COMMENTARY | Even as other stars falter for the Los Angeles Dodgers and the season increasingly feels like a lost cause, every fifth game Clayton Kershaw steps to the mound and all is well for the Dodgers.
Every time Kershaw has the ball in his hands, it is must-see TV. The young lefty is on pace far a Hall of Fame career and shows no sign of slowing down.
Kershaw is just 3-2, but has started the 2013 season on a Pedro-Martinez-like tear.
Kershaw started the season with a complete game shutout against the rival San Francisco Giants and even threw in his first career extra base hit -- a solo home run to take a 1-0 lead late in the game. He hasn't looked back since.
He has allowed just three home runs this season in 48.2 innings pitched -- and all three came in one game to, of all teams, the San Diego Padres. He allowed three earned runs (and five runs total) in that game. In the other six games this season, Kershaw has allowed a total of six runs (all earned).
He has, in other words, been the dominant Kershaw fans have come to expect.
Kershaw Pitching at a Historic Level
Kershaw led the National League in ERA each of the last two seasons.
He has had four consecutive seasons of a sub-3.00 ERA -- the first time any starting pitcher has done this since Roy Halladay at his peak, from 2007 to 2011. Before that you have to go back to names like Pedro Martinez (seven in a row from 1997-2003), Randy Johnson (1999-2002) and Greg Maddux (seven in a row from 1992-1998).
Kershaw is also putting himself near the top of many lists in the long, storied starting pitcher tradition of the Los Angeles Dodgers. His three consecutive seasons of 200 strikeouts in a row match Sandy Koufax (1961-66), Don Drysdale (1962-65), Hideo Nomo (1995-97) and Fernando Valenzuela (1984-86) as the only Dodgers to pull off the feat.
Kershaw is on pace to make it four in a row, with 52 strikeouts in just 7 starts so far this season.
The Beginning of the Legend
At Grantland, Jonah Keri pinpoints Kershaw's arrival as a meaningless Spring Training game against the the Red Sox. It was a curveball -- one that Vin Scully dubbed "Public enemy number one" after it buckled Sean Casey's knees.
Kershaw had barely turned 19.
That was in 2006. Two years later, Kershaw would be in the major leagues, in games that mattered. Five years later, Kershaw would lead the National League in strikeouts, ERA and wins and win the Cy Young Award.
All this has led to the impossible -- comparisons to the great Sandy Koufax.
Best Lefty Since Koufax?
Koufax is a legendary name not just among the Dodgers, but in all of baseball. Koufax may not be the best left-hander of all time because of an injury-shortened career, but there is a reason they call him The Left Hand of God.
The final five years of Koufax's career from 1962-1966 may never be matched (depending on your thoughts on Martinez's incredibly run around the turn of the century). Dodgers fans speak reverently about Koufax, and for good reason.
But now the impossible is happening -- there are questions if Kershaw can match or even (heaven forbid) exceed what Koufax did in the 60s.
Keri says it is impossible to compare the two eras, though he concludes:
Maybe Koufax's peak years are so impossibly good that no one in today's game can ever hope to match them. But at this point in his career, you can say Clayton Kershaw's name in the same sentence as Sandy Koufax's and not get dismissed with the swipe of a left hand. That's a pretty damn good start.And maybe that is the best anyone can hope for -- to be in the same conversation as Koufax. It has been fifty years since Koufax last took the mound. With the numbers that Kershaw is putting up now, a young lefty in 2060 might have pundits and analysts asking if his numbers can stack up to Kershaw.
Matthew Reichbach is a freelance writer and lifelong follower of the Dodgers from their minor league affiliates to the major league club.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter at @3_2count.
- Sports & Recreation
- Clayton Kershaw
- Los Angeles Dodgers
- Sandy Koufax