At the conclusion of Sunday’s game, the scoreboard said the Dodgers had defeated the Atlanta Braves 5-4, but it sure didn’t feel like a win. After leaving the game after the 2nd inning with lower back pain, Clayton Kershaw’s injury really put a damper on things the rest of the way.
Chris Taylor got a couple of more hits? That’s nice I guess. Another bomb for Cody Bellinger? Pretty cool. A walk-off win in extra innings? Yeah yeah, that’s all fine and dandy, but what’s the news on Kershaw?!?
Unfortunately, as it turns out, Kershaw will return to the DL with a lower back injury, a similar injury to the one that sidelined him for over two months last season. Not the news Dodgers fans were hoping for.
This year has been truly remarkable thus far, and the Dodgers have played some of their best baseball in recent memory. Everything seemed to be going right. But just as fans were getting ready to hold hands and sing Kumbaya together, this happens. Baseball can sure be cruel at times.
Okay, listen up Dodgers fans. Try to remain calm. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Relax and remember where the Dodgers currently stand this year. Recall how well they’ve played all season and how they’re still in great shape to make a postseason run.
There… feel better now?
Okay, me neither. There’s no sugarcoating this news. But although it’s disappointing, the Dodgers don’t need to panic. There’s no reason to use this Kershaw injury as reason to change their trading deadline strategy or make some desperate move. Once news broke about Kershaw’s injury, however, media outlets everywhere were suggesting just that. The Dodgers “need” to make a trade, and they “have to” do something now.
No, they really don’t.
It’s still very early in Kershaw’s injury to speculate too much, but all indications right now point to him being back sometime in September. The 4-6 week timeframe that was reported yesterday is probably pretty accurate and maybe even on the conservative side. At this point, there’s no reason to think Kershaw can’t return this year and be ready when the playoffs start.
The Dodgers can weather this storm. They’ve done it before. When Kershaw hit the DL last year, the Dodgers actually played better somehow. While he was out, they made up 12 games in the standings over that two month period, going from 8 games back to 4 games up in the NL West. And this year’s Dodgers team is far better and more equipped than last year’s team.
More importantly, the Dodgers don’t need to play particularly great the rest of the way. They currently have an 11.5 game division lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies. They’re also up 8.5 games on the Washington Nationals for the best record in the National League, and top the Houston Astros by 2.5 games for the best record in MLB.
The Dodgers could play .500 ball over the rest of the regular season and still be a 100-win team this year. They’re going to make the playoffs.
This is not to say the Dodgers shouldn’t consider making any moves as the trade deadline approaches, simply that they shouldn’t alter their strategy based on Kershaw’s injury. Whatever plans or ideas the front office had beforehand shouldn’t change much.
Compared to bullpen help, starting pitching didn’t appear to be a priority for the Dodgers at this year’s deadline, and for good reason. They had enough starters. Rotating them on and off the 10-day DL became a norm this year. Now, maybe they don’t have to. Although Brandon McCarthy was also placed on the DL yesterday, his injury doesn’t appear as severe, and he should return to the rotation soon. Along with Wood, Hill, Maeda, and Ryu, that still gives the Dodgers a 5-man rotation that could be decent enough to hold them over.
They also have Brock Stewart, who could be stretched out and placed in the rotation any time the Dodgers are ready now. His stuff has looked excellent since returning to the team last month, and he’s yet to allow a run in his 13 IP this year. He’s a starter by trade and really only in the bullpen because there hasn’t been room in the rotation. Now, there appears to be.
Are any of these options going to fill the shoes of Clayton Kersahw? Of course not. But can you name another pitcher in baseball that would? And again, look at last season . When the Dodgers made their impressive run without Kershaw, guys like Scott Kazmir, Bud Norris, and Ross Stripling were still getting regular starts. Pretty sure even Nick Tepesch got one. “Nick, who” you ask? Exactly.
Contemplating any possible moves the Dodgers should make this year should still be done with the postseason in mind. If they do want to pursue a starting pitcher, the front office should attempt to acquire an ace, not another mid-rotation guy, or multiple back-end type starters. They should get someone that they have faith in to take the ball in Game 2, 3, or 4 of a playoff series. Sonny Gray, Yu Darvish, or even Justin Verlander might all fit that bill.
That was always the plan when Kershaw was healthy, and it should still be the plan now. There’s no need to panic in Dodgerland just yet.