Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw unanimous choice for NL Cy Young
Given his competitive nature, Clayton Kershaw figures to feel the sting of his postseason failures until he can atone for them. In the meantime, he’ll have to settle for being recognized as the best regular-season pitcher in baseball – and at 26, already one of the most accomplished ever.
The Los Angeles Dodgers ace added to his remarkable resume Wednesday by earning his third National League Cy Young Award, his first one by unanimous vote.
The Cincinnati Reds’ Johnny Cueto and the St. Louis Cardinals’ Adam Wainwright finished second and third, respectively.
Kershaw’s selection was never in doubt after he registered a 1.77 ERA – the lowest in baseball since Pedro Martinez’s 1.74 in 2000 – to become the first pitcher ever to lead the majors in that department four years in a row. Kershaw also was tops in the majors in WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) at 0.857 and strikeouts per nine innings at a career-best 10.8.
Despite an upper-back injury that sidelined him for all of April, Kershaw led the big leagues in wins while going 21-3, and from June on he won 18 of his 19 decisions as the Dodgers earned their second consecutive NL West crown.
That’s when Kershaw finally became vulnerable.
For the second year in a row, the Cardinals beat Kershaw twice in the playoffs, and this time it was ugly. He allowed 11 runs in 12 2/3 innings as St. Louis prevailed in the division series, a year after knocking out the Dodgers in the NL Championship Series. Kershaw’s career playoff record stands at 1-5 with a 5.12 ERA in 11 games, eight of them starts.
“You try and separate the two. It’s not easy,” Kershaw said. “Obviously, winning the Cy Young Award is something you never want to take for granted. You don’t want to have anything take away from that. But for me personally, the season didn’t end the way I wanted it to. I didn’t pitch well enough to win games. That’s ultimately why we all play the game, to win a World Series.”
The failure to get past the first round of the playoffs is sure to gnaw at the left-hander, who could be in for an even bigger honor Thursday when the MVP winner is announced.
Regardless of the outcome of that vote, his Cy Young collection is already impressive enough. Kershaw is the ninth pitcher to claim the award three times, and the youngest to accomplish the feat. He’s the fourth lefty in that select group, after Randy Johnson (five Cy Youngs), Steve Carlton (four) and Sandy Koufax (three).
“I try to think about where I was five years ago, six years ago, just starting out,” Kershaw said. “If you were to tell me I would be in that kind of company, I would have laughed at you. I was just happy to be there. I just wanted to make it. I never really thought any of this could happen. It’s overwhelming.”
Koufax, the Dodgers living legend Kershaw is often compared to, took home his first Cy Young at 27 in 1963. That was the beginning of a four-year stretch in which Koufax was clearly the most dominant pitcher in baseball and arguably the best one ever.
A look at their numbers – in vastly different eras, with bullpens not nearly the same factor in Koufax’s time as they are today – shows Kershaw holding his own side by side with the Hall of Famer.
At a time when only one Cy Young Award was presented per league, Koufax won three from 1963-66 (he finished third in 1964), going 97-27 with a 1.86 ERA and a 0.909 WHIP while striking out 1,228 in 1,192 2/3 innings.
From 2011-2014, Kershaw won three Cy Youngs (he finished second in 2012), going 72-26 with a 2.11 ERA and a 0.946 WHIP while striking out 948 in 895 1/3 innings.
The biggest difference was in the postseason. Koufax led the Dodgers to three World Series from 1963-66, logging a 0.94 ERA as Los Angeles claimed the championship in 1963 and ’65, with Koufax earning MVP honors both times.
Kershaw has yet to show his top form in October, but in the regular season, there hasn’t been anyone better in ages. In the final four months, the Dodgers won 20 of his 21 starts.
“I feel like every time I pitched we won the game,” Kershaw said. “I’d like to think I had a little something to do with that, but our team was so good. That’s what I’ll remember, being part of a good team.”
Voting results, based on a 7-4-3-1 point system:
Source: USA TODAY
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