Revisiting the Clayton Kershaw 300-strikeout race

Exactly three weeks ago, I took a look at Clayton Kershaw‘s chances of reaching the elusive and rare 300-strikeout club. At the time, Kershaw had 205 strikeouts through 23 starts and had an 11.4 K/9 rate. Fast forward four starts, and Kershaw now has 251 strikeouts and an 11.6 K/9 rate. Last night against the San Francisco Giants, he struck out 15 on 132 pitches in a complete game effort. The start came on the heels of a 14-strikeout effort against the Chicago Cubs and a 10-strikeout effort against the Houston Astros his previous two starts. Against the Giants, Kershaw generated 35 swings-and-misses, the most in at least 10 years.

Kershaw also became the first Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher to strike out 14 or more in consecutive games. The franchise’s lengthy history does include a guy named Sandy Koufax, so this is quite a feat. He also became just the third pitcher in the modern era to strike out 14 or more while allowing one run or less. The only other two pitchers to accomplish that feat were Randy Johnson (2001) and Pedro Martinez who did it twice (1999 and 2000). It’s clear that Kershaw is on another level of dominance right now, one he has yet to reach in his already dominant career.

Where does that leave him in the chase to become the first pitcher to strikeout 300 in a single season since Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002?

Kershaw will figure to get at least five more starts over the course of the season. The Dodgers have 30 more games to play, so Kershaw could conceivably get six starts, but I expect the Dodgers to give him a break down the stretch if they have their division in hand with next to no chance of catching St. Louis for the National League’s best record.

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Kershaw will likely have to strike out over ten batters in each of his next five starts to get to 300. He’s already put together three three-game double digit strikeout streaks this year, but asking him to extend his current streak to eight games seems a gargantuan task, but not an impossible one. Facing the Rockies twice is a huge plus for Kershaw. He’s already recorded a 12-strikeout game against them this year. Buried 24 games under .500, the Rockies will be rolling out a lineup that should include at least a few call-ups. If Kershaw can rack up 12 strikeouts in both starts against the Rockies, that leaves him needing just over eight per game in his remaining three starts. That’s very doable with a slumping Los Angeles Angels team on the docket next time out. The Pittsburgh Pirates are a strikeout-prone bunch, and Kershaw has already proven he can dominate the Giants like no one’s business.

Kershaw has a very good chance to reach 300 thanks to the way the schedule works out, but he must have another of the 12-plus strikeout game the likes of which he’s already posted four of this year. Those two starts against Colorado will likely make or break his 300-strikeout quest. Should he whiff at least 11 or 12 in those two starts, there is a very high probability that he will be able to add the final missing individual accomplishment to his already sterling resume — a 300-strikeout season.

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