Getty Images/Mike Stobe photo
Drop whatever the heck you are doing every fifth night, grab your kids and have them huddle around the T.V. to watch Clayton Kershaw pitch. We are witnessing one of the greatest regular season pitchers of all time in the midst of his prime.
“Our expectations in this clubhouse for him are unfair,” catcher A.J. Ellis said. “What we expect him to do, each time he pitches, it’s definitely unfair. Yet he meets them. I know we all know how fortunate we are. I hope all of baseball knows and understands what they’re watching right now.”
The resume that Kershaw is chalking up for the Los Angeles Dodgers this season has never been seen before.
To date, Kershaw has racked up 145 punch-outs to only NINE WALKS (!!!!). With a strikeout-to-walk ratio hovering around 16:1, Kershaw is on pace to demolish the previous record of 11:1 set by Phil Hughes in 2014. (Kershaw’s ratio was 20:1, until Sunday’s start with the Pittsburg Pirates where he proved he was human by walking two batters.)
He is on pace to strikeout over 300 batters while only walking 19.
His WHIP is also mind-boggling. At 0.727, he is a tick below Pedro Martinez’s record at 0.74 from back in 1999.
Not only is his K/BB ratio unfathomable, he’s holding batters to a sparkling .184 average, which is the lowest of his nine-year career.
Perhaps the grossest statistic is that Kershaw nearly has a higher OPS (.377) at the plate than what hitters are hitting off of him (opposition carries a .475 OPS).
Hitters just don’t reach base against him. Opposing teams probably look at him on the mound in the first inning like high school students stare blankly at algebra equations; they already know how it’s going to end before it even begins, miserably.
If he doesn’t allow any free bases and he isn’t giving up any hits, how the heck do you beat this guy?
Luck? Doubt it.
If you don’t get the lead off guy on, you are screwed. If he gets the first hitter out, his earned run average plummets to 0.67 and the opponent’s batting average drops to .161.
Maybe try and channel the ghost of one of the greatest postseason hitting performances? It wouldn’t hurt.
The Pirates scored four runs in the bottom of the second Sunday at PNC Park. They strung together three singles and a walk before David Freese cranked a bases clearing double to right-centre field on a first pitch heater.
“The Freese hit is what killed me tonight,” Kershaw said. “I missed my spot bad, and he made me pay.”
“He can’t be perfect,” Dodgers’ managers Dave Roberts said. “I think we expect him to be perfect every night. But it’s not going to happen.”
But he has been as close to perfect as you can be. Teams need to take advantage when they get runners on because those chances have been few and far between this year.
If you are able to get on, you must manufacture against him because he doesn’t throw many pitches away. Kershaw only has four wild pitches in 34.1 innings with runners on base.
Maybe, steal a base?
Nope. Starling Marte attempted the first stolen base against Kershaw Sunday night and was gunned down. Kershaw unloads the ball quicker than average to home plate, in about 1.0-1.1 seconds, (anything less than 1.3 seconds is considered above average) making it nearly impossible to swipe a bag.
Aside from all the mind-melting, career-defining stats, Kershaw is 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA. Once again he’s starring down his fourth Cy Young award and possibly his second MVP. Only Walter Johnson (1913, 1924), Carl Hubble (1933, 1936) and Hal Newhouser (1944, 1945) have won multiple MVP awards as pitchers.
To show how much he means to his team, the Dodgers are 14-2 in games he starts and 28-34 when he doesn’t.
“I wish we had 25 of him,” Roberts said of Kershaw. “It seems like every time he takes the mound, he goes Little League on us and does something, not only on the mound, to help us win.”
Without Kershaw, their .452 winning percentage lowers them to the ranks of the Milwaukee Brewers, Arizona Diamondbacks or Philadelphia Phillies — teams that need binoculars to see the playoffs.
As dazzling as Kershaw has been this season, this incredible run started halfway through last season. Since last July, in 33 starts (246.2 innings pitched) he has only yielded 156 hits, 26 walks to go with 306 strikeouts, a 1.56 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP.
With him, they currently sit tied with the Miami Marlins for the top wildcard spot. Unluckily, it’s an even year and surely the San Francisco Giants are perched atop the National League West division and are destined to win another World Series.
The Giants pulled into the fast lane early in the season, stepped on the gas and haven’t looked back. They lead the Dodgers by seven games.
But this Dodgers team, who has been playing better in June until they dropped three out of four with the Pirates over the weekend, are battling to stay afloat in the NL wildcard race with the New York Mets and St. Louis Cardinals nipping on their heels for positioning.
“We’re not playing as well as we need to,” Kershaw acknowledged. “We go in spurts, but not consistent yet, for sure.”
Missing the playoffs is unacceptable for this Dodgers team. They need to take advantage of Kershaw’s illegally downloaded historic season.
It won’t be long until Kershaw controls all the power in his career. He has two more seasons of team control until the final two years of his contract kick in, starting for the 2019 campaign, which are player options.
The Dodgers will not trade Kershaw within the next two years. Just like the phony, “Trade Mike Trout” scenarios and columns that popped up earlier this April and May, it’s simply nonsense. There will be a time, and it will be here before we know it, that Kershaw’s contract with the Dodgers will be up. It is up to that front office to prove to their most important player that they can put a contending team on the field before it is too late.
Kershaw knows the emphatic big, “but” that has been looming over his career like a nimbus cloud. His 2-6 record and 4.59 ERA in the playoffs and his failures against the Cardinals in the postseason will be brought up until he finally wins in October. He has to be salivating like an elephant staring at a tub of peanuts at the chance to run into October with this incredible amount of momentum he has built up this season.
The Dodgers cannot squander this opportunity.
Known as one of the fiercest competitors on the mound, it would be hard to imagine Kershaw being contempt with a team that isn’t a World Series contender moving forward.
