NEW YORK -- Once more with feeling, Clayton Kershaw is set to close out what could be one of the most dominating months in baseball history by a starting pitcher.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace will make his sixth start of the month Sunday night at Citi Field against the New York Mets, having gone 5-0 with a 0.64 ERA in the previous five. He has faced 142 batters, giving up just 20 hits and two walks, good for a .156 opponents' on-base percentage.
Call it Kershaw being Kershaw, a dominating pitcher on a dominating run that just so happened to fall with the parameters of a single month, but there has been something more to this specific run than meets the eye.
When Kershaw won those five previous starts in May, three by complete game, they all came the day after a Dodgers defeat. Sunday night will be the first time he has started a game the day after a Dodgers victory since April 21.
"I wish we had 25 of him," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said after Kershaw’s latest gem, a two-hit shutout of the Cincinnati Reds on Monday at Dodger Stadium. "It seems like every time he takes the mound, he goes Little League on us and does something, not only on the mound, to help us win."
Roberts might be pleased to know he does not need 25 Kershaws. He only needs five.
The ESPN Stats & Information department pro-rated Kershaw’s dominance over a full season, and given that the Dodgers are 9-1 in his starts, he would actually be able to help the Dodgers to a 146-win season if he pitched fresh every single game. On days this season when Kershaw isn’t a starter, the Dodgers project to a 99-loss team.
The reality of the situation was delivered by Kershaw himself, who continues to remain humble even as his career skyrockets at full speed toward the stratosphere.
“My job is just to win the day I pitch," he said. “I'll do my part those four [other] days and be a cheerleader, but that's kind of all I can do.”
A breakdown of Kershaw’s spectacular month of May:
Start No. 1 (May 1)
Kershaw pitched his first complete game and shutout of the season, firing a three-hit gem at the San Diego Padres. He struck out the first four Padres of the game, and finished the afternoon with a season-best 14 Ks.
Note: This is when the Dodgers needed Kershaw the most and he showed up ready to go. The victory ended the Dodgers' six-game losing streak, avoiding what would have been an embarrassing 0-7 homestand against the Miami Marlins and Padres. The kicker: Kershaw drove in the only run during a 1-0 victory.
Start No. 2 (May 7)
Before leaving on a two-city road trip, Kershaw casually mentions that he has been to Toronto just once, but never pitched there, so he was looking forward to taking the Rogers Centre mound. In what would be his “roughest” outing of the month, the left-hander gave up two runs on eight hits to the Blue Jays, but struck out 10 as the Dodgers won easily 6-2.
Note: Saying his fastball command was not at its best, Kershaw still didn’t walk a batter. It was the fourth of his five outings this season without a walk, and his third consecutive game without issuing a free pass.
Start No. 3 (May 12)
In what will serve as a preview for Sunday night’s game, Kershaw dominated the Mets with a 13-strikeout, three-hit shutout. The game did feature his first walk in four outings. Give the Mets credit for this: Kershaw’s 109 pitches were his most in any of his three May shutouts.
Note: It might be time for a new Mets strategy against Kershaw, who improved to 7-0 lifetime against the National League East foe, with 74 strikeouts in 10 outings.
Start No. 4 (May 17)
For just the second time in the month, Kershaw allowed a run to an opponent. That it was just one run to the rival Los Angeles Angels, helped the Dodgers to a 5-1 victory. Kershaw’s 11 strikeouts gave him six consecutive double-digit strikeout games going back to April 21 at Atlanta.
Note: In a measure of just how good Kershaw has been this season, the victory over the Angels gave Kershaw six consecutive starts with at least 10 strikeouts and one or no walks. A quirky, yet impressive, feat nonetheless was confirmed as a modern-day record.
Start No. 5 (May 23)
Why worry about your team’s own offensive issues when a guy like Kershaw can take matters into his own hands? The left-hander not only fired his third complete game of the month, this one against the Reds, but the night ended with his second 1-0 victory of May.
Note: It wasn’t like it was complete shame for the Reds, who sent 29 batters to the plate against Kershaw and only came away with seven strikeouts. It was Kershaw’s lowest strikeout total in a game since striking out six in a victory over the San Francisco Giants on April 15.