The Los Angeles Dodgers are once again baseball's best team and they will enter October as the World Series favorites. They enter Monday with a 106-47 record and a staggering plus-322 run differential. They are the first team in history to win at least 106 games in three consecutive full seasons, and they're likely to finish with the best run differential since the 1939 Yankees (plus-411).
Despite two trips to the injured list, lefty Clayton Kershaw has been a linchpin for the 2022 Dodgers, throwing 115 1/3 innings with a 2.42 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. On a rate basis, it is one of Kershaw's most effective seasons ever, though his days of being a 200-inning workhorse are over. Hip trouble sent him to the injured list in May and back trouble sidelined him in August.
Last offseason the 34-year-old Kershaw, who was coming off a season-ending elbow injury that created concerns he would need Tommy John surgery, was noncommittal about playing in 2022. That isn't the case now. Kershaw recently told the Los Angeles Times he is leaning toward playing in 2023, though he did stop short of saying so unequivocally.
"I do think I'm leaning towards playing over not, for sure. I hold the right to change my mind, but as of today, I think that I've got at least one more run," Kershaw told the Los Angeles Times. "... At the end of the day, pitching is tough on my back. There's no way around that. I can manage it, definitely, and maybe there's a time where it can last for eight months of the year and be good. I still think that's in there."
Kershaw has dealt with lower back trouble throughout his career. It sent him to the injured list in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, and again in 2022. Although Kershaw has never had surgery, those injured list stints add up to 172 days, nearly a full 186-day season. Typically, backs do not get better, they can only be managed through the season with treatment and rest.
At this point in his career Kershaw fits best as a very high-end 120-140 innings starter. If he gives his team more than that, great, but that would seem to the a reasonable expectation heading into a season now. Kershaw has not thrown more than 125 regular season innings since 2019 or more than 180 regular season innings since 2015.
Although it's easy to assume Kershaw and the Dodgers will reunite after the season, especially with Walker Buehler slated to miss 2023 following his second career Tommy John surgery, his hometown Texas Rangers are a possibility. Kershaw still makes his home in the Dallas area and the Rangers are expected to invest heavily in pitching this offseason. Kershaw on a one-year contract would be a nifty addition.
Either way, Kershaw's legacy is a secure -- he's a slam dunk first-ballot Hall of Famer -- and the only question is how long he wants to continue managing his back and chasing World Series rings. He won a ring in 2020 and the Dodgers have as good a chance as anyone to win another title in 2022. There's no reason to think that won't be the case again in 2023.