Baseball has a 162 game season for a reason. Yet, we often forget that. We get caught up in the excitement and story lines that catch our attention early in the year. I'm a victim of this, you're a victim of this, and it's part of the magic of baseball. Take the Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance. They started the year out so hot, everyone thought they'd run away with the division. The San Francisco Giants didn't seem to have the same pitching they had in years past with the ineffectiveness of Tim Lincecum, the Arizona Diamondbacks were battling injuries, and both the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres were horrid.
But things change. A month and a half is far to small a sample size from which to draw conclusions. The seemingly foregone conclusion that the Dodgers would win the National League West has fallen apart. Injuries and poor play have plagued the team throughout the second half. The Giants have been pitching better, including Lincecum (not to mention Matt Cain and his perfect game). The Diamondbacks made things interesting for a while and have been competitive. And the Padres have the best record in the NL West in the second half. So the season wore on, the Dodgers fell out of first place, they made a blockbuster trade, they continued to struggle, and now they sit three games out of the Wild Card with 12 games eft to play.
They still have a shot. They can still see the glimmering light of play-off hopes at the end of a dark tunnel. But what will they do to reach the end of that tunnel? Their reigning Cy Young award winning ace, Clayton Kershaw, has been battling a hip injury. Doctors say he can pitch, but surgery was a real concern about a week ago. With the heightened sense of protection teams have for their young pitchers, should the Dodgers rush Kershaw back in hopes of pushing them through the final week and a half of the season?
Kershaw is 12-9 with a 2.70 ERA in 30 starts this season. He has been dominant. So far this year, he has two complete game shut-outs, he's gone at least eight innings nine times, and he has 206 strikeouts. But he's been hurting. He hasn't started since September 11th. Before that, he missed a start for the same injury he's currently battling. Since the start of September, Kershaw has made just two starts. This is the stretch-run when teams need their pitchers the most. However, the Dodgers and Kershaw have been cautious with this hip injury.
Kershaw began his throwing program again after a second-opinion confirmed he had a right hip impingement. When he visited a specialist in New York, he was told he could continue pitching without causing further damage. While earlier reports indicated that Kershaw would require surgery, that is not the case. The Dodgers, though, have said that if he continues to experience pain when throwing, they won't allow him to pitch.
With 12 games left in the season, the decision can be questioned, but it's important to understand the overall impact Kershaw could even have. With 12 games left in the season, he could start two, maybe three, games. The Dodgers are facing a three-game deficit in the Wild Card, and they have two teams ahead of them that they will not play head-to-head for the rest of the year. Even if Kershaw started two more games this year and threw no-hitters, the Dodgers would still need some help to make up the ground they face in chasing the Milwaukee Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. The rest of the Dodgers' team has to perform.
Since May 2nd, after the Dodgers got off to that hot start, Los Angeles is just 13-12 in games started by Kershaw. He gave up more than three runs just five times in those 25 starts, so he simply wasn't getting help from the Dodger bats. With the lack of support he has received for the majority of the season, rushing Kershaw back to the mound doesn't guarantee a thing.
The Dodgers are doing the right thing in being cautious with Kershaw. They were a decent team on paper leading up to the July 31st non-waiver trade deadline. Then they became a really good team on paper after trading for Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez. However, this club has woefully underperformed since May. They have a lot of the pieces they will need to be a successful team for a long time, but they will need to take a step back during the offseason and reevaluate what happened this year. What they will not need to reevaluate is Kershaw's importance to Los Angeles.
By ensuring Kershaw is able to pitch without pain, and by taking the necessary precautions to avoid further injury, the Dodgers are not throwing away a shot at the play-offs, they are ensuring the shot at the play-offs for many years to come.