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Entering play Sunday, the Los Angeles Dodgers were in a free fall.
They’d dropped six straight to the lowly Miami Marlins and punchless San Diego Padres. They’d slid a game below .500 and were looking less and less like big-spending, three-time defending division champs.
Then Clayton Kershaw swooped in and, for an afternoon at least, single-handedly stopped the nosedive in a 1-0 victory at Chavez Ravine. All that was missing was a cape and tights.
Really, at this point, we’re running out of adjectives to describe Kershaw. Brilliant, dominant, filthy, transcendent—all apply, plus a bunch more. Grab your thesaurus and go to work.
The latest evidence of the lanky left-hander’s amazingness came at the expense of the Pads. For nine frames, Kershaw was utterly in control, racking up 14 strikeouts with nary a walk and only a trio of singles between him and perfection.
Heck, only two of his 27 outs left the infield, as MLB.com’s noted.
As if that weren’t enough, Kershaw also picked up the Dodgers’ lackluster offense, driving in the game’s only run with a single in the third and possibly inspiring the following internal monologue, courtesy of the Los Angeles Times‘ Andy McCullough:
“Well, Clayton,” Kershaw said to himself. “There’s your run.”
— Andy McCullough (@McCulloughTimes) May 1, 2016
In the process, Kershaw did something that hasn’t been done in more than three decades, per ESPN Stats & Info:
Clayton Kershaw: First Dodgers pitcher to throw individual shutout and drive in team’s only run since Fernando Valenzuela in 1984.
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 1, 2016
With Sunday’s glistening gem—his 13th career shutout—Kershaw now sports a 1.96 ERA to pair with an MLB-leading 54 strikeouts in 46 innings.
Yes, on Tuesday Los Angeles will face another game without Kershaw on the mound (or at the plate) as it heads east to open a two-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays. He can only do his thing every fifth day.
As long as he’s wearing Dodger blue, however, this team is dangerous. It’s that simple.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Kershaw allowed just three singles Sunday as he struck out 14 and recorded his 13th career shutout.
Oh, there’s talent on the rest of the roster. Despite an anemic streak during which the team has plated a scant 12 runs in seven games, the hits will come courtesy of reliable studs like first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and budding stars like shortstop Corey Seager.
And while Kershaw’s former co-ace, Zack Greinke, split for a massive payday with the Arizona Diamondbacks, Japanese import Kenta Maeda looks like a more-than-capable No. 2 after posting a 1.41 ERA through a month of starts.
The Dodgers aren’t perfect. There are questions at the back end of the rotation and in the bullpen. And mercurial outfielders Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig need to find consistent grooves.
But this team is good enough to fend off the D-Backs and even-year San Francisco Giants.
If that happens, it’ll begin and end with Kershaw. He’s the franchise linchpin. The guy with the case full of Cy Young trophies and a National League MVP Award.
He might have temporarily ceded the title of best pitcher in baseball to the Chicago Cubs’ Jake Arrieta.
Alex Gallardo/Associated Press
Kershaw is always squarely in the “best pitcher in baseball” conversation.
But make no mistake: Kershaw is a generational talent, the type of arm that will be referenced in subsequent decades. As in: This guy is so stellar, he’s positively Kershaw-esque.
Here’s one instructive measure of Kershaw’s greatness, per MLB.com’s Michael Clair:
Over the last three seasons, Kershaw has posted a 188 ERA+, a statistic that normalizes performance and compares it to the league average (which is 100). [Justin] Verlander’s best season: 172. [Tim] Lincecum’s: 171. [Felix] Hernandez: 174. That means Kershaw has been better, on average, over the past three years than any one of those guys was in his very best season.
We could go on, piling stat on top of stat. You get the idea, though. Watch Kershaw do what he did Sunday, or the next time he does something similar, and you don’t even need numbers. Your eyeballs tell the tale.
Rookie skipper Dave Roberts has liked what he’s seen, via MLB.com’s Jon Cooper:
It’s incredible. Every day I get to learn him a little bit more and kind of see how he goes about his business. No one is more critical of himself than [Kershaw] is. He just kind of finds a way. He’s as competitive a person as I’ve ever seen, and he just kind of sometimes wills himself and wills the team to victories.
Insane ability. Unending drive. A blazing competitive fire. Mix those ingredients and stir, and you’ve got the recipe for a baseball-slinging superhero capable of halting any free fall.
Are the Dodgers in trouble? Just say the magic words: Clayton Kershaw to the rescue.
All statistics current as of May 1 and courtesy of MLB.com and Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.