Whether Saturday happens to be the final regular season start of Clayton Kershaw’s career, or if it’s simply the coda to a 16th season of a glorious X-year career, there is something poetic about the iconic Dodgers left-hander finishing things off against the rival Giants.
Kershaw against San Francisco has a 1.99 ERA in 58 games, including 56 starts, and 388 innings. That’s essentially two full seasons’ worth of innings of a sub-2.00 ERA. It’s the best ERA by any pitcher against any team with at least 250 innings in the Live-Ball Era (since 1920).
Lowest ERA against any single opponent
It’s pretty telling that Kershaw is also on this list for his stellar work against the Padres. Turns out, he’s had a pretty incredible career.
But this is about what he’s done against the Giants.
Kershaw faced them only once as a 20-year-old rookie in 2008, in a tuneup relief appearance on the final day of the regular season. Naturally, he tossed a scoreless inning.
In Kershaw’s first start against the Giants, on Jackie Robinson Day in 2009 at Dodger Stadium, he struck out 13 in seven innings, and allowed only one hit.
“The kid was spectacular tonight,” said manager Joe Torre.
The only hit Kershaw allowed in that 2009 start was a solo home run, by Bengie Molina. Those will happen, and through the years — and again, two full seasons’ full of starts against one team — Kershaw has allowed some home runs to players who would make great guesses on Immaculate Grid.
Brett Pill homered against Kershaw for the Giants. So did Brandon Hicks, and Kelby Tomlinson, Mac Williamson, and Ehire Adrianza, to name a few. But as Kershaw’s lifetime numbers show, the damage was minimal.
In nearly half (27) of his career starts against the Giants (56), Kershaw has allowed zero or one run. He’s allowed more than three runs to the rivals only eight times.
“I was shocked, I didn’t know what to expect. What an awesome feeling,” Kershaw said of his home run, hit off George (“don’t blame me, I voted for”) Kontos. “I was fortunate. I figured I better swing at the first pitch because I already struck out twice and didn’t want to strike out again.”
The Dodgers tacked on three more runs in the inning, even if the score is spiritually remembered as 1-0 instead of 4-0.
Clayton Kershaw vs. Giants
Kershaw also hit his only career triple against the Giants. That came in the division-clincher in 2014 against the Giants at Dodger Stadium. Kershaw struck out 11 in eight innings, allowing only a run.
Kershaw that night walked off the field serenaded by chants of “MVP,” which proved true about two months later.
“He’s had a tremendous year, he’s been incredible. He should get a lot of consideration,” manager Don Mattingly said after that game. “To me he’s the MVP but I don’t get a vote.”
What’s remarkable about Kershaw’s performance against the Giants is the consistency. Looking at his year-to-year ERA against San Francisco, it’s nearly always in the ones or low twos.
Only three times in 16 seasons has Kershaw’s ERA against the Giants been above 2.77, and those came from 2020-22. This year, he’s back to 1.64 in two starts and 11 innings against the longtime rivals..
Outside of Kershaw’s no-hitter, which came against the Rockies, the best regular season game of his career was probably another division-clincher against the Giants, this one in San Francisco.
In 2015, he allowed a single and a walk to the Giants but nothing else. Kershaw struck out 13 in a row and retired his final 19 batters in a row to clinch the National League West.
Kershaw isn’t going to go the distance on Saturday against the Giants, as he hasn’t gone past five innings since returning from the injured list in August after missing six weeks with shoulder inflammation.
But he’s been reasonably effective while on the mound, including five scoreless innings last Saturday to beat the Giants in Los Angeles. Now, at Oracle Park where he has a sparking 1.64 ERA, Kershaw has a chance to add to his mind-boggling numbers against the Giants one more time.