We have just seen a similar scenario unfold right in front of our eyes, especially within the past 12 months.
Finally, following a tiresome free agent year in Oklahoma City, we are about to find out where Kevin Durant is going to play basketball next season.
Durant has had more playoff success than Kershaw, but has been a generational talent for some time with an expiring contract that has felt like a ticking time bomb.
It felt like every road trip brought about articles, columns and questions about the possibility of Durant leaving the Thunder in the summer to whatever city they played in that night. Boston, Toronto, New York City, Sacramento, Oakland, San Antonio, Washington and Chicago all seemed like possible destinations at one point in time. Some with more weight than others, but it was a non-stop circus and never-ending talking point.
Durant did a great job downplaying the significance of this summer. Headlines would pop up, reporters probed him with questions and he shook them off like water off a duck’s back.
Who knows how Kershaw will handle contract questions. He has shown in the past a little disdain to questions about his relationship with former manager Don Mattingly, but that is only a small sample size.
The best thing the Dodgers and Kershaw can do to avoid a potential Durant situation is to get to the postseason and win.
Kershaw very may well be the MVP, but it is hard for one pitcher to drag his team into October.
The rest of the rotation is in shambles behind the ace. The Dodgers promoted 19-year old Mexican phenom, Julio Urias, ahead of schedule to help patch the rotation until August-ish. Urias has an innings cap (roughly 80 innings) and currently a third of the way there, the limit is sneaking up on him. He has showed moments of promise, but will either be shut down when he reaches the cap or moved to the bullpen before then.
Kenta Maeda has been a nice fit and should be a No. 3 starter on this team. His 6-5 record slightly overshadows an honest 2.91 ERA, but has served up eight homers in 15 starts.
Castaway southpaws Alex Wood (1-4, 3.99 ERA) and Scott Kazmir (4.67 ERA) do not resemble playoff contending pitchers so far.
First year Dodgers’ manager Roberts has had to sit through a bullpen has been very roller-coastery. They have the lowest ERA in the National League (3.02), but are tied for the third-most blown saves (12); only converting 64.71 per cent of them.
And the offence has been nothing to brag about. The Dodgers are 20th in the MLB with a .260 average and a .724 OPS while being one of the worst home run hitting teams (sitting 24th with 27 deep drives),
Rookie sensation Corey Seager has come exactly as advertised. He leads the team in average (.298), home runs (16), RBI (38), hits (90) and OPS (.888). Seager will be a strong contender for the rookie of the year award, but he is going to need more contributions from his teammates in order to make it into the postseason.
Dodgers’ president Andrew Friedman has a few holes on offence and maybe a spot or two in the pitching staff to fill in order to turn this team into a serious postseason roster.
However, there won’t be much help coming from within the organization.
The prospects other teams wanted as return pieces in trades last year are in the MLB and trying to flourish now. They seem to be stuck in between spending money on MLB-ready talent while trying to develop homegrown players at the MLB level.
Trayce Thompson started off hot in his first full season with the club, but has since cooled as he tries to find his place in the outfield. Seager and Joc Pederson are untouchable and it seems unlikely to move Urias now (the Detroit Tigers wanted Urias in return for David Price at last year’s trade deadline) and ESPN’s Keith Law has mentioned that they would like to hang onto their next elite prospect, outfielder Alex Verdugo.
Spots the Dodgers might look to improve through trades are; catcher, second base, third base, corner outfield and an arm in the bullpen.
The Dodgers have received nothing offensively from either catcher. Former All-Star Yasmani Grandal is hitting .183 and Ellis has one home run, 11 RBI and is hitting .210.
With the Brewers going nowhere fast this season, catcher Jonathon Lucroy is the hottest ticket available and will receive great interest on the trade market from teams like the Texas Rangers, New York Mets and possibly the Detroit Tigers.
Justin Turner picked up some slack in June, homering eight times to go with 22 RBI, but there is no long-term commitment from the Dodgers moving forward. Tuner is capable of sliding over to second or into the outfield if they bring in a third basemen such as Evan Longoria, Todd Frazier or Trevor Plouffe, who are all having strong seasons on non-contending teams.
It seems as if the Dodgers are playing with house money with their leadoff man Chase Utley. Looking healthy again, Utley is hitting .260 with a .729 OPS and 25 RBI in his first full season in L.A. The 37-year old Utley hit .210 with the Phillies and Dodgers last season.
Utley’s strong start has banished Howie Kendrick to left field, a spot he hasn’t played before, but he is holding his own. The Dodgers can shift Kendrick back to his comfort zone at second if Utley starts to show his age or they can look into trading for another infielder. Zack Cozart is having a strong season (.268/.314/.793, all higher than his career averages) and wouldn’t demand a lot back in return to a rebuilding Cincinnati Reds squad.
The former reincarnated version of Bo Jackson, Yasiel Puig, is having his worst season in right field for the Dodgers. Baseball Tonight analysts point out that he struggles with the idea of making adjustments, which is unfortunate for such a polarizing figure that burst onto the scene in 2013. Puig is hitting .249 and has struck out 46 times to only nine walks. If the Dodgers want to get wild and add an impact bat in the outfield, Jay Bruce and Jose Bautista are having powerful seasons, but it would require the Dodgers part ways with some of their prized prospects.
At the moment, the Dodgers have a strong enough team to contend for a wildcard spot all season, no question. If that is all they aim for over the next two seasons, then that is fine. They still hold the ultimate trump card in Kershaw if they make it to the one-game playoff.
But, if they want something more, a deep playoff run, they type of playoff run that rebuilds Kershaw’s excitement about the franchise moving forward again, they should look at every option to improve their roster quickly.
No prospect or young talent should be held in higher regard over one of the greatest Dodgers of all time.