Last year, ESPN and Bill Simmons teamed up to launch “Grantland“, a new venture aimed at focusing more on long-form sportswriting, a throwback to the glory days of magazines and newspapers, as opposed to the shorter blog posts which are more popular today. Predictably, the feedback has been mixed; some of the work I’ve read has been excellent, but good lord, can it be pretentious.
Your feelings on Simmons aside, it’s hard to argue with a staff that includes Chuck Klosterman, Jonah Keri, Rany Jazayerli, and Katie Baker, among many others, and today they’ve added a new luminary: baseball stats legend Bill James. James debuts with a list of the 100 best pitcher’s duels of 2011 – completely subjectively, of course, because how else could you do it – and wouldn’t you know it, 10 of his first 42 entries involved the Dodgers. As it turns out – and this is going to come as a huge surprise, I know – Clayton Kershaw is really, really good, and I don’t know if anything was more fun this past season than watching him constantly beat down Tim Lincecum and the Giants.
3. July 20, 2011, Dodgers at San Francisco, Clayton Kershaw against Tim Lincecum
MSTI, July 20:
Now how about adding eight shutout innings with 12 whiffs against just three hits and a walk? By Game Score, which is admittedly imperfect, that was the third best start of Kershaw’s career. That it was also the third best start of his season should tell you a lot about just how good his 2011 has been so far, particularly now that he’s up to 23 consecutive scoreless innings and an MLB-best 167 strikeouts.
5. September 9, 2011, Dodgers in San Francisco again, Kershaw and Lincecum rematch
Looks like I didn’t say anything, because I was traveling for a wedding that weekend. Stupid weddings, part one.
18. September 20, Giants in L.A., Lincecum against Kershaw, Round 3
Stupid weddings, part two. This was my birthday and I was busy getting engaged. Still not sure that choosing those over watching Kershaw / Lincecum was the right move.
23. June 26, Angels at Dodger Stadium, Jered Weaver against Clayton Kershaw
MSTI, June 26:
This is the 12th time in Kershaw’s career he’s put up double-digit strikeout numbers, though it’s the first time he’s done it in back-to-back starts, since he also struck out 11 Tigers last week. It also put him up to 128 K’s on the season, putting him back ahead of Justin Verlander for the most in baseball. That’s impressive, but that’s not what I liked the best about today; it was the fact that he did it without a single walk. Remember when we said that the only thing holding him back from megaultrastardom was harnessing the walks? Yeah, about that: his K/BB rate from 2008-11: 1.92, 2.03, 2.62, 3.66.
Clayton Kershaw, shiny golden god.
25. August 9, Phillies in Los Angeles, Cliff Lee against Ted Lilly
MSTI, August 9:
On the other side of the ball, for all the jokes we have at Ted Lilly‘s expense, the veteran lefty was actually pretty solid against a good Phillies lineup. Lilly allowed just six hits and a walk over eight innings, which ties for his second-longest outing as a Dodger, and he even drilled Shane Victorino in the back for good measure. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Ted Lilly game if he didn’t allow a homer, and that’s how we get back to Lee, who took Lilly out to right field in the 7th inning. That made the score 2-0, though with the way Lee was pitching against the unimposing Dodger lineup, it might as well have been 200-0.
This was also the game where Dee Gordon injured his shoulder attempting to dive around Ryan Howard at first base, nearly causing all of us to pass out in terror.
31. August 2, Dodgers in San Diego, Mat Latos against Hiroki Kuroda
This win merely put the Dodgers to 50-59, and it’s amazing how tuned out we were from worrying about daily results at the time. The second-half improvement didn’t really get going until the latter half of August, and at the time we’d considered this team completely dead in the water, to the point where I was less concerned about recapping a phenomenal Kuroda start than I was about looking ahead to possible waiver moves and September recalls.
32. March 31 (season opener), San Francisco in Los Angeles, Lincecum against Kershaw
MSTI, March 31:
Earlier today, I noted that I had picked Clayton Kershaw to finish 1st in the NL Cy Young Award voting over at Baseball Prospectus. I’m now concerned that I didn’t pick him quite high enough, because Kershaw was absolutely sublime in tonight’s season opener, to the point where San Francisco starter Tim Lincecum allowed just one unearned run over seven innings himself, yet there was still no question about who was the most dominant starter on the mound tonight.
Kershaw scattered just four hits over seven scoreless innings, but even that doesn’t tell the true tale. One of those hits should have been an error on a botched toss from James Loney to Kershaw, and one was a bloop that fell just out of Loney’s reach. But while Kershaw was outstanding all around, it’s not just the few hits he allowed that impressed me most, and it’s not the nine strikeouts he put up. It’s not even how bad he made a handful of Giants look, particularly when he offered his curve. It’s the fact that he walked just one and made it through seven innings with fewer than 100 pitches. In years past, it might have taken him 120 pitches to get that far; in starts that aren’t his first of the season, you’d expect to see him continue into the 8th and 9th.
