Kershaw won his second National League Cy Young Award in 2013 and at just 25 years old still has quite a bright baseball future ahead of him. But it will take a monumental effort for Kershaw to eclipse his signature campaign this year for the Dodgers.
That is a sobering thought, that Kershaw likely won't ever be as good as he was in 2013. But that's not to say he can't be consistently excellent. There is plenty of leeway between as-good-as-2013 and best-pitcher-in-baseball status. That Kershaw might not again be as good as he was in 2013 isn't an indictment of his future, but rather a celebration of just how dominant he was this year.
Kershaw was 16-9 with a 1.83 ERA in his 33 starts, and lead the league with 232 strikeouts in a career-high 236 innings. He led the majors in ERA for a third straight season, something done only by Lefty Grove and Greg Maddux previously.
Kershaw's 1.83 ERA was the lowest mark since Pedro Martinez's sublime 2000 campaign (1.74), and the lowest National League mark since Maddux put up a 1.63 ERA in the strike-shortened 1995 season.
It was the lowest ERA by a Dodgers starter since Sandy Koufax put up a 1.73 ERA in his final season in 1966. Kershaw wasn't just a product of a reduced scoring environment — the NL scored 4.00 runs per game, the lowest mark since 1992 — as his adjusted-for-league-and-park ERA+ of 194 is the best ever by a Dodgers starter.
Let's take a stroll back through the magnificent year that was for Kershaw, from start to finish:
The signature Kershaw season began with the best game of his career, on opening day against the Giants. Kershaw was locked in a scoreless duel with San Francisco, but led off the bottom of the eighth inning. I tweeted this just before the inning began:
Kershaw (85 pitches through 8 scoreless) should probably just homer to lead off the 8th. Might not see a run otherwise— Eric Stephen (@truebluela) April 1, 2013
That turned out to be my tweet of the year, as Kershaw took reliever George Kontos deep for the first home run of his career.
Kershaw completed the shutout, and in three opening day starts in his career has yet to allow a run, in 19 total innings. Kershaw was the first pitcher with a shutout and home run on opening day in 60 years, since Bob Lemon in 1953.
On April 28 against the Brewers, Kershaw struck out a career-high 12 in eight innings, and walked none retiring 18 straight batters at one point. It was the 18th game by a Dodgers pitcher in the Retrosheet era (1916-present) with at least 12 strikeouts and no walks, and the second by Kershaw.
Kershaw lasted at least seven innings in all six of his starts for the month, and put up a 1.97 ERA. He struck out 11 and pitched scoreless ball into the ninth inning against the Nationals on May 14. He threw a career-high 132 pitches in trying for his second shutout of the season, but left with two outs up 2-0 with the tying run at the plate.
Kershaw had a 2.65 ERA in June, which made that his worst month of the season. The highlight of the month came on June 26, when Kershaw ran his career record against Tim Lincecum to 5-0 with another win against the Giants.
There were also reports that the Dodgers and Kershaw were "making progress" toward a contract extension, though to date no agreement has been reached.
The start of the month saw Kershaw's second shutout of the season, but what made it unique was the location. On July 2, Kershaw struck out eight Rockies in Denver for just the 21st shutout in Coors Field history, and just the sixth with no walks. He also proved his fielding prowess, glove or no glove.
Kershaw should have started the All-Star Game for the National League, but that honor went to Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, who got the nod in his home park.
The choice was exacerbated by Giants manager Bruce Bochy, skipper of the NL All-Star squad as well, who said, "It really wouldn't have mattered what city we were playing in with the year [Harvey]'s had. He would have been the starter anywhere."
Kershaw ended the month with eight scoreless innings against the Yankees, but got a no-decision. The Dodgers on the season scored two or fewer runs in 16 of Kershaw's 33 starts.
Kershaw won NL Pitcher of the Month for July, thanks to a 1.34 ERA and 43 strikeouts to go with a scant two walks. Two.
The burden of unreal expectations made it such that a pair of back-to-back wins on Aug. 11 and Aug. 17 were a tad disappointing if only because Kershaw didn't pitch no-hitters. But the southpaw did take a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Rays, then did the same against the Phillies six days later, though with the added caveat of retiring the first 12 batters of the game.
