Clayton Kershaw’s Best Start Ever Leads Group Effort


Earlier this afternoon, I attended the Phillies/Mets game at CitiField, where Philadelphia starter Vance Worley lasted just three innings, allowing twelve hits and eight runs (five earned) in that time. In person, it was even worse than that; even the outs he was getting were hit hard. Who knew that it wouldn’t be close to being the worst starting pitching performance I’d see today?

The Dodgers saw to that by finally breaking out of their long offensive slump and pounding Florida starter Ricky Nolasco for fifteen hits and eight runs in five innings of work. The fifteen hits were the most by the Dodgers against any starting pitcher since 1982, and are the most allowed by a starting pitcher in Marlins history. Overall, they collected seventeen hits, their most since doing the same last May against Arizona.

In my mind, far more impressive than the group output – though that was badly, badly needed – is the fact that much of it came from names we haven’t seen contribute much this year. Rafael Furcal, Andre Ethier, and Jay Gibbons all had three hits, with Furcal starting off the scoring by hitting his first homer of the year in the bottom of the third. The value of Furcal at the top of this lineup can’t be understated – I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me, but the team scores approximately 47 more runs per game with him in than without him since he’s arrived – and his day is all the more welcome considering what a slow start he’d been off to since returning from injury. Gibbons, who had contributed barely anything all year, finally made some sort of case with his roster spot with his three hits, though he did misplay a flyout to left into a double on Clayton Kershaw‘s ledger. The breakout from Ethier counts as a new contribution as well, since he was hitting just .228/.315/.316 in May coming into today’s game. With Matt Kemp getting ejected (along with Don Mattingly) for arguing balls and strikes in the 4th inning and early-season star Jamey Carroll‘s last hit now a week in his rear-view mirror, the offense from some unexpected sources was absolutely vital.

But it didn’t stop there. Casey Blake had two hits, Dioner Navarro had two… and so did Kershaw, whose pitching performance absolutely should not get lost in the offensive outburst, though it probably will. It figures that on a day where the Dodgers finally break out the bats, they almost didn’t need to, because Kershaw was dominant. The line says he allowed two hits and issued a walk, which combined with ten strikeouts over nine shutout innings is fantastic enough, but even that’s not enough praise; Logan Morrison‘s double should have been a simple out, but dropped thanks to swirling winds in left field that Gibbons couldn’t handle.

Of Kershaw’s eight innings, he set down the Marlins 1-2-3 in five of them. Not once did the Marlins bring more than four men to the plate in an inning, and the only inning they even put more than one batter on base – the 7th – it was hardly Kershaw’s fault, as that was when Gibbons and Furcal each misplayed balls caught in the wind to left field.

This was Kershaw’s second career shutout, and as far as Game Score goes, it was his most dominating performance yet. His score for today was 92, and as you can see from his list heading into today, that puts this squarely at the top. It’s also the second time this season that Kershaw has rewritten his “top five greatest hits” list:

Rk Date Opp Rslt App,Dec IP H ER BB SO HR Pit GSc 2B 3B
1 2010-05-09 COL W 2-0 GS-8 ,W 8.0 2 0 3 9 0 117 84 0 0
2 2010-09-14 SFG W 1-0 SHO9 ,W 9.0 4 0 0 4 0 111 83 1 0
3 2009-04-15 SFG W 5-4 GS-7 7.0 1 1 1 13 1 105 83 0 0
4 2009-08-08 ATL L 1-2 GS-7 7.0 2 0 1 10 0 103 82 1 0
5 2011-05-13 ARI W 4-3 GS-7 ,W 7.0 3 0 2 11 0 106 80 2 0
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 5/29/2011.

Earlier today, Kershaw was tied for fifth on the baseball-reference pitcher NL WAR scoreboard with Jair Jurrjens and Ian Kennedy, just behind the injured Josh Johnson. This game ought to be enough to push him at least into third and possibly into second when b-r refreshes their standings overnight. With Kemp tied for the lead with Ryan Braun and Joey Votto on the batting side, that gives the Dodgers one of the most valuable duos in baseball leading their club.

All season long, we’ve worried that their production would be wasted by a supporting cast that just wasn’t up to the job. For one day, at least, this was a team-wide effort, and a great way to spend a holiday weekend.

******

The big news of the day, of course, was that Josh Lindblom was finally called up to the big club, with Kenley Jansen placed on the DL with shoulder inflammation. I say “finally”, because Lindblom was seemingly on the verge of making his debut as far back as spring of 2009. He just missed the cut, and when the club tried to turn him into a starter in the minors, it backfired terribly, leading to last year’s troubling AAA campaign where he allowed 13.5 hits per nine and ended with a 6.54 ERA in 40 games (10 starts). Back in AA this year and strictly as a reliever, he’s been striking out 12.2/9 and cutting down on the hits. Though it’s nice to see Lindblom finally make it, this is another blow to the bullpen, as Jansen had put together ten scoreless consecutive outings (and an 18/5 K/BB) before being touched in each of his last two.

It seems clear that the Dodgers are massively unimpressed by both the talent and environment in Albuquerque, at least when it comes to pitching prospects. Lindblom is now the third consecutive call-up to come from Chattanooga, following Javy Guerra and Rubby De La Rosa, and that’s where Jansen was sent when he was briefly demoted earlier this year as well.

Initially I was mildly bothered that Schlichting was DFA’d, since he’d shown flashes in his brief times up, but after checking the 40-man roster, it’s really a move that was unavoidable. Since the Dodgers have six players on the 15-man DL, and no obvious candidates to be moved to the 60-day DL, the 40-man roster is in a tight squeeze. Schlichting had been brutal in AAA this year anyway, walking more than he’d struck out with a high HR/9 rate. It’s probably likely that he doesn’t get claimed on waivers regardless, and it’s the right choice.