly optimistic thinking that redemption is in Clayton Kershaw’s near future. Maybe the ending will be all too familiar and the narrative will continue building. Either way, there’s no way the ending of this World Series will be written without the name and legacy of Clayton Kershaw being a big part of the story.

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