Real or Not? Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers find their new 'low'

CHICAGO -- By the tone of the postgame questions directed at Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and star pitcher Clayton Kershaw, you would have thought he had just gotten rocked. In a very real way, the fact that the questions took the form they did was a terrific compliment.

Kershaw shut out the Chicago White Sox over seven innings, leaving a 1-0 lead to his impenetrable bullpen, and after Pedro Baez and Kenley Jansen did their work, that ended up as the final score. As they do on almost a nightly basis, the Dodgers won again.

"He didn't [have his best stuff]," Roberts said of Kershaw. "But still seven innings scoreless. He pitched out of a couple of jams. He made pitches when he need to."

That's 10 straight wins for the hottest team in baseball. How hot? I track Bill James' formula for measuring "team temperature" by which 72 degrees is the average. The Dodgers are at 130.9 degrees -- the highest mark of any team all season. The next-hottest team in the majors is the Washington Nationals at a relatively lukewarm 99.6 degrees.

"I was a little rusty tonight," Kershaw said as he answered more questions about his less-than-peak stuff. "Things got a little better as it went. Nine days off, definitely not something I'm used to. So I'm thankful to get out of that and get this win."

Los Angeles has won an astounding 30 of its past 34 games. Sometimes, you can adequately illustrate the amazing nature of a performance by simply layering on the facts, and that's what I'll do here:

  • According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Dodgers had never won 30 in a 34-game stretch. They hadn't won 29 of 33 since 1899 -- the year aspirin was patented.

  • The Dodgers are on pace to win 112 games -- the most by an NL team since the 1906 Cubs won 116.

  • L.A. has won its past 25 games started by either Kershaw or Alex Wood.

  • The Dodgers have won 14 straight Kershaw starts, the longest streak of his career and, according to Elias, the second-longest streak in franchise history.

And yet, we repeat: Kershaw did not have his best stuff Tuesday. He struggled early with fastball command. So, being Clayton Kershaw, he pivoted. According to ESPN Stats & Info, he threw fastballs on only 37 percent of his offerings -- his low figure for the season -- and threw 43 percent sliders, a season high. And it worked: Chicago whiffed on 73 percent of their whacks on Kershaw's slider, and he got a 57 percent chase rate on that pitch.

"He really wasn't synched up tonight," Roberts said. "But when he needed to make pitches, as he always does, he made them."

Kershaw is now 15-2 on the season. And in beating Chicago in his first appearance at the new Comiskey Park (aka Guaranteed Rate Field), he improved his career interleague ERA to 1.95: the best of any qualifying pitcher.

"Every night, we find a different way to win," Kershaw said.

Have we layered on enough details to get the point across? The Dodgers, and their Hall of Fame-bound ace, are really on top of their game. In some respects, they are only competing against themselves.

"With our club, one through 25, I know we're the best team when we take the field," Roberts said. "[The players] know that. We've got to stay focused on the process."

The tortoise and the hare. A guy with 30 homers faces a guy with an 8-plus ERA, so of course this happens:

The reference to the Aesop fable is, on one level, about creating false expectations based on superficial contrast. And when it comes to contrast, you don't have a starker example than when you pit the Bunyanesque rookie Aaron Judge against the "Big Sexy" Bartolo Colon in his Twins debut.

A tale of the tape, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:

Colon has been defying expectation for years. Last season, we all laughed and cried along when he hit his first big league homer for the Mets. And his whiff of Judge will certainly be one of the most memorable moments of this campaign. Colon spreads happiness wherever he goes.

Sadly though, this is no fable. The Twins are in a playoff race and need reliable starting pitching to cash in what still feels like a long-shot playoff push. Colon gave Minnesota only four innings, surrendering eight hits and four runs. He'll get another chance or two, one would figure, but the Twins don't need a character from a fairytale. They need quality innings.

Take him to the river. The Brewers have vowed to be unbowed by the Cubs' splashy acquisition of starter Jose Quintana, someone in whom owner Mark Attanasio admitted his club was also interested. Milwaukee went into the All-Star break with a surprising 5½-game bulge in the National League Central, their largest advantage in a race they've led for most of the season.

The Brewers haven't played badly since the break. They won two of three against the Phillies, dropping the series finale Sunday. Then they lost a tough 4-2 decision in Pittsburgh on Monday.

With the Cubs sprinting out the gate, you have to think Brewers fans were starting to squirm. Then Travis Shaw polluted the Allegheny River.

