Sarah's Take: Brilliant Kershaw led L.A. through trials of '14

MVP candidate helped Dodgers over rough patches to NL West title

Sarah's Take: Brilliant Kershaw led L.A. through trials of '14

Fittingly, in front of the 10th sellout crowd of the year chanting "MVP" while Clayton Kershaw again dominated the San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers became the National League West Division champions Wednesday night.

In a year when everyone expected the Dodgers to win their division, they at times looked like they didn't belong in the postseason. However, they overcame their trials and tribulations to give Dodgers fans a season to remember. No matter what happens in the playoffs, the 2014 season must be considered a success for the Dodgers.

Yes, everything didn't go according to the plan envisioned by general manager Ned Colletti, but nothing does in baseball.

For the whole season, the Dodgers have battled pitching problems, something foreign in Los Angeles. This season, they couldn't seem to get a hit with the bases loaded, even though they did it Wednesday night as the Giants' bullpen fell apart. For the first two months of the season, the Dodgers' defense struggled, causing them to lose many games that they should have won.

Everything came together for the Dodgers in late June, and they never looked back. Early in the year, after the Australian trip to open the regular season against the D-backs, Kershaw and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who both pitched in Australia, missed a month with inflammation near their pitching shoulders. These injuries worried the Dodgers needlessly. Although Ryu has had the same issue in September, he should be ready for the playoffs.

At the beginning of this month, I wrote that I didn't believe any pitcher should win his league's MVP award. As usual, when I make generalizations about baseball, I look foolish. Kershaw illustrated Wednesday night why he deserves the NL MVP Award.

Although Kershaw allowed eight hits, he gave up only one run over eight innings while striking out 11. He made an unbelievable catch to help the Dodgers get out of a troublesome inning. In the fifth, with Carl Crawford representing the tying run on third and two outs, Kershaw hit the first triple of his career.

Although he missed April with inflammation in his back near the shoulder blade, he leads the Majors in wins with 21, ERA with 1.77, and WHIP (0.862). He leads the NL in strikeouts (239) and complete games (six). He has walked only 31 in 198 1/3 innings. He did lose three games, mostly because he didn't get adequate offensive support.

Practically every outing, Kershaw made a fabulous defensive play and contributed to the offense. For the second consecutive year, he won the prestigious Roy Campanella Award given to the most inspirational Dodger, which is chosen by teammates and coaches. In June, he pitched the first no-hitter of his career, and some say it was the most dominating no-hitter in baseball history. Undoubtedly, the Dodgers would have been an ordinary team without the brilliance of Mr. Kershaw.

Most people, including me, have overlooked the contributions of Crawford. After all, when the Dodgers obtained him from the Boston Red Sox, he had just had Tommy John elbow surgery. At no time last year was he completely healthy. He didn't play up to our lofty expectations, prompted by his hefty contract, and he didn't perform well in the leadoff position. He isn't that kind of player.

Despite the uncertainty of the crowded Dodgers outfield at the beginning of the year, Crawford never complained about the possibility of a lack of playing time. At the start of the season, he couldn't buy a hit, but slowly he started to warm up offensively until late May when he sprained his left ankle while playing left field. Upon his return, many people questioned whether he would get adequate playing time with Matt Kemp playing left.

Immediately after the All-Star break, manager Don Mattingly decided to play Kemp in right, his original position when he came to the Majors in 2006, and he looked much more comfortable there than in left. This allowed Crawford to share time in left with Andre Ethier, but soon it was apparent that Crawford was the superior offensive producer.

Since Aug. 10, Crawford has hit almost .400. He brings speed and an ability to steal bases to the middle of the lineup. On Wednesday night, he had an important double that scored two runs and gave the Dodgers a cushion, and it came against Javier Lopez, who eats up left-handed batters.

Watching Yasiel Puig mature into an exciting player this season has also been enjoyable. In June 2013, he burst onto the Major League scene, demanding attention. He played brilliantly, but sometimes in his exuberance, he made frustrating mistakes. This season, he has made less of those mistakes, even though he changed from right to center field. On Wednesday night, though he had difficulty making contact during the series against the Giants, he broke the tie with a long opposite-field home run. He also cut down a runner trying to take an extra base at third.

Overcoming a 9 1/2-game deficit at the beginning of June to win their second consecutive NL West title took a complete team effort. This is what the Dodgers will need in the playoffs if they want to go to the World Series.

Sarah D. Morris is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.