Monday, August 29, 2011 Updated: August 30, 2:59 PM ET
Clayton Kershaw is award worthy
By Tony Jackson ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw says he doesn't have personal goals. A lot of pitchers say that. Most of them aren't being honest. But with Kershaw, you get the sense he really is sincere, that his goal for now is to pitch as well and as consistently as he can and then bathe in the glory of whatever his numbers are when the season is complete.
Well, if the Los Angeles Dodgers' ace refuses to come up with any goals for himself -- which he continued to do after pitching his fifth complete game of the season in a 4-1 victory over the hapless San Diego Padres before 29,764 on Monday night at Dodger Stadium -- then what is left for us to do, other than to come up with a few for him?
How about these two:
Twenty wins, something no Dodgers pitcher has done since Ramon Martinez in 1990.
A Cy Young Award, something no Dodgers starter has brought home since Orel Hershiser in 1988 (Eric Gagne won it as the team's closer in 2003).
Clayton Kershaw didn't have his best stuff but finished strong in a 4-1 win over the Padres on Monday, showing a Cy Young flair.
The first one is all but a lock if Kershaw continues to dominate the way he has all season. By mowing down the hopelessly overmatched Padres, Kershaw continued to shatter his previous career high by winning his 17th game, tying Arizona's Ian Kennedy for the National League lead. Even with the Dodgers planning to go with a six-man rotation this next time through -- they will immediately go back to five after that -- Kershaw will get five more starts.
The Cy Young, though -- that will be a little tougher. But if you look hard at all the categories and where Kershaw ranks in them, he is arguably the favorite right now.
Let me start with a disclaimer: Your humble correspondent is an NL Cy Young voter this year, and the Baseball Writers Association of America has very strict rules for its award voters. The main one is that you never, ever reveal your ballot until the award winner is announced, and the award winner isn't announced until well after the end of the World Series, even though the ballots must be turned in before the first pitch of the first game of the first round of the playoffs is thrown.
Let me also say, with complete honesty, that I'm not even close to making up my mind. Haven't really even given it much thought, to be honest. How could I, with four-plus weeks of the regular season still to be played? So in making the points I'm about to make, all of them in Kershaw's favor, I am not in any way committing to vote for him. All I'm saying is that if the season were to end right now, and one were inclined to vote for Kershaw, these would be the reasons why.
Unlike the Most Valuable Player award, which is sort of ambiguous because some voters really take the whole "valuable" thing literally and tend to favor players on winning teams, the Cy Young is unquestionably reserved for whomever the voters determine was the best pitcher in each league. So the fact Kershaw pitches for the lackluster Dodgers (63-70), who remain tied with the Colorado Rockies for third place in the NL West, 12 games behind the Diamondbacks, will have no bearing on his fitness for the award.
So with that not a concern, consider the following:
Kershaw leads the NL with 212 strikeouts, matching the career high he established last year and 19 more than any other pitcher.
He leads the league in innings pitched with 198 2/3, leaving him 5 2/3 short of the career high he set last year and 7 1/3 more than any other NL pitcher.
He is second in the league in ERA (2.45), which also would be his career best if he can maintain it; he is the runaway NL leader in home ERA at 1.80; and he is tied with Philadelphia's Cliff Lee, one of Kershaw's chief competitors for the award, for second in the league with five complete games.
Just roll those around in your brain for a little while. But if you happen to run into Kershaw at Starbucks, you probably shouldn't mention any of them to him. Because he doesn't really care. Not right now, anyway.
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"I don't have personal goals," he said, for roughly the 28th time this season. "Really, I don't. When the season is over, I will take a week or 10 days off and kind of relax. I think that is the time for reflecting. And once those 10 days are over, I will start getting ready for next year."
Kershaw (17-5) has his supporters, even if none of them has a say in the matter.
Asked if Kershaw is his choice for the Cy Young, Rick Honeycutt, the only pitching coach Kershaw ever has had in the major leagues, said, "Without a doubt."
Asked the same question, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said, "There are a lot of good pitchers out there, guys having good years, but Clayton is as good as anybody out there. You match him up with any guy or any team, and it makes you feel like you have a shot. He has been that guy all year."
And ultimately, that is the unquantifiable, intangible quality that just might be the determining factor in who wins the Cy Young, moreso than any cold, hard statistics. Maybe it's that guy who gives his manager and his teammates that feeling of invincibility every fifth day, moreso than how many categories he leads the league in. Maybe it's the guy who makes the other team feel half-beaten before the game even starts.
Or, maybe not. I don't really know. I haven't made up my mind yet. And when I do, well, I can assure you that you won't be the first to know.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.