LOS ANGELES — Clayton Kershaw was uncommonly vulnerable on the night of Oct. 9 in the aftermath of a National League Division Series elimination by the Washington Nationals.

Kershaw entered Game 5 with two outs and a two-run lead in the seventh inning. He struck out Adam Eaton, came back out for the eighth and surrendered back-to-back, game-tying home runs to Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto. Later, after watching the Nats take the lead for good with a four-run 10th inning, Kershaw sounded particularly defeated. He talked, somberly, about disappointing his teammates and said that “everything people say is true right now about the postseason,” a nod to his infamous October struggles.

Nine weeks later, while attending a holiday party for about 300 children at Dodger Stadium on Friday, Kershaw was appreciably more upbeat. He had trimmed his beard, had seemingly lost some weight, and had acquired a fresh perspective.

“You have two options: You can either just kind of crawl into a hole, or you can move on and try to get better for the next year,” he said. “I don’t want to crawl into a hole yet, so I’m going to try to get better for the next year.”

Kershaw, noticeably in decline but still considerably effective, is still a central figure for a Dodgers franchise that has won seven consecutive division titles but is now more than three decades removed from a World Series championship. The NLDS elimination in 2019 followed consecutive World Series defeats in 2017 and 2018. The first of those was to the Houston Astros, who have been accused by former players — including Mike Fiers, who spoke publicly about it — of using technology to steal opponents’ signs and relay them to hitters.

Kershaw, who blew two leads of three or more runs in Game 5 from Minute Maid Park, said he was “a little shocked” by the revelations.

“When the team and the players are doing what they can on the field to get the signs, that’s obviously part of the game,” Kershaw said. “But when technology comes into play, if that is really true, it sucks. Unless we get to win the World Series, I don’t really care what the punishment is. But it does suck, no matter what.”

Kershaw hadn’t been keeping tabs on the offseason activity throughout Major League Baseball until the winter meetings took place and major moves were made earlier this week. The Dodgers were aggressive in their pursuit of former Astros ace Gerrit Cole but watched him sign a nine-year, $324 million contract with the New York Yankees. The Dodgers reportedly offered an eight-year, $300 million deal and believed Cole’s decision ultimately came down to him wanting to play for the Yankees, the team for which he grew up rooting.

Kershaw never called to recruit him.

“We would’ve loved to have him here,” Kershaw said, “but that deal was pretty impressive for him.”

The Dodgers were active throughout the winter meetings, but they came away with only Blake Treinen, a hard-throwing reliever who constitutes a reclamation project. They have been linked to longtime San Francisco Giants ace Madison Bumgarner, whom Kershaw said he is quite fond of, and could also re-sign free agent Hyun-Jin Ryu to give them another arm for the top of their rotation. The Dodgers have uncommon depth at almost every position, but they would like to add the type of elite-level players who tend to make an even greater impact during short postseason series.

After losing to the Boston Red Sox in the 2018 World Series, Kershaw said the Dodgers’ shortcomings weren’t indicative of any holes on their roster; they simply needed to perform better in October.


“It’s such a hard question for me to answer just because, bluntly, in the postseason, if I pitch better, we probably are better,” Kershaw said. “It’s not an easy question for me to answer. But we’re in a great spot again. We have a great team.”