Kershaw left after two innings because of soreness in his lower back and is headed for the disabled list. Strasburg also left after two innings as a precautionary measure because of arm stiffness. We'll learn more about both pitchers as the week progresses, but if either situation proves serious, it should certainly increase the volume of calls made to Rangers general manager Jon Daniels as the Dodgers and Nationals inquire about Yu Darvish.
It'll make for a hectic eight days for all concerned. The Rangers are 48-50 and Darvish is a free agent, but they're still just 2½ games out in the American League wild-card race and would love to re-sign their ace in the offseason. On the other hand, you have a chance to extract a premium prospect for what will probably be a failed playoff run; plus, you could do what the Yankees did with Aroldis Chapman -- trade him and then re-sign him.
The Dodgers, who might have been in the market for a starting pitcher anyway, will now have to make an educated guess on Kershaw's back and his return date. After the game, the lefty said, "Obviously, I'm not optimistic, just because I got taken out of the game," although he didn't want to compare this injury to the herniated disk that forced him to miss two-plus months last season. He was scheduled for tests with the team's back specialist later Sunday.
The Nationals, meanwhile, downplayed Strasburg's exit after he threw 51 pitches and walked three batters, with Dusty Baker saying Strasburg had trouble getting loose. Still, this is a guy with an extensive history of injuries (eight DL stints since 2010), so it has to be a cause for concern. Both teams have huge leads in their respective divisions, so they can afford to be as cautious as possible with both guys. But that July 31 date exacerbates the need to make a decision on their long-term health heading into October.
If the Rangers do end up trading Darvish, an ace-level starter of his ability is more valuable to a team already locked into a division title, since you know you're going to get one or two starts from him in a five-game series and potentially two in a seven-game series. A wild-card contender could miss the playoffs altogether or be one-and-done, so a division leader should be willing to give up more for Darvish since there's more potential value to be extracted from him.
The Dodgers' playoff rotation would be Kershaw, Alex Wood, Rich Hill and Brandon McCarthy (who just hit the DL because of a blister problem) or Kenta Maeda. Though the Dodgers lead the majors in rotation ERA, as good as Wood has been, he has gone more than six innings only three times in 15 starts. In the changing landscape of postseason pitching, Hill, McCarthy and Maeda are starters from whom you would hope to get five innings in the postseason. Without Kershaw to carry a bigger workload, that would transfer a huge burden to the bullpen.
The Nationals, third in the majors in rotation ERA, would line up with the one-two punch of Max Scherzer and Strasburg, plus Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark. Given the state of their bullpen -- even with the recent acquisition of Ryan Madson and Sean Doolittle -- they're a team that needs more innings from their starters, not fewer. Darvish would be an even bigger upgrade for the Nationals given Roark's inconsistency this season (4.83 ERA).
So the demand for Darvish might have just increased, along with the price to acquire him. The odds now have to lean to the Rangers making a trade.
One team that doesn't need a starter: The Indians have to be feeling good about the state of their rotation after what happened the past two days. Corey Kluber was pushed back from a scheduled Friday start due to a stiff neck, but the only thing he caused Sunday was whiplash to Blue Jays hitters after striking out 14 in 7⅔ innings, tying the second-best K total of his career. Since returning from the DL on June 1, he's 5-1 in 10 starts with a 1.52 ERA, 108 strikeouts in 71 innings and a .163 average allowed. He's as good as any pitcher right now.
The even bigger result was Danny Salazar's return Saturday, his first start since May 27. He threw seven scoreless innings, giving up only one hit and no walks with eight strikeouts. He threw 72 percent fastballs, reflecting the command and dominance he had of his heater. Suddenly, a rotation of Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Salazar and Mike Clevinger (2.73 ERA) looks like the best in baseball.
Of course, the Indians don't have a big lead like the Dodgers or Nationals, so they might be the one team looking to trade for some offense. ESPN's Buster Olney mentioned that with Carlos Santana continuing to struggle (.740 OPS), maybe the Indians go after Yonder Alonso or another first baseman. Rookie center fielder Bradley Zimmer has cooled down after a hot start (.557 OPS in July with a 31 percent strikeout rate). Jason Kipnis is on the DL. The Indians remain the favorite in the AL Central with or without a deal, but it seems as if adding Alonso would be a good move.
Astros see Zach Britton up close and personal: Britton closed out Baltimore's 9-7 win over Houston, striking out two to record his first save since returning from the DL in early July after missing two months because of a sore elbow. He did walk Marwin Gonzalez but hit 97 mph, and his trademark sinker showed good life. Olney mentioned a couple of days ago that Houston was interested in Britton, and that makes sense if the Astros are willing to take the chance on his health. Their top relievers all are right-handed, plus the bullpen hasn't been as good the past couple of months, including blowing a 7-6 lead Sunday:
April: 2.91 ERA
May: 3.88 ERA
June: 5.14 ERA
July: 4.48 ERA
Given some uncertainty in the Houston rotation -- Lance McCullers Jr. had his third straight poor start Sunday, and Dallas Keuchel remains on the DL -- adding even more bullpen depth is a necessity, especially if the Astros don't acquire a starter like Darvish or Sonny Gray. Think of the advantage of having a healthy Britton matching up in the World Series against all those lefty hitters on the Nationals or Dodgers ...
Red Sox call up Rafael Devers: The club's top prospect will join the team Monday in Seattle, and John Farrell said Devers will make his first start Tuesday against Felix Hernandez. The plan is for Devers to start against right-handers initially, with Deven Marrero playing against lefties. After posting a .944 OPS in Double-A, Devers hit .400 with two home runs in nine games at Triple-A Pawtucket. Red Sox third basemen are hitting .228/.280/.320, ranking last in the majors in wOBA; Devers should certainly be an improvement on that production.
Hitting a baseball isn't easy. So this happened:
lol the GCL nationals no hit the GCL marlins in both games of their doubleheader today pic.twitter.com/0Zk3qqUBct
— MLB Statistics (@MLBRandomStats) July 23, 2017
— Cut4 (@Cut4) July 23, 2017
I don't want to say the ball is juiced, but I think we're going to see a one-handed, broken-bat home run as a player falls to his knee before the season is over.