Just two innings into his start Sunday against the Atlanta Braves, ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw pulled up wincing after releasing a slider. Manager Dave Roberts and the training staff jumped out of the dugout to check on their franchise player. Kershaw gamely finished the inning, but then left the field and headed to the locker room for treatment. After the game, he was diagnosed with lower-back tightness, and will be placed on the 10-Day DL.
It’s hard to think of a more valuable player to his team than Clayton Kershaw is to the Dodgers. He’s in the midst of another historic season, posting a 2.04 ERA with a 31.1% K-rate over 141 innings. This season alone he’s already compiled 4.0 WAR (per FanGraphs). He will undoubtedly be a finalist for the Cy Young, and deserves serious consideration for MVP honors at this point in the season. His career numbers (a 2.34 ERA and 57.5 WAR through 1,900 innings) are worthy of Hall of Fame consideration already — and he’s not even thirty years old.
The Dodgers will have to find a way to replace the irreplaceable. Worse still, they’ll have to find a way to do it without Brandon McCarthy, who is also headed to the 10-Day DL with a blistered right index finger. McCarthy is no Clayton Kershaw, but his 3.84 ERA, 16 starts, and his ability to keep the ball in the park (just 5 HR allowed in 86.2 innings) will be missed.
With Kershaw and McCarthy both set to miss time, the Dodgers will run with a four man rotation of Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who will come off the DL for Tuesday’s start. They may also look to bring Julio Urias back to the big-league club to round out the rotation.
The Dodgers have yet to release timetables for either Kershaw or McCarthy, making it hard to predict exactly how the Dodgers will go about handling their rotation just yet. McCarthy’s blister problem should go away within a week or two, though blisters can be chronic issues; McCarthy struggled with a blister on the same hand in June. Kershaw’s injury could lead to a lengthier absence. He suffered a back injury last season which kept him out of the lineup for two and a half months, though he was able to rejoin the team for the postseason. It’s unclear as of now whether his current back injury is more or less severe than the one last season.
I’m no doctor, and since I’m not inside the clubhouse I can offer no speculation on how serious Kershaw’s injury is. What I can say is this: as long as Kershaw’s injury is not season-ending, they will be fine without him.
The Dodgers currently have the best record in baseball. They’re 10.5 games ahead of the Rockies in the NL West, and 11.5 games ahead of the slumping Diamondbacks. They have the league-lead in ERA at 3.17, and it’s not even close. Their offense is holding its own as well, ranking fifth in runs and third in OBP. The loss of two pitchers, even ones as talented as Kershaw and McCarthy, will not completely derail what has been an historically good season.
The pitchers in the Dodgers’ rotation are quality arms as well. After early-season injury woes, Rich Hill has regained last season’s form en route to a 1.42 ERA in the month of July, buoyed by 37 strikeouts across his four starts this month. Maeda too has improved after a rough start to the season. He’s given up 2 runs or fewer in 7 of his last 8 starts for the Dodgers. Alex Wood has been even more impressive. Despite getting roughed up in his last start to the tune of 9 runs (7 earned) across 4.2 innings, Wood still holds a 2.17 ERA and has limited opposing teams to one run or less in 11 of his 15 starts.
The initial reaction to Kershaw’s injury was to speculate whether the Dodgers would panic-buy another starter before the July 31st trade deadline. They’ve particularly been linked heavily with Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers after clearing salary space in the Sergio Romo deal.
Darvish would be a superb addition to an already-loaded Dodgers rotation. If the Dodgers pursue him, as well they should, they should do so with an eye towards the World Series and not towards Kershaw’s injury. Adding Darvish or another arm at the deadline makes the Dodgers better, there’s no question about it. But if Kershaw can return before the leaves change, they may not need him at any cost to make a run at the World Series.