Clayton Kershaw continued to make his case for the National League MVP award, leading the Dodgers to a 4-1 win over the Washington Nationals. While his work on the mound continues to impress, his work with the bat and on the base paths on Tuesday night clearly defined his “most valuable” status.
Clayton Kershaw came to the plate in the bottom of the fifth inning of a scoreless tie. While most pitchers would be considered an automatic out 90 percent of the time (most pitchers have a batting average of .100), the Dodgers’ lefty stepped up and lined a single to center. Instead of no one on and two out, second baseman Dee Gordon came to bat with a runner on first with one out. Runners on base alter how a pitcher deals with a batter and Gordon took advantage; he also singled to center. The average pitcher would be concerned about over-exerting themselves on the base paths and would only move station to station, base to base. Clayton Kershaw flipped this script and challenged center fielder Bryce Harper, who is known for having a cannon for an arm. Not only did he beat Harper’s throw, the drawing of the throw allowed the speedy Gordon to move to second.
This proved crucial to the Dodger’s scoring chances, as shortstop Hanley Ramirez came to the plate, having grounded into seven double plays on the season. As fate would have it, Ramirez hit a ground ball to short that Kershaw could not advance and score on. Kershaw’s aggressive base running not only put two runners in scoring position, but it also saved the Dodgers from an inning-ending double play. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez followed Ramirez with an infield single to short, which netted the Dodgers two runs on an errant throw to first. Kershaw’s skills with the bat and his acumen on the base paths were the catalysts for the Dodgers to take a 2-0 lead.
Baseball is game that has no shortage of statistics. Clayton Kershaw’s name appears at the top of most of the categories for pitchers; he leads the MLB in wins with 17 (despite having missed the beginning of the season due to injury) and also leads the league in ERA with a 1.70 mark. In Tuesday’s game, Kershaw only allowed three hits and one run while striking out eight. These are just a few of the impressive aspects of his stat lines.
What places Clayton Kershaw head and shoulders above his peers is that when he starts, the Dodgers win. The strongest evidence that supports Kershaw’s case for MVP is the Dodgers have won 19 of his 23 starts. This means that, of the Dodgers 78 wins, he can be directly attributed to 24 percent of them. In the four starts where the Dodgers did not win, only in one start did Kershaw fail to give the Dodgers a legitimate chance to win. On May 17 in Arizona, he gave up seven runs in 1.2 innings, which marks the only time this year Kershaw gave up more than three runs. It was also the only time this season that he did not last at least five innings. To further illustrate Kershaw’s value, 13 of his 23 starts have come directly after Dodger losses. His dependability has prevented the team from having to endure prolonged losing streaks, as the Dodgers have won 12 of his 13 starts in this scenario.
With the Dodger great Sandy Koufax in attendance, Clayton Kershaw’s performance helped move the Dodgers to a game behind the Nationals in the race for the best record; it also kept the surging Giants two games behind them in the standings. All statistics withstanding, the presence of the ever-reclusive Koufax at Chavez Ravine may be the most telling evidence that something historical and legendary is happening this year with the Dodgers. With every successive outing, Clayton Kershaw continues to find new ways to make his MVP case stronger.
Commentary by Matthew Gurrola