Dodgers’ Run at 2016 Playoffs Hinges on Kershaw’s Return

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Now that the non-waiver trade deadline has passed us by without much overwhelming flair or glamour, many fans of the Dodgers are wondering if the 2016 club has all the tools necessary to perform well down the stretch and make a run at the playoffs come October.

It was only about three weeks ago when ace Clayton Kershaw was speeding through his rehab program, long tossing at 100 feet and throwing 90 MPH four-seamers to live hitters. With his return imminent, we put together an article analyzing a prospective rotation for the playoffs, and the outlook at the time didn’t seem very optimistic:

“Assuming that some type of birth in the postseason is clinched, and considering the personnel on the club at the present moment, management would probably run out Kershaw, Kenta Maeda and Scott Kazmir for a five-game series, with Brandon McCarthy being used as a fourth possible option. When contemplating a conceivable playoff matchup against a staff like that of Washington, San Francisco, Chicago or New York, the aforementioned combination doesn’t seem appealing in the least. Remembering that the Dodgers threw both Kersh and Zack Greinke in last year’s NLDS, any type of prospective rotation with the Dodgers’ current pitchers for this year playoffs would appear to be somewhat unfavorable.”

In no way does one player dictate the success of an entire club, especially a pitcher who mostly appears just once every five days, but the truth is that there’s such a huge dropoff in starting pitching talent after Kershaw, it almost feels as if the Dodgers’ offense will need to shoulder the burden to succeed down the stretch of the season without him.

For any fan who followed the team closely over the past several years, it has the feeling of being very reminiscent of the 2012 club, which despite finishing 10 games over .500, saw the Giants win the division with a 94-68 record, and ultimately falling two games short of the Cardinals for the final Wild Card spot.

Believe it or not, heading into August, the 2012 rotation trailed only the Nationals in all of the majors in earned-run average and opponent slugging percentage, having been in the top five of many of the key categories. As a group, it had been very good. And the group consisted of Kersh, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano, an aging Ted Lilly, and a resurgent Chad Billingsley.

The general manager at the time, Ned Colletti, first prioritized the offense by adding proven veterans in Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez, then topped off the relief corps by dealing for Brandon League and Randy Choate. Whether it was because he seemingly ran out of resources under the umbrella of then-owner Frank McCourt’s questionable budget, Colletti guessed incorrectly in assuming that the pitching staff had the goods to represent their city and their fans in the postseason — even with Kershaw in the rotation.

Don Mattingly, who was in his second season as Dodgers manager that autumn, and who always had his own unique, quirky way of speaking tongue-in-cheek to reporters, reiterated to the press that he felt the rotation may not have had the required talent of a playoff-caliber club.

“We added offense to this mix, but [the Dodgers’ philosophy] is still built on pitching and catching the ball,” Mattingly explained. “That’s still something we’ll find out. If that doesn’t hold up, then all the offense in the world is not enough.”

Indeed, things are a bit different today, chiefly because of new ownership and a fresh regime in the front office. And the management crew should certainly be applauded for not dumping its best talent on the farm during a trading period that was undoubtedly a seller’s market with asking prices for impact players having gone through the roof.

And instead of waving the white towel on the season, current general manager Farhan Zaidi was confident enough in a few of his moves to reflect a bit of retrospective boasting.

Rich Hill, just from a pure performance standpoint, was as good or better than any starting pitcher who was traded today or in the last week or so,” Zaidi said.

Hill being the same player who was throwing in independent league last season and who has missed the past two weeks with a blister on his left middle throwing finger.

Nobody’s giving up on the season just yet, and we all could be surprised by an awe-inspired, overachieving club that plays deep into October, led by the Best Pitcher in the Universe. After all, that’s why the game is played on the field and not on paper.

But without a healthy Kershaw in the rotation, based on past advanced statistical analysis and historical performances alone, Dodgers fans may be in for another year of disappointment when the 2016 postseason is at its peak about nine weeks from now with the Boys in Blue having already gone home.


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