Hey, I thought it was going to happen, too. For six innings Thursday, Clayton Kershaw mowed through the New York Mets' lineup like the greenkeepers at Augusta National, the only thing resembling hard contact a grounder off the bat of Bartolo Colon. He'd thrown just 62 pitches, 47 for strikes, and punched out eight batters. Considering the Mets' cleanup hitter on this night entered batting .170 and the No. 5 hitter .179, this wasn't exactly a surprise, as far as potential perfect games go.
It didn't happen. Curtis Granderson led off the bottom of the seventh and Kershaw threw an 0-2 slider that didn't slide off the plate and Granderson hit a soft liner to right field for a base hit. With two runners on in that inning, Kershaw fanned John Mayberry Jr. -- that cleanup hitter -- on a nasty curveball and then got Eric Campbell to ground out, and that was the ballgame. Kershaw finished the 3-0 win with a three-hit shutout, the 11th of his career, and over his past three starts has recorded 38 strikeouts and no walks, just the third pitcher in 101 years to have three straight games of 10-plus K's with no walks.
Clayton Kershaw. You remember him: The best pitcher in the game.
The Los Angeles Dodgers southpaw has been overshadowed by teammate Zack Greinke, who has a 1.30 ERA and a streak of 43 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. Greinke, who was scheduled to start Friday before leaving the team when his wife into labor, now has Kershaw breathing down his neck with 29 consecutive zeroes of his own.
What a duo of starters, certainly the best in the game right now. Bill James created a method that ranks the best current starting pitchers. It factors in a variety of things, with an emphasis on more recent performance. Kershaw still ranked No. 1 on the list, just ahead of Max Scherzer with Greinke third. That sounds right to me; as great as Greinke has been, Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball. While there were some concerns about Kershaw when his ERA stood at 4.32 in late May, it's now down to 2.51. He's fine. Just ask the Mets.
The best five duos right now? Just using the rankings at BillJamesonline, we'd get this:
1. Kershaw (1st) and Greinke (3rd)
2. Scherzer (2nd) and Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (15th)
Subjectively, I might move the Pirates' duo up to third, considering how well Cole has pitched this season. But under the James method, he has to work his way up. The system also looks at game score, and Cole ranks just 14th in average game score among qualified starters, as he doesn't have a lot of games in which he's gone eight or nine innings and has just one double-digit strikeout game. So he hasn't been as dominant in a strikeout sense as some of these other guys. The Mets' pair of Jacob deGrom and Matt Harvey could also be considered, although after missing all of 2014, Harvey also has to earn his way back up into the elite (and has scuffled a bit of late).
Where do Kershaw and Greinke rank historically? The James site has a search mechanism but it goes back only a couple of years. For what it's worth, Scherzer and Justin Verlander of the Tigers ranked second and third at the end of 2013 and Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee of the Phillies ranked first and third in 2011. So having two aces at this level isn't that unusual.
Grandal on Kershaw's last three starts (8+ innings, 10+ strikeouts, 0 walks): "Not too many people can do that, unless you're Greinke."— Dylan Hernandez (@dylanohernandez) July 24, 2015
Using Baseball-Reference WAR, here are teammates who ranked 1-2 in the majors in pitching WAR:
2011: Halladay (8.9) and Lee (8.6)
2002: Randy Johnson (10.9) and Curt Schilling (8.7), Diamondbacks
2001: Johnson (10.0) and Schilling (8.8)
1956: Early Wynn (7.8) and Herb Score (7.3), Indians
1944: Dizzy Trout (9.6) and Hal Newhouser (8.0), Tigers
1903: Joe McGinnity (11.6) and Christy Mathewson (9.8), Giants
What about some other famous duos? Tom Glavine led in WAR in 1991 while teammate John Smoltz was ninth. Greg Maddux joined the Braves in 1993 and ranked first in WAR in 1994 and 1995, but those weren't great years for Glavine or Smoltz. Smoltz and Maddux ranked fourth and fifth in 1996. Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax were second and third in 1964, a year Koufax missed some time. Koufax ranked first in 1963 and 1966, but Drysdale didn't crack the top 10 in either season. Frank Tanana and Nolan Ryan of the Angels were third and fifth in 1977, a dynamic duo for a few seasons until Tanana got hurt. Mark Gubicza of the Royals was first in 1988 and sixth in 1989 and teammate Bret Saberhagen was first in 1989. Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton of the Cardinals were first and eighth in 1969, but Carlton didn't really become CARLTON until he was traded to the Phillies.
Other methods may produce a pair I may have missed, but there's little doubt that the Kershaw-Greinke duo has a chance to become one of the most dominant single-season duos ever seen. Greinke is having a historic season that will forever be remembered if he keeps it going. Kershaw is simply still the best there is.