By: Will Burchfield
Before Clayton Kershaw left Sunday’s start with back tightness, before it was announced that he will miss significant time, the MLB-leading Dodgers had shown interest in trading for Justin Verlander.
Then came the report Monday afternoon that Kershaw, who looked primed for the N.L. Cy Young Award, will be shelved for at least a month, quite possibly longer. In that case, he won’t take the mound again for the Dodgers — at the earliest — until the fourth week in August.
That’s a long gap of time for a team to be without its ace, especially one with World Series aspirations. Then again, the Dodgers are 37 games over .500 and 10.5 games up in the N.L. West. They don’t need to panic.
Their starting rotation lacks proven commodities, especially in regard to the playoffs. For as well as the likes of Alex Wood, Rich Hill and Brandon McCarthy (currently on the disabled list) have pitched this season, their collective track record in October leaves much to be desired. And there’s no need to recite the postseason struggles of Kershaw.
This is where Verlander becomes an appealing addition. He’s long been a big-game pitcher and boasts a 3.39 ERA in 16 career playoff starts. Regular season-versus-postseason splits are probably a bit overblown, and maybe the Dodgers will be just fine in October with their current crop of starters.
But what if Kershaw’s recovery time veers toward the latter end of that four-to-six week timeframe? What if — gulp — it extends beyond it? Back injuries are a fickle thing, and Kershaw is developing a troubling history in this regard. A herniated disk cost him two and a half months last season.
If he isn’t able to return until, say, mid September, that would leave him only a few starts to rediscover his groove. The N.L.-favorite Dodgers could conceivably enter the playoffs with a still-mending Kershaw and a host of unknowns in their rotation. A terrific season could quickly be for naught — something the team has become achingly familiar with the past four years.
Fearing yet another sour ending, perhaps the Dodgers throw patience and prudence to the wind and go all-in for Verlander. They certainly have the money and the farm system, including four prospects in Baseball America’s midseason top 100, to make a deal possible. The Tigers would have to meet L.A. somewhere in the middle in terms of the finances, but these two have long seemed like good trading partners in a potential Verlander blockbuster.
Kershaw’s injury only enhances the fit.