They understand it even if they know it's an absurd bit of provincialism, one the game of baseball allows to go on year after year.
The way Clayton Kershaw is going, to pretend that any pitcher in any league deserves pride of place over him is laughable. So, while the Dodgers won't find it nearly as irritating that Wainwright starts over Kershaw as that Matt Harvey started in the Big Apple last year though Kershaw had a 1.98 ERA and Harvey's was 2.35, they still know where things really stand.
The Dodgers don't have any doubts they have the best pitcher in baseball.
"I don't think Mike Matheny does either," catcher A.J. Ellis said. "I think Adam Wainwright is as tough as they come, but at the end of the day, the run Clayton has been on these past three seasons is undeniable. Justin Verlander had a great run a little bit prior to Clayton's. Justin's fallen off a little bit, Clayton picked it up and he's the top of the mountain right now."
While Kershaw's streak of 41 consecutive scoreless innings came to an end with Chase Headley's sixth-inning home run in the Dodgers' 2-1 win over the San Diego Padres on Thursday night, Kershaw said he couldn't care less about the streak. He pitched like it, too, mowing down the Padres for three more innings to cap off the complete-game three-hitter, adorned with 11 strikeouts. The streak ended. The mastery didn't.
And, coincidentally, just after the streak ended, Kershaw qualified for the NL ERA title by completing the sixth inning.
So, with Kershaw having polished off the pre-All-Star break portion of his season with an 8-0 run in which he had a 0.74 ERA, here's where he stands: He leads the league in ERA and WHIP and in strikeout-to-walk ratio (9.58) by the width of the Mississippi (Stephen Strasburg is next at 5.83).
In this case, I will admit, Matheny has plenty of cover to name Wainwright for the honor. Wainwright has made four more starts (remember, Kershaw missed more than a month because of a strained muscle in his back), piled up 35 more innings, had as many wins (11) and has a 1.79 ERA, just .01 higher than Kershaw's.
"Whatever Mike decides is fine with me," Kershaw said. "I'm just happy to get to be going and getting to go with three teammates is pretty cool."
Kershaw might say he doesn't care about starting Tuesday's game, but that might be a bit of white lie. It's strictly an honorific, but it's one of those things that stays on your resume the rest of your life. It's another check to mark off. He has the no-hitter. He has the two Cy Youngs. He's 26 and the Dodgers seem to be intent on winning for a while, so he should get enough shots at a World Series ring.
As stiff as the competition is and small as the three-month sample is, there's no guarantee he'll ever start an All-Star Game. Sandy Koufax started only one, in 1966.
If managers keep taking pitchers on their own staffs -- or for sentimental reasons because of where the game is played -- Kershaw might never get a shot. I asked Don Mattingly whom he would pick to start Tuesday's game if he were Matheny.
"If I'm Mike Matheny, I probably start my own guy. If I'm me, I start my guy," Mattingly said. "If I'm Bud Black, I'm starting Despanga or whatever his name is."
Mattingly was referring to San Diego's rookie right-hander Odrisamer Despaigne, who largely baffled the Dodgers for seven innings and is showing signs of a promising career for Black's team. But he wasn't the best pitcher to step on the Dodger Stadium mound Thursday night. And nobody else who steps on the Target Field mound Tuesday night will be better than the man who bested Despaigne on Thursday.