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If Kershaw is Done, the Dodgers are Done; Here’s How Bettors can Capitalize [UPDATED]

The Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw delivering a pitch.
Clayton Kershaw was noticeably diminished in his return from a biceps injury and exited early with back tightness, leaving the Dodgers in more trouble than they were already in. Photo by Arturo Pardavila III (flickr) [CC License].
  • In his return from the DL, Clayton Kershaw barely hit 90 MPH and left after five innings with back tightness. 
  • If Kershaw is no longer his dominant self, the Dodgers — currently four games back in the NL West — are in trouble. 
  • How can bettors leverage a potentially down year for Los Angeles?

*Update 6:50 ET, June 1: Dodgers placed Kershaw on the 10-day DL with a back strain.

There’s little debate that Clayton Kershaw is the greatest (regular season) pitcher of his generation. He owns a 2.37 career ERA, a number that he’s lowered in each of his 10 seasons to date, and a 1.01 WHIP. Both of those figures are first among active pitchers, better than Chris Sale, better than Max Scherzer, better than Corey Kluber. The list goes on.

He’s also shown remarkable durability, starting at least 27 games in eight of the last nine years.

But all of the dominance may be coming to a crashing halt in Sandy Koufax-like fashion, and if it does, LA’s World Series hopes will come crashing down with it.

Yesterday, Kershaw returned from a month-long layoff due to a biceps injury and the mood of Dodger fans quickly turned from jubilant to confused to petrified.

While his line looked good at the end of the night (5.0 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 5 Ks), his fastball barely touched 90 MPH, well down from the nearly 92 MPH he was averaging pre-injury, which was itself down from past years.

Year Kershaw’s Avg. Fastball Velocity
2015 94.2 MPH
2016 93.4 MPH
2017 92.9 MPH
2018 pre-injury 91.9 MPH
2018 post-injury <90 MPH

He was visibly weaker and forced to rely on breaking pitches an unprecedented amount.

Then, after just five innings, he was pulled from the game with back problems, something that’s cost him nearly four months of work over the last two years. (He wound up with a no-decision in a 2-1 loss to the Phillies.)

He’s scheduled for an MRI today and anxiety levels in Dodgerville now rival Piglet during a job interview.

While there’s no good time to lose a player like Clayton Kershaw, now is a particularly bad time for LA.

The Dodgers (26-30) were just starting to recover from a lethargic, injury-plagued start to the season, inching closer to the Rockies (30-26) in the stagnating NL West. Kershaw’s return was supposed to ease the burden on Ross Stripling (3-2, 1.68 ERA, 1.138 WHIP) and rookie Walker Buehler (3-1, 2.20 ERA, 0.902 WHIP), who can’t reasonably be expected to continue their lightning fast starts.

It was also supposed to make up for Kenta Maeda (4-4, 3.61 ERA, 1.280 WHIP) landing on the DL earlier in the week, and give Rich Hill (1-2, 6.20 ERA, 1.740 WHIP) more time to recover from blister issues and get back to his prior form.

The likely outcome for Kershaw is either that he goes back on the DL or battles through the pain as a diminished version of his once dominant self. (A plus fastball is a necessary part of Kershaw’s pitch mix if he’s going to remain the perennial Cy Young contender we’ve come to know.)

The Dodgers can’t afford Option A or Option B.

As our 2018 World Series futures tracker shows, online sportsbooks had already moved the Dodgers way down from where they started the year. Once as short as +550, they are now at +1800 (on average), recognizing the tough uphill climb the team faces, needing to close a four-game deficit with a starting rotation that’s at half capacity.

Realistically, +1800 is not long enough.

Without a dominant Kershaw, LA is going to struggle to make up the necessary ground in the NL West. They currently trail not only the Rockies, but also the Diamondbacks and Giants, both of whom will be getting their own stars back in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, the health of the Dodgers continues to trend in the opposite direction.

The best way for bettors to capitalize on the Dodgers’ hard luck isn’t by backing another NL West team to win the World Series, though. BetOnline currently has division title futures available, and they still have the Dodgers as the favorite to win the West.

All three of the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants have a realistic chance to win this division. Right now, you could bet $100 on all three and come out ahead if any one of them wins the West, as shown in the chart below.

Team   BetOnline’s odds to win NL West Your wagers Your profit/loss if they win the NL West
LA Dodgers +150 $0 -$300
Arizona Diamondbacks +225 $100 +$25
Colorado Rockies +300 $100 +$100
San Francisco Giants +700 $100 +$500
San Diego Padres +10000 $0 -$300

If you make that bet, the best outcome is for the Giants to take the division title.

Is that the most likely outcome? No.

Is it plausible? Yes.

San Francisco has stayed in the race without Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto for most of the year, and now Mad-Bum is nearing a return. Plus, management is committed to being competitive this year, as evidenced by the offseason acquisitions of veterans like Andrew McCutchen and Evan Longoria, meaning additional assets could be coming through the doors of AT&T Park at the deadline.

With the emergence of Brandon Belt as a bona fide MVP contender — he’s hitting .309 with a .954 OPS, 11 HR, and 31 RBI, and sits ninth in the MLB in WAR at 2.6 — Bruce Bochy’s squad should remain in the hunt all year. There is simply no flawless team in the West that’s going to run away and hide.

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Sascha was a hockey player in his youth, a lawyer in his capricious mid-20s, and has been SBD's lead oddsmaker/number cruncher since 2014. He writes about everything you can possibly put odds on. He's happiest when those things are football, baseball, hockey and basketball (in that order).