Is Kershaw ready to take the next step?

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kershaw-clayton-100328.jpgVicente Padilla has been named the Opening Day starter for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that right-thinking baseball fans expect that it will be Clayton Kershaw who assumes the mantle of ace. The early evidence certainly is pointing in that direction.

The 22-year-old left-hander dominated the Cincinnati Reds on Sunday, striking out seven while allowing one run in six innings. And he did it without having command of his curveball, relying instead of his fastball, plus two recently added tricks up his sleeve: Mr. Slider and Mr. Changeup.

From Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times:

According to a chart kept by pitching coach Rick Honeycutt, Kershaw threw seven of eight changeups for strikes and recorded three outs with the pitch. Seven of his nine sliders were thrown for strikes.

Relying on the two relatively new weapons in his arsenal, Kershaw was able to bide time until his curveball started dropping into strike zone.

Kershaw’s spring ERA sits at a nifty 1.69. And that comes on the heels of his 2010 campaign in which he was only 8-8, but with a 2.79 ERA and 185 strikeouts in 171 innings.

The potential has always been there, enticing and sometimes dazzling. Is this the year he takes the next step? The signs are certainly promising. Now, if he can just be a little more efficient …

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Jackie Bradley, Jr. named ALCS MVP

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Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley, Jr. was named the Most Valuable Player of the American League Championship Series after his club punched its ticket to the World Series on Thursday night against the Astros.

Coincidentally, the Astros’ Game 5 starter Justin Verlander was ALCS MVP last year en route to a championship.

Bradley went 0-for-3 with a walk in Thursday’s Game 5, but he hit a three-run double in Game 2, a grand slam in Game 3, and a go-ahead two-run home run in Game 4. That’s nine RBI and three extra-base hits across five games. He also drew four walks.

Though Bradley had a solid regular season, he was not near the top of the list most people would’ve expected to win ALCS MVP heading into the series. During the season, he hit .234/.314/.403 with 13 home runs, 59 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 17 stolen bases in 535 plate appearances.