At 68-31, the Los Angeles Dodgers have the best record in baseball and are on track to get back to the World Series for the first time since 1988. Of course, a big part of their success has been because of Clayton Kershaw, who is arguably the best pitcher on the planet.
Kershaw hasn’t taken a loss since May 1 and leads the league in victories with a record of 15-2. He’s also leading the league in innings pitched (141.1) and ERA (2.04).
Kershaw was in line for the chance to get his ninth straight victory on Sunday. Instead, the three-time Cy Young Award winner was forced to leave the game after just the second inning due to soreness in his lower back.
Kershaw missed more than two months of the season in 2016 with a herniated disc in his lower back, so this is not a great sign. The news then broke on Sunday that Kershaw was headed to the 10-day DL.
On Monday, FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was the first to report that this latest back injury could keep the 2014 National League MVP out for the next four to six weeks. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts later painted a more optimistic picture of Kershaw’s injury.
It is not a herniated disc, but a lower back strain, meaning Kershaw could be back sooner than originally reported. Roberts maintained that it would be “unfair to Clayton” to put him on a timeline, according to MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick.
Despite the fact that the Dodgers’ starting rotation has been a revolving door to and from the disabled list this season, they’ve still pitched extremely well. Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, and now Kershaw have all spent stints on the DL this season.
With fantastic performances by Kershaw and Wood, along with solid performances from the rest of the pitching staff, the Dodgers lead the majors in starting pitcher ERA (3.32), with their closest competition being two other National League contenders, the Arizona Diamondbacks (3.54) and Washington Nationals (3.58).
Their offense and the rest of the rotation is probably good enough to carry the team through after losing Kershaw, but with the stellar season they’ve had, should they take that chance?
The team got Bud Norris and Rich Hill last season when Kershaw was out, so will they do the same this season? There is talk that they may.
Last year, they also had Julio Urias. Right now, they don’t have anyone in their farm system as ready for the show as Julio Urias was. Urias is out for the 2017 season after having shoulder surgery.
In-house options include long-reliever Brock Stewart, who could temporarily take the fifth position in the rotation, or the Dodgers’ top prospect Walker Buehler, 22, but he’s not as fully developed a pitcher as Urias was at this time last season, having only made one start in Triple-A.
So what do the Dodgers do now? Do they make a trade or stay the course using an in-house option?
The Dodgers may not necessarily need to make a trade, but they should. They have the prospects to use in a trade and have the money a trade could cost.
The Dodgers are currently in the best position they’ve been in in recent years to actually win the World Series, so now is not the time for taking chances.
They will easily make the postseason with or without a trade, but a trade will also help them in October. If they get a top starter to be a real No. 2 to Kershaw, the postseason won’t hinge as much on his shoulders as it has in the past. Having that one-two punch at the top of the rotation could really put Los Angeles over the top.
The best (still only potentially) available starting pitcher is definitely Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers. The Rangers sent scouts to watch the Dodgers’ Triple-A team on Friday, according to Evan Grant of Sports Day. Darvish would make a great addition to the Dodgers, but he’ll be a free agent after the season, and the team would likely be giving up a top prospect for a rental pitcher. However, if that rental helps you become World Champions — worth it!
Another option could be the Oakland A’s Sonny Gray, who is under team control for another two seasons and makes a fraction of Darvish’s salary. While Gray is definitely available, he struggled mightily in 2016, posting a 5.69 ERA and spending time on the disabled list with two separate injuries. He also began the current season on the DL with a third unrelated injury.
Still, Gray’s track record prior to 2016 is stellar, including a top-three finish in the A.L. Cy Young Award voting in 2015. Plus, he’s appeared to be back to his old self in his last nine starts since June. Gray’s situation is more attractive than Darvish’s, but that is if he can stay healthy. Gray is going to be priced just as high as Darvish — meaning top prospects.
Whoever the Dodgers end up with — even if it isn’t one of the two pitchers named above — if they want the best possible chance at their first World Series Championship in almost 30 years, they need to make a move and soon. The MLB non-waiver trade deadline is coming up quickly on July 31.
It certainly won’t hurt the Dodgers’ chances if they pick up another pitcher to help out while they’re without Kershaw and to help support Kershaw in the playoffs.
[Featured Image by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images]