MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

Dodgers excited by October with a rested Kershaw

Lefty will face postseason without his usual 200-inning workload

Dodgers excited by October with a rested Kershaw

DENVER -- Don't ask the Dodgers how they have managed to turn an eight-game deficit in the National League West into a two-game lead over the Giants in the 64 days since Clayton Kershaw went on the disabled list with a ruptured disk in his back.

There's no way to explain the good news. And the news gets even better for the Dodgers.

With Kershaw coming off a promising two innings in a simulated game on Tuesday afternoon at Dodger Stadium, the expectation is he is now ready to go on a Minor League rehab assignment or be activated and inserted into the rotation with a limited workload.

Kershaw won't be at full strength until probably late September, and that's where the negatives turn into a positive.

The Dodgers could enter the postseason with a rested Kershaw just hitting his pitching peak, able to step in and assume the workhorse load in the Dodgers' quest to end a World Series championship drought that dates back to 1988, the longest for the franchise since it moved to Los Angeles in '58.

"That's an interesting thought," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "We've been focused on what's at hand, but that would be interesting."

And really it would be a salvation for the Dodgers in the postseason. They would have that foundation guy in a rotation that hasn't been the same without him.

Yes, heading into Tuesday night, the Dodgers had the second-best record in the NL (32-22) to the Cubs (35-21) since Kershaw has been sidelined, but it's been thanks to a lot of heavy lifting from an offense that ranks fourth in that time in the NL in runs scored (267) behind the Rockies, Nationals and Cubs.

The rotation? Oh, it's 23-17 but has an NL-worst 4.58 ERA. The starters have worked five innings or fewer in 34 of 54 games.

Get the picture?

Exactly. A Kershaw who isn't coming off his normal 200-inning regular season and who will have had four weeks or so of September to fine-tune himself.

"Obviously that would be a shot in the arm, to have a healthy Clayton Kershaw, but right now that's down the road," pitching coach Rick Honeycutt said. "We have had a few interruptions [in the rehab].

"We have all been doing this long enough to do day by day and hope for the best."

Kershaw's best is as good as it gets. He is 11-2 with a 1.79 ERA in 16 starts this season, and the Dodgers won all three of his no-decisions. Kershaw allowed more than two runs only twice in those 16 starts, and one of those times was in the 16th start, when the back injury flared up.

This is a guy who has won three NL Cy Young Awards and hasn't finished lower than third in the NL Cy Young Award voting the past five seasons. Kershaw also has worked 198 1/3 innings or more in each of the six previous seasons.

And that's what is different about this year. Kershaw worked 121 innings before being sidelined.

So put aside the memories of the Dodgers' past nine postseason failures, where they were a combined 17-31, eliminated in the NL Championship Series three times and the NL Division Series the other six. Kershaw has been a part of the past five postseasons and has an unKershaw-like 2-6 record and 4.59 ERA.

That's where this year is different. This year, Kershaw would go into October rested and ready -- if things go well in the next month.

Right now, however, the Dodgers' focus is on what to do next.

"He took a great step in the right direction," Friedman said of Kershaw's simulated against Minor League hitters. "He said he was not as sharp as he would like to be, but he's such a perfectionist."

Does Kershaw make a Minor League rehab start? Or do the Dodgers activate him and keep him on a tight pitches/innings limit as teams do in Spring Training? And they would have depth to back him up.

Rosters expand on Thursday, and teams can carry up to 40 players the rest of the regular season.

"I have to believe that as competitive a person as he is," Friedman said, "we have to balance the medical opinion [on the best approach] with how he feels and how we can get him back as quick as we can in the most responsible way possible."

After Tuesday's game was rained out in Denver, there are 31 games remaining in the regular season, and those can't be taken for granted. Not only could the Giants overtake them in the NL West, but the Pirates, Marlins and Mets are lurking behind the current Wild Card leaders, the Giants and Cardinals.

The Dodgers can't afford to take anything for granted down the stretch.

But nobody could blame them for being encouraged about what might be with a rested and healthy Kershaw ready in October.

Tracy Ringolsby is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.