Clayton Kershaw didn’t want June to end. During the month, the Dodger lefty put up a 6-0 record with a microscopic 0.82 ERA. Perhaps more amazing were his strikeout totals. His 61 Ks were the most in a calendar month by a major league hurler since Sandy Koufax equaled that mark in August, 1966.
Kershaw’s greatest career individual performance came on June 18th against the best-hitting team in the National League, the Colorado Rockies. The lefty struck out a career-high 15 en route to a no-hitter that was a Hanley Ramirez error away from being a perfect game.
Sabrmetric guru Bill James devised a measurement of single-game pitching performances. Kerhsaw’s gem came in with a Game Score of 102, the second best nine-inning performance behind only Kerry Wood’s 20-strikeout one-hitter in 1998. Putting that in perspective, the three games tied for third on the all-time list are Nolan Ryan’s 16-strikeout no-no and a perfect games by Matt Cain and Sandy Koufax.
Signed to a seven-year, $215 million contract in the off-season, Kershaw has delivered, earning the win in nine of his 12 starts. With only two losses, his .818 winning percentage tops the NL. The 26-year old has struck out 107 – good for sixth in the league — despite missing all of April with back issues.
For his last three starts and part of a fourth, Kershaw has stymied the opposition. Since the Diamondbacks pushed across a run in the fourth inning of the June 13th contest, no team has scored against him, a streak spanning 28 innings. For most franchises, that many consecutive scoreless frames would rank near the top of the record books. For the pitching-rich Dodgers, he’s not even half way to the MLB mark of 59 established by Orel Hershiser in 1988. If Kershaw can keep opponents at bay for eight more innings, he’ll trail only Hershiser and Don Drysdale on the franchise and all-time MLB lists.
Time marches on and June ends, but history suggests Kershaw’s performance will continue. The 7-year veteran has led the Majors in ERA each of the last three years and has walked away with two of the last three NL Cy Young Awards, and a second place finish in 2012.
Mega contracts generally don’t reward the team in the long haul. If Kershaw enjoys more months like June and strings together a few more seasons like the last three, the Dodgers may well have a $215 million bargain.
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The article’s author, Jim Smiley welcomes your email feedback. Read more about Jim in part one and part two of an exclusive interview about his baseball experience.