Need more proof of Kershaw’s progression? This was the 11th time in his career that he pitched at least seven innings without allowing more than one walk. Though he’s been in the bigs since mid-2008, seven of the previous ten came after June 27, 2010 – i.e., in the last half a season. We’ve long known that Kershaw had all the talent in the world, but there’s now a clear pattern of him harnessing the wildness and becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in the bigs. Mark my words, this is the year he gets the respect from the general public he deserves. Oh, and he turned 23 two weeks ago.
35. June 8, Dodgers in Philadelphia, Hiroki Kuroda against Cole Hamels
Kuroda was very good, as I mentioned…
Hiroki Kuroda sailed through the first four innings on a hot night in Philadelphia, escaped some trouble in the 5th, and then was touched for a Ryan Howard solo homer in the 6th. That was the run that put the Dodgers down 1-0 entering the top of the 7th…
…but this game ended up being far more memorable for being one of the low points of a dreadful first half by the offense, as once again, no Dodger other than Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp could contribute even the slightest bit of help:
Down one run, Andre Ethier & Matt Kemp set up the 5-6-7 hitters with two men in scoring position and no outs. To avoid scoring a run in that situation, you basically have to be actively trying to fail. To the surprise of absolutely no one, Juan Uribe, Marcus Thames, and Rod Barajas failed to get the job done. But that’s not news; Ethier and Kemp have been sabotaged by their underperforming teammates all season long. What really got me was the furor on Twitter as this was happening. In rough chronological order…
Tony Jackson (ESPNLA):
horrible AB by Uribe right there. Just horrible.
Boy am I glad we kept Thames
Dylan Hernandez (LA Times):
Thames, who batted 3rd Monday, comes up with men on the corners. “It doesn’t matter where you bat him,” someone said, “the game finds him.
Jayson Stark (ESPN):
The Rod Barajas Fan Club will be delighted to know that once that pop-up came down, he was 2 for 37 this year with men in scoring position.
@jaysonst and that .054 average is 54 points better than Thames, who is now 0 for 11 w/RISP
I have never seen a team come up with more creative ways to not score after getting a runner to third with less than two outs.
Kevin Modesti (LA Daily News):
@dodgerscribe It’s another example of we’ve talked about. Ethier & Kemp get on … Uribe, Thames & Barajas coming up — what do you expect?
That was one of those Dodgers offense moments you sorta knew was coming, but you still feel disgusted anyway watching it happen.
36. July 9, Dodgers in San Diego, Rubby De La Rosa against Aaron Harang
This led to one of my favorite post titles of the season,”Dodgers Win in Most Dodger Way Possible“. This was still a few weeks before the second half surge really got going, and the team was so bad at this point that it was all you could do to laugh at them.
Being no-hit for 8 2/3 innings, nearly wasting six one-hit innings from rookie standout Rubby De La Rosa, and then winning on two miraculous hits from Juan Uribe and Dioner Navarro, two of the worst hitters on the team?
Yeah, that sounds about right.
42. June 19, Houston in L.A., Bud Norris against Hiroki Kuroda
MSTI, June 19:
For 7 1/3 scoreless innings on Sunday, the Dodgers looked likely to set us up for disappointment. Hiroki Kuroda had sailed through the first seven, allowing just five baserunners before Matt Guerrier threw a clean eighth. After a tough turn around the starting rotation, it was a much-needed boost from the veteran. But yet again, there was absolutely no support from the offense, as Bud Norris and Sergio Escalona held the Dodgers to harmless singles by James Loney and Dioner Navarro, and walks by Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. There’s a reason Kuroda has a losing record both for the season and his career, and it’s because of games like this. How many times have we seen a solid starting pitching performance wasted due to an offense that is barely of a Triple-A caliber? Tony Gwynn flied out to center to start the eighth, and with the bottom up the order due up, it seemed just a matter of time before patchwork bullpen (though buoyed by the returns of Kenley Jansen yesterday and Hong-Chih Kuo today) would allow the Astros to score and complete the sweep.
Kuroda didn’t get the win in the boxscore today – Guerrier did – but I think we all know who deserves that W next to his name.
Just barely avoiding a sweep against the lowly Astros. How did we survive the first half of the season again?
Perhaps more pertinent to the current situation, I wonder how this list might look if it were redone after 2012, now that Kuroda is gone and De La Rosa is injured. To be fair, Chad Billingsley does appear twice in the second half of the list, Harang was very good in the De La Rosa game, and Chris Capuano had the single best-pitched game of 2011 as judged by Game Score. (To be even more fair, this is a completely subjective list that’s very easy to tear apart and by definition requires both pitchers to be excellent at the same time, something which the mediocre Dodger offense probably had a big hand in.)