The Tampa Bay Rays are an outstanding team, a club that has played very well over the last month and would be a playoff team if the season ended today. They are a team that is anything but a pushover… and they just got swept out of town by a Dodger team that moved to 7.5 games up in the division, 37-8 in their last 45, and apparently can’t be stopped by anyone or anything, .
That especially goes for Clayton Kershaw, who is pushing the “hey, maybe he should be MVP talk” from fun barroom discussion to no, really, maybe he should be MVP.
Take, for example, the bottom of the second inning. After Kershaw breezed through the first two frames, Andre Ethier & A.J. Ellis each singled off Jeremy Hellickson to lead off the inning. Juan Uribe came up with no one on… and bunted, inexplicably. For a hit? To sacrifice ahead of Dee Gordon and Kershaw? I have no idea what was going through his head, including whether it was his idea or if it came from the bench, but it was ludicrous. (Update: Mattingly said Uribe did so on his own. Phew.)
Dee Gordon struck out for the second out — more on him in a second, obviously — and up stepped Kershaw, as we all prepared our “how to turn two on, none out into zero runs in three easy steps” jokes. Kershaw, perhaps mindful of how little support his team has given him lately, took matters into his own hands with a smashed single through the right side, plating two. Carl Crawford singled through Ryan Roberts, then Kershaw came around when Mark Ellis doubled to deep left (one of his three hits, including a homer), and that was more than the mighty Kershaw would need. (He would score again in the fourth after reaching on a failed fielder’s choice, then coming around on an Adrian Gonzalez double.)
Of course, Kershaw gets paid for what he does on the mound, and he was once again magnificent in allowing just three hits and two runs (one earned) over eight. Kershaw didn’t even allow a hit until the fifth, and had his defense not failed him with four errors behind him, he might well have completed it himself. Each of the first two Rays to reach via error were immediately erased via double play, and he managed to drop his already spectacular ERA to 1.88. Pay this man all of the money, please.
This all came despite Gordon having what is probably the most Dee Gordon game ever. Gordon made what was an admittedly nice defensive play in the early innings, then struck out in that big spot in the second. He then used his outstanding speed to get on via a bunt in the fourth and an infield single in the seventh, around another whiff in the fifth. But he also made an error in the third… and another in the sixth… and another in the eighth. It was an embarrassing night for him, and frankly I’ll be surprised if Nick Punto doesn’t start every game until Hanley Ramirez is ready.
Really, this felt like a playoff game early on. Sure, the fact that a rarely-seen quality American League club was in town played into that sense of excitement somewhat, as did the national ESPN broadcast in front of a sellout crowd with Kershaw on the mound. But it also feels like that because this team is not only well on their way to October, they’re primed to make some serious noise there. As long as there’s Kershaw, there’s hope.