NCAA Football

It’s Clayton Kershaw or bust for the Dodgers this season

May 17, 2016

Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts laughed nervously when asked where his team would be without Clayton Kershaw.

“That’s cold sweats,” Roberts said. “I don’t go there.”

There’s a reason for that.

Once every five days, the Dodgers are nearly unbeatable, as they were Tuesday night, when Kershaw limited the Angels to one run over eight innings in a 5-1 victory at Dodger Stadium.

In the four days in between, they are one of the worst teams in the major leagues.

The Dodgers are 8-1 when Kershaw starts. They are 13-18 when he doesn’t. Their winning percentage of .419 in games started by pitchers other than Kershaw would place them at the very bottom of the National League West, lower than even the rebuilding San Diego Padres.

The former NL most valuable player has never been more valuable.

These are particularly disconcerting times for the Dodgers, as back problems are threatening to sideline All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, whose performance generally dictates the rate at which they score.

Roberts initially resisted the idea that the prospect of Gonzalez landing on the disabled list should scare him, only to reconsider a moment later.

“Maybe, scare, yeah,” Roberts said.

The Dodgers are fortunate they play in a mediocre division, as they are 21-19 but somehow only 11/2 games behind the first-place San Francisco Giants.

“We’re not playing as well as we need to,” Kershaw acknowledged. “We go in spurts, but not consistent yet, for sure.”

Kershaw is personally familiar with slow starts. Around this time last year, he was 2-3 with a 4.32 earned-run average.

Kershaw acknowledged he wasn’t as calm about his performance as people around him, who sounded convinced he was bound to regain his usual dominance.

“Panic,” is what he said he felt.

“Whenever I go through struggles, everybody else might be saying, ‘It’s OK, you’re going to work through it,’ ” Kershaw said. “But you’re still the one that has to work through it. You can’t assume it’s going to get better.

“It’s the same for the team. We can assume that because we have the talent to be better, but until we actually do it, for me, my mind-set can’t be that we’re just going to figure it out.”

Still, Kershaw wasn’t ready to call for the Dodgers to play with a greater sense of urgency, as he did when they were in the midst of a mid-season losing streak last year.

He said the urgency is there.

“I think all of us collectively are putting in the individual work that we need to figure it out,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one guy in that clubhouse that is struggling that’s going through the motions.”

Kershaw did his part Tuesday night, striking out 11 and walking none.

He has 10 or more strikeouts in his last six games, a franchise record streak. His strikeouts-to-walk ratio for the season is an astounding 22 to 1. He is now 6-1 with a 1.67 ERA.

But the number that matters to him most is 70, which signifies how many innings he has pitched. No pitcher in baseball has thrown more.

When most elite athletes speak of the athletes they admire most, they often point to other elite athletes. When Kershaw does, he names pitchers who were known as much, if not more, for being durable than being dominant, specifically former teammates such as Derek Lowe, Dan Haren and Zack Greinke.

“I respect longevity and consistency,” Kershaw said. “Not to say anyone can do it for one year, but I think there are a lot of guys who flame out in one, two, three years. I respect the guys like Derek Lowe, who was never on the DL for 15 years or whatever. Dan Haren was hurt for the second half of his career and still made every single start. Greinke’s been healthy his whole career. I respect that, guys who can make 30 starts a year, guys who can pitch 200 innings a year.”

Kershaw has pitched more than 200 innings in five of his last six seasons. He led the major leagues in innings pitched last season with 233 2/3.

“I just think it’s the hardest thing to do as a starting pitcher, do it year in and year out, be on that mound every fifth day no matter what,” he said.

Now, if the Dodgers can only discover some semblance of consistency in the other four days.

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