Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers’ stunning turnaround

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

(Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

On June 21, Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw gave up four earned runs in five innings against San Diego, Los Angeles lost a listless 5-2 decision to the Padres, Kershaw fell to 5-5 on the season, and the Dodgers dropped 12 games under .500, entrenched in last place in the decidedly average National League West.

Monday at Colorado, Kershaw gave up five runs to the Rockies – his worst outing since that night two-and-a-half months earlier. But the Dodgers won anyway, because the Dodgers seem to always win anyway these days. In fact, they’re having one of the best second-half runs of all-time – and look very much like a favorite for the World Series.

Since falling to 30-42 on that night in June, the Dodgers have gone 53-14 – an astonishing .791 winning percentage. Since they scrambled to get back to .500 at the all-star break, they are even better: 36-9, .800 baseball.

According Baseball Reference, the best record after the all-star break belongs to the 1954 Cleveland Indians, who finished 55-16 (.775). The 2001 Oakland Athletics (58-17, .773) aren’t far behind.

Kershaw’s stellar season – he’s 9-3 with a 1.69 ERA since that loss to the Padres – is one prime reason for the turnaround. But he contributes just once every fifth day. The Dodgers have also been smart about how to build once the turnaround got started. There may not have been a better trade-deadline deal than Los Angeles’ acquisition of veteran Miami starter Ricky Nolasco, who has gone 7-1 with a 2.27 ERA for the Dodgers – helping the rotation to a major-league best 3.10 ERA. A potential postseason rotation of Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and Nolasco has combined to go 48-17 with a 2.48 ERA for Los Angeles.

Even the smaller moves the Dodgers have made have worked out. Brian Wilson, the former closer for the archrival Giants, sat out San Francisco’s run to the 2012 World Series title after having ligament replacement surgery in his right elbow that April. The Dodgers signed him July 31, and he since has shown he could be a contributor to a postseason bullpen – seven appearances in which he hasn’t given up a run. Michael Young, a seven-time all-star with the Rangers, was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia last week and could spell starters at all four infield positions.

All of this has made former stars seem expendable. Outfielder Matt Kemp, who led the NL in homers and RBI two years ago, has been in the minors rehabbing an injured ankle. After he went 0 for 18 in Class A, the Dodgers’ response: send him to Arizona for more work. Things with the big club are going just fine.

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