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By Jon Weisman
One month ago today, Clayton Kershaw was heading into a rain-soaked May 23 start at Philadelphia with a 4.43 ERA in only 22 1/3 innings and the thought of his fourth straight All-Star Game far from anyone’s mind.
Then Kershaw dampened the Phillies with six shutout frames, starting a personal run of 42 innings with a 1.50 ERA and 58 strikeouts against 29 baserunners (13 singles, eight doubles, three homers, five walks). That’s right: a 2:1 ratio of strikeouts to baserunners.
To put that in perspective, no starting pitcher in MLB history has ever had such a ratio over an entire season. (It helps to throw a near-perfect game into the mix.)
Aside from reclaiming his position as the backbone of the Dodger rotation, Kershaw’s return to top form has made the week before the All-Star Break considerably more interesting for the Dodger starting rotation.
Every Dodger starting pitcher got an extra day of rest June 19, ahead of a stretch of 17 games in 17 days through July 6. Los Angeles then has an off day July 7, followed by six games before four days off for the All-Star Break.
Currently, Kershaw is on schedule to start games on June 24 (Tuesday), June 29 (Sunday), July 4 and July 10. Then, in theory, Kershaw would not pitch in a regular-season game until July 18 — seven days’ rest — when the Dodgers open the second half of the season in St. Louis.
Alternatively, the Dodgers could skip one of their other four starters to allow Kershaw to sneak in an extra start before the All-Star Game, pitching on regular rest July 9 at Detroit and then making a short start on three days’ rest July 13 at home against San Diego. (Full disclosure: When I first conceived this post, I incorrectly calculated that Kershaw would be in four days’ rest if he started on July 13.)
In theory, Kershaw could even pitch consecutive regular season games, bookending the All-Star festivities with starts on July 13 and July 18 (and sitting out the best-in-show exhibition in between), though the Dodgers’ disinclination to do something similar after Australia doesn’t support that happening.
For now, this is one big rhetorical question, that the Dodgers couldn’t, shouldn’t and wouldn’t answer for a while. But a pivotal factor in all this is how important it is for Kershaw, if selected, to actually pitch in the Midsummer Classic.
The other thing is that Kershaw is hardly the only Dodger starting pitcher who will receive All-Star consideration. The guy pitching for the Dodgers tonight, Zack Greinke, has probably been the Dodgers’ leading contender for most of 2014, though his ERA in June has been a relatively modest 3.60. Josh Beckett, third in the NL with a 2.28 ERA (despite an xFIP of 3.44) will certainly get a long look if he keeps this up, and even Hyun-Jin Ryu (3.06 ERA) retains an outside shot.
Side note: Kershaw, currently eighth in the National League in ERA (but first in FIP) among pitchers with at least 60 innings, needs to have at least one inning per team game played to be truly eligible in the rate races. If he averages seven innings per start and remains on schedule, he’d become eligible for the ERA lead after the Dodgers’ 98th game, which happens to be their first one after the All-Star Break, July 18 in St. Louis.