Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw hasn’t pitched since late June, when he was put on the disabled list after being diagnosed with a mild disk herniation in his lower back, an injury so painful it required an epidural. The team was hopeful that Kershaw was close to returning when he threw a simulated game on Saturday, but that throwing session only led to more bad news.
Manger Dave Roberts spoke with reporters yesterday and revealed that Kershaw “didn’t feel great” the day after throwing, and won’t be throwing again until his back pain completely subsides. As for how that shifts the timeline for his eventual return, Roberts would only say that the situation is “uncertain.”
Nobody needs to be convinced that losing the best pitcher in baseball for an extended period of time is very bad news, but Kershaw’s injury has come at a particularly bad time for the Dodgers. They’ve managed to go 11-6 in his absence, but are still 4.5 games back of the Giants in the division standings, and hold just a one-game lead on the surging Marlins in the wild card standings.
It doesn’t help that the Dodgers’ pitching staff has already been thinned out by injuries. Hyun-Jin Ryu returned from shoulder surgery just before the All-Star break, only to immediately return to the DL with elbow tendinitis. Brett Anderson and Alex Wood are still on the shelf as well, and the Dodgers’ current rotation is Kenta Maeda, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Bud Norris, and teenager Julio Urias. Maeda has been brilliant and Kazmir has been surprisingly resilient, but that rotation isn’t built to go anywhere without Kershaw leading it.
There’s simply no replacing a pitcher who has accumulated 41.8 fWAR since 2011, and so the Dodgers’ best hope now is to tread water until Kershaw can come back and lead them on a surge to secure a playoff spot. But time is short, and that scenario likely depends on Kazmir staying strong and Urias making some big leaps forward. That’s the problem (granted one any team would love to have) with building around a player as transcendent as Kershaw: When he’s out there every fifth day, everything seems so easy, but the odds get long in a hurry once he’s taken out of the equation.