Clayton Kershaw silences the debate

LOS ANGELES -- Clayton Kershaw silenced the San Francisco Giants once again Thursday night, pitching the Los Angeles Dodgers to a 2-1 victory in front of 32,526 at Dodger Stadium. Mostly, though, he silenced all debate.

Let there be no further argument, because the issue has been decided: Kershaw -- the Los Angeles Dodgers left-hander who has morphed over the past year from an occasionally erratic ace-in-waiting to a guy whose future most definitely is now -- should be the 2011 National League Cy Young Award winner.

Has to be. Simply must be.

"I was thinking about that standing in center field in the eighth inning," the Dodgers' Matt Kemp said. "If this boy doesn't win the Cy Young, something is definitely wrong. No question about it."

Does that mean he will win it? Well, not necessarily. It is a rather complex electorate that decides these things, a selection of 32 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America -- and more specifically, two members from each of the 16 National League cities. Several of those cities are along the Eastern seaboard, and several others are in the Midwest. That means that only the most insomnia-stricken among some of those writers have seen every Kershaw start.

Still, with each one of those starts, Kershaw has become increasingly impossible to ignore, and it is beginning to seem inconceivable that anyone could overlook him. Not when he is tied for the league lead in victories, not when he blows away every other pitcher when it comes to blowing away hitters. Not when he has become a 20-game winner, Kershaw having been all of 2 years old the last time a Dodgers pitcher accomplished that. Not when he has beaten the Giants -- the defending World Series champion Giants, no less -- five times this season, something no Dodgers pitcher had done since Don Newcombe did it when the teams were crosstown rivals in 1951, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

And certainly not when he has now beaten Tim Lincecum, himself a two-time Cy Young Award winner, four times in four head-to-head matchups this season.

Lincecum's ERA in those four starts was 1.24. Kershaw's was 0.30. And that, as Robert Frost once wrote, has made all the difference, especially given that the Dodgers won those games by scores of 2-1, 1-0, 2-1 and 2-1.

"Seeing this guy pitch every five days, I know there are some good pitchers out there with great numbers doing some great things, but this guy, for me, has been the most consistent," said the Dodgers' Rod Barajas, who has been behind the plate for the vast majority of Kershaw's 32 starts. "He leads in every category, and you can't look past a guy who does that and pick somebody else.

"For me, this kid is the best pitcher in the National League."

Kershaw needed a little help this time. He appeared to run out of gas in the eighth inning, giving up a solo homer to light-hitting Giants catcher Chris Stewart and then a couple of walks, so he had to be rescued at the 115-pitch mark. Enter rookie reliever Kenley Jansen, who continued his absolute domination by striking out the next two batters, and rookie reliever Javy Guerra took care of the rest in the ninth, nailing down his 19th save.

A team effort. And that, Kershaw said, is the key to winning 20 games, something no Dodgers pitcher had done since Ramon Martinez in 1990.

"Pitching on the right day has a whole lot to do with it," Kershaw said. "These guys have picked me up time and time again. It's just a combination of things that go into winning 20 games, and a whole lot of people helping me out. That is why it's more of a team accomplishment than anything else."

And then, for really the first time all season, Kershaw allowed himself to actually address the issue of the Cy Young. Sort of.

"I will say this," he said, "if at the end of the season, I look back and if I am able to receive that, then it won't be taken lightly."

Lost in all the hoopla surrounding his 20th win was the fact that Kershaw's performance not only lifted the Dodgers (77-76) above the .500 mark for the first time since April 29, when they were 14-13, but also ended the Giants' eight-game winning streak and dealt a serious blow to what remained of their playoff hopes, leaving them 5½ games behind the division-leading Arizona Diamondbacks in the NL West and 4½ behind the Atlanta Braves for the wild card, this with eight games remaining on the Giants' schedule.

"Yeah, that's a shame," Kershaw said, deadpan.

But this night wasn't really about playing spoiler. On an evening when Chavez Ravine virtually rocked with a playoff-like atmosphere despite a dozen or so completely empty sections on the reserved level, this was all about Kershaw making his final home start of the season and one of the final statements as to his worthiness for one of the game's most hallowed awards. Afterward, a few other people made statements as well.

"It's a tough call," Giants manager Bruce Bochy told reporters. "But if you look at what Kershaw has done, he has to be a favorite."

But is it really a tough call at this point? Is there really any room for wondering, any need for hoping, any point in crossing one's fingers?

Is there really any chance at this point that Kershaw, with his 20-5 record, his 2.27 ERA, his 242 strikeouts, his 226 innings pitched and his strikeout-to-walk ratio of almost 5-1, will possibly fall short of his first Cy Young?

"This kid has been great all year, and he has been doing this every time out for the most part," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "I'm sure people in Arizona are going to debate it and people in Philadelphia and places like that. But for me, I think his numbers and what he has been able to do speak for themselves. I see him every five days, so I'm really prejudiced about how good this guy is. But I don't think there is much of a chance that anybody has been any better than that."

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.