Shaw later improved to 10-for-13 in his career against Pirates starter Ivan Nova with a single. Milwaukee led 3-0 heading into the sixth inning and all seemed well, but then Junior Guerra surrendered homers to Francisco Cervelli and Josh Harrison to tie it up, followed by David Freese who drove in Andrew McCutchen and all of a sudden, the Brewers lost 4-3 -- their third straight defeat.

And just like that, Milwaukee's edge in the division is shrinking. It's down to 2½ over the Cubs, but now the Cardinals are just 4½ back and the resurgent Pirates are within five. This is going to be a very interesting division in the 12 days leading up to the trade deadline.

Also: Starling Marte started and led off for Pittsburgh in his first appearance since his 80-game suspension for PED use ended. He singled, walked and scored a run.

Out goes Frazier, in comes Rutherford. I'll admit ... I liked the symmetrical notion of the Yankees sending outfield prospect Clint Frazier to the White Sox in the major deal that sent Chicago's David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle and, of course, Todd Frazier to New York on Tuesday. But by all accounts, Blake Rutherford is yet another high-quality get for White Sox general manager Rick Hahn.

The list of prospects acquired by Hahn since December is dizzying. Because it's at hand, I'll use Baseball America's midseason top 100 rankings as a guide. Chicago now has eight of the players on that list:

1. Yoan Moncada, 2B

5. Eloy Jimenez, OF

20. Michael Kopech, RHP

36. Blake Rutherford, OF

45. Luis Robert, OF

59. Reynaldo Lopez, RHP

75. Lucas Giolito, RHP

83. Dylan Cease, RHP

As for Frazier, there are worse things for him than to be headed to the Big Apple. He's from Tom's River, New Jersey, and grew up a Yankees fan who, the very first time he stepped foot on a big league field, stood next to Derek Jeter.

"I remember the first game I went to was at the old Yankee Stadium," Frazier said. "It was Don Mattingly, I actually brought it up with Don a couple years ago about the home run he hit to win 1-0. He was like, 'Yeah, I remember that day, I remember the pitcher's name.' I looked it up and he remembered it like it was yesterday. I remember the upper deck was shaking. To call New York my home now is pretty surreal."

Burying the lede. After Hahn made his opening statements about Tuesday's big trade, he said, "I guess I buried the lede here." He was referring to his next announcement -- one that should have White Sox fans excited that, perhaps, the parade of prospects they've been hearing about might finally start to arrive.

Moncada (Baseball America's current No. 1 overall prospect) will be summoned from Triple-A Chartlotte to play in Wednesday's game against the Dodgers. According to Hahn, expect to see plenty of Moncada over the rest of the season.

"We're not bringing him in here to sit," Hahn said. "We're bringing him here to continue the development that needs to take place in Chicago. He still has work to do. He's still very young. But we feel that he's ready for that next challenge at the big league level. There are going to be growing pains. He's not a finished product."

The 22-year-old hit .282 with 12 homers, 36 RBIs and a .377 on-base percentage for Charlotte.

Get well soon, Carlos. If the regular season were all that mattered, the Astros would almost certainly be just fine if Carlos Correa didn't play another inning. That's the luxury of enjoying a 15-plus game advantage in the third week of July. They should be fine muddled along with Marwin Gonzalez filling in at shortstop, and Alex Bregman sliding over, etc.

It's a loaded team with plenty of position player depth. Gonzalez has plus-8 defensive runs saved while playing shortstop during his career, per baseball-reference.com, and Correa is a modest plus-1 this season. And since Gonzalez (161 weight runs created, per FanGraphs) has actually outhit Correa (158), the Astros should be fine at the six hole. In fact, according to ESPN Stats & Info, Gonzalez has now reached base in 22 straight games, tied with Jorge Bonifacio of the Royals for the longest active on base streak in baseball.

You'd certainly expect Correa to be better than Gonzalez going forward, perhaps exponentially better, but there is no reason to expect a crash either offensively or defensively because of Correa's injury. Houston will have to dig a little deeper into its outfield depth if Gonzalez starts moving around less. But, still, the Astros remain on cruise control in the playoff race.

So it all comes down to a health watch, because you know the Astros will need Correa back in the lineup and functioning like the MVP candidate he was by the time October baseball ramps up to full speed. That makes the timeframe of 6-to-8 weeks for his return a bit anxiety-inducing. The outer edge of that range is starting to rub up against the end of the schedule and doesn't allow much wiggle room for setbacks in the recovery process.

Bottom line: The Astros have the luxury of time in allowing their young star to get healthy. But they don't have all the time in the world.