Greinke passes the baton to Kershaw

MIAMI -- The Cincinnati Reds had to endure the one-two punch, as did the St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Next up, the Miami Marlins, the team that has scored the fewest runs in the National League (by a fairly healthy margin). Good luck, Miami. They get to experience the joys of dealing with Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw in back-to-back games.

Of all the dazzling positives the Dodgers have shown during this stretch of .811 baseball that has now lasted exactly two months, the one that figures to have the most direct impact on their October hopes is the quite distinct, quite competent pairing at the top of their rotation.

Greinke toys with an opposing lineup and then Kershaw simply attacks it. The Dodgers and Cardinals are the only teams in the National League with two starting pitchers who have sub-3.00 ERAs. The Dodgers are the only team in baseball with three.

Greinke (12-3) lowered his ERA to 2.91 with eight dominant innings in the Dodgers' 4-1 win at Marlins Park on Wednesday night. Kershaw gets the Thursday afternoon game. What makes the Marlins' task even harder is that they have to try to get their bats going with different people swinging them.

The combination of a power right-hander like Greinke and a power left-hander like Kershaw forces opposing managers to shuffle their lineups to try to get better -- or, perhaps, the term is "less-unfavorable" -- matchups.

When Greinke stood at a podium at Dodger Stadium last Dec. 11 for his introductory news conference, this is the kind of synergy everyone envisioned.

"Kershaw is on such another level that, if you try to do better than him, you get your feelings hurt pretty much," Greinke said. "I just try to be consistent, make good pitches. I've had some breaks really."

When someone suggested Greinke has been on a better run lately than in his 2009 Cy Young season, he said, "I think that's bad information." By the same token, to attribute his pitching to "breaks" is probably overly humble. In his last three starts, he has given up one run. In those starts, hitters are batting .190 against him.

Greinke made a fairly subtle mechanical adjustment since a rough July 3 start in Colorado. He got more "on line," in the vernacular of pitching, meaning he's following through directly at the hitter rather than falling off to one side or another.

All you really need to know about that is it has given Greinke, by his estimation, about 2-3 mph more oomph on his fastball.

Kershaw's stuff has been amazingly consistent, as has his focus, as have his results. He leads the major league ERA race by nearly half a run. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly described Kershaw's approach as machine-like. Mattingly says he thinks he is seeing the two Cy Young winners push each other in subtle ways. Hyun-Jin Ryu hasn't been far from the mark either, by the way.

"One guy pitches good, the other guy wants to go out and pitch good, kind of like [Yasiel] Puig tears it up and Hanley [Ramirez] is like, 'Oh, you better pay attention to me a little bit,' " Mattingly said. "I like that, with guys always wanting to show what they can do, because it's just competitive."

If you asked the last few teams that have had to navigate the Greinke-Kershaw grinder, you might come up with a few, more colorful adjectives than "competitive."