Daily Distractions: Who are the Dodgers without Clayton Kershaw?

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw will start tomorrow against the Washington Nationals. (Associated Press photo)

Since the start of the 2009 season until a month ago, the Dodgers have had the luxury of a healthy Clayton Kershaw at all times. In terms of fWAR, Kershaw has been the National League’s best pitcher during that time period. Being healthy helps a player’s WAR and he certainly helps a team’s won-loss total.

But how much? Who are the Dodgers without their best pitcher? Until recently, that’s been hard to say.

Speaking last August about Kershaw’s credentials for the National League Most Valuable Player Award, Don Mattingly said that “as a manager you see how important (he) is every fifth day. He goes deep into games, saves your bullpen, stops losing streaks, extends winning streaks. you can’t hardly put it — it’s just big. He’s got to be considered.”

It’s been 45 days since Kershaw last pitched. In that time, their run differential is plus-9, their record is 17-14, and their bullpen is taxed. Only the Arizona Diamondbacks have gotten more innings out of their bullpen this season, and the Diamondbacks have played two more games. The Dodgers have needed more innings from their relievers on a per-game basis than any major-league team. That’s partly a function of their eight extra-inning games, which leads the major leagues.

It’s also a function of Kershaw’s absence. Last year, the burden that Kershaw took off the Dodgers’ bullpen was something Mattingly had to imagine; this year it is very real. The proof is in the numbers. While the other starters have picked up the slack (they’re 13-5 with a 3.06 ERA, sixth in MLB), the Dodger bullpen has exuded mediocrity. Their 3.79 ERA ranks 15th and they’re going unusually deep into counts against opposing batters. Only three major-league bullpens are averaging more pitches per plate appearance than the Dodgers’. Their high innings-pitched total doesn’t even tell the full story.

How much impact can Kershaw have on an entire pitching staff — an entire team? We’ll check back in another 45 days.

According to an interview Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti did with ESPN, Kershaw will be cleared to throw 100 pitches tomorrow.

“I think he looked sharper in the two rehab games,” Colletti said, “than he did in Australia.”

Kershaw allowed one run in 6 ⅔ innings in Australia.

Some bullet points for a Cinco De Mayo:

• One more from that Colletti interview, on Hyun-Jin Ryu’s shoulder: “There doesn’t seem to be anything going on there. It’s tender, so we shut him down. We’ll know in a few days.”

CBSsports.com analyzed Dee Gordon‘s renaissance. DodgersDigest.com analyzes Gordon’s plate discipline.

J.P. Howell produced one of baseball’s wildest pitches and wildest swings in April.

• Thanks to the last couple years, the Dodgers cracked the top 10 in BaseballAmerica.com’s list of teams with the most international prospects. The list doesn’t even include Yasiel Puig.

BA also reports that the Dodgers signed another Cuban player to a minor-league deal.

• Can Joc Pederson (.282 vs. left-handers, .446 vs. right-handers) handle left-handed pitching at the next level? Via Examiner.com: “He’s had some good ABs against lefties and struggled a little bit on some nastier lefties,” (Albuquerque manager Damon) Berryhill said. “But we’re not really concerned with him facing lefty-lefty. It’s something that you know the more opportunity he gets, the better he’s getting.”

• Rachel Robinson and Don Zimmer have been elected to the Baseball Reliquary’s Shrine of the Eternals, along with former Cardinal legend Dizzy Dean, writes DodgerInsider.com.

• What one major-league team is doing to get ahead of the injury-prevention curve might surprise you.

• The Reagan Library in Simi Valley is hosting a historical baseball exhibit that runs through Sept. 4. The exhibit features more than 700 artifacts including bats, balls, gloves, cards and artwork dating to the 19th century. A special section features the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers and their legacy in Los Angeles.

• The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger has a new album out, Midnight Sun. As a longtime Sean Lennon fan, it’s been interesting to hear mainstream indie-rock circle back to some of the sounds he was throwing out 15 years ago. GOASTT started as a folk project, but now is circling back to the same psychedlic rock that inspired Lennon but didn’t really (re)explode until Tame Impala, the Holydrug Couple, et. al. But hey, judge for yourself. This new cut, a live cover of “Long Gone,” isn’t on the album but will either whet your appetite or tell you to move along.

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