PHOENIX – Interviewing Clayton Kershaw after one of his performances these days is a bit like those old “Chris Farley Show” skits from “Saturday Night Live.”
Fake Farley: “Remember that time when you threw a no-hitter and struck out 15 Colorado Rockies?”
Fake Kershaw: “Yeah, I remember.”
Fake Farley: “That was awesome.”
There just really isn’t a lot to ask him, not when his start-to-start consistency is to the point that it numbs the senses. So after Kershaw’s latest brilliance -- 10 strikeouts over eight innings in the Dodgers’ 3-1 win over the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday night -- reporters dutifully ticked off the prevalent story lines.
Did his previous start at Chase Field, in which he got knocked out in the second inning, add any extra fire coming into Wednesday night? Not really.
“You don’t want to lose to anybody,” Kershaw said.
Is it satisfying to be the first pitcher in the major leagues to reach 16 wins despite spending six weeks on the disabled list? Nah.
“Wins are a team thing,” he said.
What about all this building talk of being the first pitcher to win the National League MVP in 46 years?
“I’ll let you know after the season. I’m not really thinking about it,” he said.
After the first four pitches Wednesday night, all balls to Ender Inciarte, it looked like Chase Field just wasn’t a place where Kershaw could thrive. In fact, the first four innings turned into a slow grind, with six of his eight baserunners coming in those innings. Maybe it’s the thin air or the cozy dimensions. Maybe it’s the short fences or maybe it’s the mound. Maybe he simply can’t hack the desert.
“He seemed like an angry, hungry grizzly bear early on,” Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. “He was just grumpy out there. I thought he settled down.”
He did do that, continuing an almost unbelievable run of dominance in the process. Kershaw has pitched at least seven innings and held the opponent to three runs or fewer while striking out at least six batters with two walks or fewer in his last 13 starts. Forget about the quality start. Kershaw has nailed down the “high-quality start.” He’s had double-digit strikeout totals in six of those games and completed five of them.
That kind of consistency is certainly most valuable and it's probably Most Valuable. The Dodgers this year have been able to bank on the fact that, every five days, their bullpen will have an easy night and any losing streak stands virtually no chance of continuing. That can tend to bolster a team’s confidence. His value is bolstered by the fact that the team’s only other candidate who stands a remote chance of entering the MVP discussion, Yasiel Puig, has been so wildly inconsistent.
Puig batted .398 with 25 RBIs in May. He batted .248 with five RBIs in June. Puig led the majors in slugging (.688) in July. He has two extra-base hits through all of August, both doubles.
Before Wednesday’s game, Mattingly expressed some worries about Puig’s play in center field.
“I still think some of the things we worry about are him paying attention and losing interest and taking off in his defense and things like that,” Mattingly said. “Those are areas we have to kind of stay on him. There are trickles of things all the time that we look at.”
Puig got a bad jump on Jordan Pacheco’s bloop single in the fourth inning and Scott Van Slyke, racing in from left field to back up the play, turned his ankle while making an errant throw that led to Arizona’s only run, which was unearned.
It’s not as if Puig hasn’t been incredibly valuable to the Dodgers, especially since he allowed them to stabilize their outfield by moving to center field and has played virtually every day amid an assortment of minor injuries to the rest of the everyday players. Who knows? Maybe Puig will go crazy again in September and people will be trumpeting his candidacy.
But within the team there’s certainly a burgeoning belief that Kershaw is not only the team’s MVP, but an easy choice for league MVP. And it’s getting harder and harder to argue with them.