1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers. What can you say? He's the best pitcher on the planet and may have just pitched the Dodgers to the National League West crown, completing a sweep of the San Francisco Giants with a 132-pitch, 15-strikeout masterpiece. Where to begin? How about that ninth inning? With the Dodgers leading 2-1, Kershaw had 107 pitches entering the inning -- his season-high was 123 -- and got two quick outs. But then Matt Duffy lined a 2-2 curveball for a base hit and Buster Posey hit a slow grounder up the middle to bring up Marlon Byrd. Don Mattingly had a conference on the mound, rapidly chomping his gum as he talked with Kershaw, but with Kenley Jansen apparently unavailable and only Jim Johnson warming up, it was clear this was Kershaw's game. He got ahead of Byrd with two foul balls, threw a 94.5-mph fastball on his 130th pitch that was a ball, threw a slider in the dirt and then got Byrd swinging on another slider. The Dodgers win and lead the Giants by 6.5 games.
Some fun facts (thanks to Mark Simon for the stat research):
• With 14 strikeouts in his previous start, Kershaw did something Sandy Koufax never did: 14+ K's in consecutive starts.
• It was Kershaw's second career 15-strikeout game, as he also had 15 in his no-hitter against the Colorado Rockies last season.
• He induced 35 swings and misses, the most in the past 10 seasons. Second-highest was 32 by Johan Santana in 2007.
• He's now 15-7 in his career against the Giants with a 1.61 ERA.
As for the 132 pitches, I'm not worried, not that you want to make a regular habit of it. The Dodgers are going to give Mike Bolsinger a start on Friday, so that will give Kershaw an extra day of rest before his next start.
Clayton Kershaw is 2nd pitcher this season with 14 or more strikeouts in consecutive starts. Other is Chris Sale— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 3, 2015
2. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds. He's here not just for his two-out, three-run home run in the top of the ninth that gave the Reds an 8-5 win over the Cubs, but for an absolute monster second half. I mean ... well, there's this:
After his go-ahead HR, Joey Votto is hitting .399 with a .576 OBP since the All-Star Break, both of which are best in MLB.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 2, 2015
Votto is hitting .399/.581/.739 in the second half. OK, we have a month of baseball left to play, but a few fun nuggets. Players since World War II to hit .400 after the All-Star break (minimum 200 plate appearances):
Ted Williams, 1957: .453
Ichiro Suzuki, 2004: .429
George Brett, 1980: .421
Barry Bonds, 2002: .404
Larry Walker, 1998: .402
Tony Gwynn, 1993: .400
That .581 OBP? Only four guys have beaten that: Williams and three guys named Bonds.
As for the Chicago Cubs, that's six losses in eight games. Not that Cubs fans are nervous about that.
3. Chris Davis, Baltimore Orioles. Davis ended Baltimore's 11-inning win over the Rays with a gigantic walk-off home run, his 38th on the year, which puts him one behind Nelson Cruz for the major league lead. Unfortunately for the O's, it was just their second win in 14 games, and they're all but out of the race for the second wild card.
Chris Davis hit his longest home of the season in the third inning and then topped that with a walk-off homer. pic.twitter.com/74xOsdSsEJ— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) September 3, 2015
4. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals. It was looking like another late-game collapse for the Nationals when Matt Williams shuffled through four relievers in the seventh inning as the St. Louis Cardinals scored a run to tie the game 3-3. But Rafael Martin -- making his first major league appearance since April -- came on and struck out Tony Cruz with two on to end that threat. Then Zimmerman, who already had homered in the fourth and sixth innings off Tyler Lyons, doubled in Anthony Rendon for the go-ahead run. That allowed Williams to manage by remote control: Drew Storen for the eighth and Jonathan Papelbon for the ninth, and the Nats held on. Considering the New York Mets already had won, it kind of felt like holding on for the season, because a third straight blown lead would have been a crushing psychological blow, if crushing psychological blows can happen on the second day of September.