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Clayton Kershaw makes it look like 'child's play' in milestone game

LOS ANGELES -- After becoming the first pitcher in 13 years and the first Dodger in 49 to strike out 300 batters in a season, Clayton Kershaw made his final lobbying effort for the 2015 Cy Young award.

Who should it be?

"Zack," Kershaw said. "Best numbers. Lowest ERA. Lowest WHIP. I mean, what else do you want?"

Leave aside, for a moment, the Cy Young debate between Kershaw, Zack Greinke and the Chicago Cubs' Jake Arrieta, fun as it is to dive into that statistical log pile. While the ballots are due by Monday, the results won't be announced for a month or so.

The fact that two teammates got involved in a Cy Young fight this nip-and-tuck, though, tells us a pretty big chunk of the story of the Los Angeles Dodgers' season, which concluded with Sunday's 6-3 win over the San Diego Padres.

A day after Greinke won his 19th game and chipped another piece off his skimpy 1.66 ERA, Kershaw, working on a tight pitch limit in his final tune-up, struck out his 300th (Melvin Upton Jr.) and 301st (Yangervis Solarte) batters, if you can call what the Padres sent up there this weekend that.

Kershaw rested his case with the historic strikeout total, the brilliant fielding-independent pitching numbers and the 2.13 ERA.

He and Greinke combined for a 1.90 ERA, the lowest by a set of teammates with at least 25 starts each since 1968, the pitching-dominant season before baseball lowered the mound a few inches. If baseball does something drastic to help hitters out in the coming year or so, Greinke and Kershaw will be among those taking the blame, just as guys such as Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant once did for being really good at their jobs.

The Dodgers enjoyed Kershaw earning his reward for being the game's most dominant pitcher. In a twist, he even seemed to enjoy it, smiling when manager-for-a-day Jimmy Rollins came to get the ball from him with two outs in the fourth inning, Kershaw having hit his 60-pitch hard limit.

"If my pitch count would have gotten up there and I didn't have six strikeouts, I would have come out," Kershaw said. "The playoffs are more important than 300 strikeouts, but it ended up working out. It was cool. The fans knew what was going on."

The last time someone took him out of a game at Dodger Stadium, he was caught on camera yelling at manager Don Mattingly in the dugout.

"He went out smiling," Mattingly joked. "I haven't seen Kersh smile on a field in like five years."

Rookie shortstop Corey Seager, who didn't have to make a play while Kershaw was in the game because seven of his 13 batters struck out -- two of them got hits and the rest hit balls elsewhere -- said it was fun to watch.

"He went out there and made it look like child's play," Seager said.

Kershaw and Greinke are hard to separate statistically. Greinke will get more appreciation from old-school baseball people because he won a few more games and had a lower ERA. Kershaw will win more admiration from people who prefer newer statistical measures because he relied less on luck, which at times wasn't in his favor.

The Dodgers don't really care which ace is 1 and which is 1-A. They're more likely to use Kershaw in Game 1 simply because it will break up all the left-handed pitchers in their rotation, and he would give them the option to go on three days' rest in Game 4 if they decide to go that route and leave Alex Wood in the bullpen. As it was generations ago with Sandy Koufax (who struck out 300 in a season three times), choosing between Kershaw's brilliant seasons is becoming more a matter of taste than good judgment.

"Obviously, another special season for Clayton," Mattingly said. "If you dig into the numbers, especially the advanced statistics, it was just a tremendous year. He just keeps marching along."

In the coming days, nobody is going to be writing and talking about another great season by Kershaw. They're going to be writing and talking about what he has done and what he will do in the playoffs, which start Friday at Dodger Stadium against the New York Mets. Mattingly won't say it yet, but Kershaw stands a great chance of being the guy with the ball Friday night. Kershaw has a 5.12 postseason ERA. He was the losing pitcher the last time the Dodgers played a postseason game, Oct. 7, 2014 in St. Louis.

Asked how prepared he feels for this postseason, Kershaw smiled and said, "I don't know. We'll find out."