The supremely focused Kershaw tried to keep his thoughts off the no-hit bids.
"I don't know if you ever feel like tonight's the night or anything like that," he said. "When you get some runs, all you want to do is go deep in the game."
Kershaw followed up his Pitcher of the Month award in July with a 1.01 ERA in August, but was just part of a sublime rotation that month for the Dodgers, who were 23-6 thanks to a 2.07 team ERA.
Kershaw ended his regular season with a pair of scoreless outings, with 10 strikeouts in seven innings in San Diego on Sept. 21 followed by eight strikeouts over six frames against the Rockies on Sept. 27.
Kershaw had 10 scoreless starts on the season, more than anybody else in MLB.
After his final regular season start he tried to put the year in perspective.
"I try not to think about it. No disrespect to the history. I understand how those guys came before me and this organization has a lot of of pride and tradition. I'm not trying to take anything away from that," Kershaw said. "For me it's too hard to think about all that stuff and continue to pitch. I just try to enjoy every start I can get and hopefully try not to screw things up too bad."
Manager Don Mattingly was amazed at Kershaw's 2013 season.
"With Clayton it's just been all year. It's been an amazing season. He had one game in there, maybe two, where he was a little rough," Mattingly said. "If we would have gotten this guy some runs for him he would have won 25 or 26 games this year."
Kershaw was also voted by Dodgers teammates and coaches as the 2013 Roy Campanella Award winner, given annually to the Dodger who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership of the late Hall of Fame former Dodgers catcher.
Kershaw continued his success in the playoffs, dominating Game 1 of the NLDS against the Braves. His 12 strikeouts were the third-most by a Dodgers pitcher in the postseason, including this curve to freeze B.J. Upton:
Up 2-1 in the series, Mattingly went for the kill in Game 4, pitching Kershaw on three days rest, news the left-hander was excited to hear.
"Trey [Hillman, bench coach] was telling me, after he walks out of our office last night knowing he's going to pitch today. Trey said he was like a kid on Halloween that stole the biggest bag of candy you could ever see," Mattingly said. "This guy was so excited to be pitching today, and that's just special."
Kershaw didn't disappoint, with six strikeouts and just four baserunners allowed in his six innings. But he left a tied game thanks to a pair of unearned runs in a no-decision, a game the Dodgers would eventually win thanks to Juan Uribe.
"He's the best pitcher on the planet. There is nobody better. What he did on three days rest, we did him no favors behind him," said catcher A.J. Ellis. "He could have gone seven innings real easy tonight, but he battled and grinded and never complained. He was locked in from the get go, he wanted this. This guy is a warrior. He wanted the challenge of doing this, and he more than delivered."
In the NLCS, Kershaw was just as good in Game 2 against the Cardinals, but unfortunately Michael Wacha was just a little bit better. Kershaw was cruising with only 72 pitches in his six innings, thanks in part to pitches like this:
But an unearned run put the Dodgers behind 1-0 and Kershaw was pulled after just six innings as the team needed more offense. But they didn't get it against Wacha, and fell behind 2-0 in the series.
Kershaw, and Greinke, lobbied to start on three days rest with the Dodgers down in the series against the Cardinals, but this time the Dodgers stayed on their regular rotation. Kershaw took the mound again in Game 6 with the Dodgers down 3-2 in the series.
But this is where the fairytale season ended. Kershaw had his worst start of the season, allowing seven runs in four innings as St. Louis romped 9-0 to clinch a spot in the World Series.
It was a shocking result, but the Game 6 defeat helped outline just how great Kershaw's 2013 year was.
Even with those seven runs allowed in his final outing, Kershaw's postseason ERA in 2013 was still just 3.13, with 28 strikeouts in 23 innings. Including the postseason Kershaw pitched 259 innings, the most by a Dodger since Orel Hershiser in 1988. Kershaw had a 1.95 ERA, 260 strikeouts and just 59 walks.
It was a truly remarkable year for Kershaw in 2013, and one that will be remembered for a long, long time.