Stung by a rash of injuries early in the season, the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers had just enough depth to keep their head above water in the NL West race until things finally started to come together in mid-June. Within two months, they were well on their way to a division title and had established themselves as clear World Series contenders.
The list of players who missed time during the team's rough 30-42 start is star-studded. Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Carl Crawford, Zack Greinke, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp all spent time on the disabled list.
What they didn't have to overcome, though, was the loss of ace Clayton Kershaw, who was on his way to winning his second Cy Young award in three seasons. That might not be the case for the 2014 Dodgers.
After a stellar performance in his first start of the season—Kershaw held the Arizona Diamondbacks to one earned run in 6.2 innings while walking one hitter and striking out seven in the Dodgers' 3-1 Opening Day victory in Australia last weekend—the 26-year-old left-hander returned from Sydney with back inflammation. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list, retroactive to March 23.
While he could technically return during the team's two-game home series against the Detroit Tigers on April 8-9, Kershaw (pictured) doesn't know when he'll be able to return, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times.
“I can't pitch right now, so I'm going to have to take a few extra days. It's frustrating,” Kershaw said. “I've been hurt before, but I kind of knew when I'd be able to pitch."
A recent tweet by Buster Olney of ESPN.com paints a picture that should be very concerning to the Dodgers:
Best way to describe situation with Clayton Kershaw: Uncertain. Has the same type of injury as Jurickson Profar. Return date is unknown.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) March 31, 2014
Olney is referring to Texas Rangers second baseman Jurickson Profar, who is expected to miss 10 to 12 weeks with what has been described as a tear in his shoulder area. If Kershaw missed a good portion of the first half, the Dodgers would have a gaping hole to fill in their rotation.
Losing Kershaw for an extended period of time would make it very difficult for the Dodgers to avoid another disastrous stint that could leave them at the bottom of the division once more.
But if Hyun-Jin Ryu's first two starts of 2014 are any indication, this team might still be capable of being a very good ballclub now and ready to dominate again once its ace returns.
After tossing two-hit ball over five shutout innings during the team's 7-5 victory in the second game of the Diamondbacks series, Ryu extended his scoreless streak to 12 by shutting out the San Diego Padres for seven innings on Sunday night.
The 27-year-old Ryu, after being on the ropes in the first two innings, was masterful the rest of the way. He completed his night by inducing an inning-ending double play after a walk that broke a string of 16 consecutive batters retired. His team was leading 1-0, and he was in line for his second win of the season in only three games.
At just 88 pitches, Ryu would've normally been on track for a complete-game shutout. But at this point of the season, he wasn't quite ready to go the distance.
Hyun-jin Ryu said he suggested to Mattingly that he exit after 7 innings because he was feeling tired in the 7th— Pedro Moura (@pedromoura) March 31, 2014
Ryu's early departure resulted in a come-from-behind victory for the Padres, who scored three runs off setup man Brian Wilson in the eighth inning.
If Ryu is going to be the ace the Dodgers need while Kershaw is out, he'll need to give them at least eight innings on occasion. Kershaw completed eight innings 12 times in 2013. Ryu completed eight innings only two times.
Of course, the Dodgers will need to step it up in several different areas of the ballclub—the bullpen could be of particular concern after Wilson's implosion on Sunday night—but Ryu continuing to put up zeroes while pitching deeper into games would certainly go a long way in his team avoiding another disappointing start to the season.