The Los Angeles Dodgers' playoff chances could suffer a major blow if Clayton Kershaw is done for the rest of the 2012 season.
It was the second time in a week that Kershaw had been scratched from a start. He had his start on Sept. 9 pushed back two days and allowed only one run over seven innings when he did take the mound.
Kershaw will get a second opinion in New York on Tuesday. But it appears that he faces surgery to repair the damage in that right hip. If that's the case, according to the Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez, Kershaw could be sidelined until next May.
The Dodgers' chances of winning the National League's second wild-card bid are certainly slimmer without Kershaw. So it's probably presumptuous to discuss who would start a one-game playoff versus the Atlanta Braves.
Yet the Dodgers are only one game behind the Cardinals in the NL wild-card standings and can still make the postseason. So who would manager Don Mattingly start if they get that other wild-card spot?
Chris Capuano and Josh Beckett seem like the two most likely candidates. Capuano has pitched well for the Dodgers all season and would be a good choice. However, this is why the Dodgers acquired Beckett in their blockbuster deal with the Boston Red Sox. They needed another top pitcher to follow Kershaw in the starting rotation.
Though Beckett is having his worst season as a major leaguer, he should get the call to start the wild-card playoff and here's why.
All statistics mentioned here are current as of Sept. 17.
What They Don't Know Can Hurt Them
Capuano has had success against the Braves this season. In two starts versus Atlanta, he allowed four hits in 14.1 innings with 13 strikeouts and five walks.
That obviously demonstrates a record of success, something the Dodgers might prefer to rely upon going into a one-game playoff.
But the Braves haven't seen Beckett at all this season. Beckett hasn't faced Atlanta since 2009, pitching against a completely different lineup.
The flip-side of this, of course, is that Beckett isn't familiar with the Braves and might not have the same game plan as he would against a lineup he knows.
However, conventional wisdom gives the edge to the pitcher in this situation. The hitters have to adjust to the pitchers, not the other way around. In a one-game matchup, that's quite an advantage for Beckett and the Dodgers.
Slinging Strikeout Stuff
The Braves are a team that strikes out quite a bit. As a team, Atlanta has the fourth-most strikeouts in the National League this season.
Capuano has been an impressive strikeout pitcher this year, punching out 7.6 batters per nine innings. He was even better versus the Braves, averaging 8.2 strikeouts.
Overall, Beckett doesn't have as high a strikeout rate for the season. He's averaged 7.0 strikeouts per nine innings, which is on track to be the lowest rate of his career.
Since joining the Dodgers, however, Beckett has looked more like his old self. Against NL lineups, he's striking out 9.0 batters per game.
Granted, this is from a sample size of four games and 24 innings. But Beckett has 24 strikeouts in his four starts while Capuano has 12 during the same span. Both of them faced the Colorado Rockies, Arizona Diamondbacks, San Francisco Giants and St. Louis Cardinals as well.
A pitcher with strikeout stuff would be more formidable in a one-game playoff. Beckett is trending better in that area as the season progresses.
Facing the Big Game
Is big-game experience overrated? Maybe, but putting a pitcher on the mound who has faced playoff pressure before seems preferable to choosing one who hasn't.
Capuano hasn't pitched in the playoffs during his eight major league seasons. Compare that to Beckett, who's appeared in 14 postseason games, starting 13 of them.
Beckett hasn't pitched in the postseason since 2009, and his recent history in the playoffs isn't very good. In his last three postseason starts, he's allowed 18 runs in 21 innings. That's good for a 7.71 ERA.
But how about pitching Game 6 of a World Series? With the Florida Marlins in 2003, manager Jack McKeon started Beckett on three days rest. McKeon knew that Beckett gave his team the best chance to win, short rest or not.
Beckett justified his manager's faith in him, shutting out the New York Yankees in a complete-game gem. He allowed five hits while striking out nine batters, leading the Marlins to a shocking World Series championship.
OK, that was nine years ago and Beckett isn't the same pitcher anymore. But as Mattingly looks over his pitching staff for a guy to pitch a do-or-die game, someone with Beckett's postseason experience on his resume is going to be hard to ignore.
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