Clayton Kershaw's Return Significantly Impacts NL Landscape
Richard Mackson, USATSI

Clayton Kershaw will make a much-anticipated return from the DL on Friday, effectively altering the NL playoff picture.

Major league baseball has been missing a tremendous once-in-a-generation talent since late June.

The Los Angeles Dodgers will activate Clayton Kershaw — a man with three Cy Young awards, an MVP, and 685 strikeouts over his last 2.5 seasons — from the disabled list this Friday, inserting the 28-year-old into a phenomenal National League pennant race.

Given the circumstances of his return, the timing works to perfection for the Dodgers. For the southpaw, he cannot ask for a better way to make his stamp on a frustrating 2016 season.

On a fast track towards shattering regular season marks with an eye-popping, stupendous line, Kershaw’s season was derailed due to substantial back troubles. When he was sidelined, the six-time all-star was 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA, striking out 145 and walking just nine over 121 innings.

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Furthermore, opponents hit merely .185 against him — lefties at .152 — as he worked his way to an astounding 0.73 WHIP.

Coming off a 300 strikeout season which featured a 2.13 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP, he was somehow reaching new heights.

His 33 start projection entailed 299 strikeouts, 18 walks, six complete game shutouts, and a 23-4 win-loss split.

A finalized 16.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio would have been the greatest single-season mark in baseball history, shattering the previous high of 11.6 (Phil Hughes, 2014).

To put things lightly, Clayton Kershaw’s historic numbers were more than important to the Dodgers’ playoff aspirations.

However, astonishingly enough, LA is 35-24 (.593) since his injury surfaced. The team began to collectively win ballgames, the starting rotation’s circular nature commenced, and the Dodgers ultimately took off.

When he went down, to the disappointment of the baseball world, Los Angeles was eight games back of the red-hot, first-place, even-yeared San Francisco Giants. They had squandered three straight while the team in the Bay Area had taken eight of its last 10.

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Today, on September 5, they sit three games ahead of San Fran, possess a clear path to the postseason by way of the division crown, and stand to gain their horse back by the end of the week.

One may ask, “What’s the point? If the Dodgers are so stellar without Kershaw, how do they stand to gain?”

Well, right there lies the point. Los Angeles has gotten by smelling like roses.

Add a vintage Kershaw to a rotation currently anchored by the likes of Rich Hill and Kenta Maeda? Forget about it.

Not only does that stack up with a Giants team playing at a dismal 16-30 (.348) clip since the break, but it can essentially bury them if a state of Dodger dominance comes about.

If not, who possibly wants to face Kershaw in a one-game NL Wild Card play-in? Signing a season death warrant is an accurate equivalent.

A guy who has won the ERA title four of his last five years is more than an asset, he is a tremendous positive charge. In other words, he fuels an already functioning ship.

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The landscape of the NL West is certainly shifted, but the entire league takes a different shape as well. With the Cubs and Nationals standing as the current frontrunners, an effective Kershaw can place the Dodgers right into that conversation.

Additionally, it can eliminate some of the lesser “bubble” teams. All it does is provide an extra formidable obstacle for slightly above average clubs such as the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Mets.

Suddenly, a Kershaw-anchored staff stacks up with the likes of the Nats and Cubs, allowing Los Angeles to match a respective opponent step by step in a potential playoff series.

The Dodgers turn from a misunderstood solidified force into a National League powerhouse.

Of course, a lingering large factor is Kershaw’s continued health and durability. With that said, though, the unrushed nature of his return makes one feasibly believe that he is at or close to 100 percent.

As long as his body is in tip-top shape, production will ensue. To be completely frank, that has never been an issue for a starting pitcher on pace to be one of the greatest left-handers the game has ever seen.

The Dodgers are bringing back a man with a 2.39 career ERA and a 1.01 lifetime WHIP. Essentially no concern should persist.

All that should positively remain is a National League taken aback by fear.

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