Dodgers Kershaw in Position for Triple Crown

Clayton Kershaw virtually wrapped up the pitching Triple Crown (wins, strikeouts and ERA) on Sunday, which virtually wrapped up the Cy Young Award. That's based on the premise that since the award was created in 1956, all pitchers who've won the Triple Crown were voted the Cy Young winner by the baseball writers.

In his final start of the year, Kershaw allowed two runs in 7.1 innings against the Padres, then Kenley Jansen once again stranded an important inherited runner in the eighth inning to preserve the win for Kershaw and the Dodgers, who beat the Padres 6-2.

The Dodgers ensured they will finish with a better record this year (80-78 with three left) than last year (80-82).

The success of Jansen and the rest of the Dodgers bullpen in stranding inherited runners is a major reason why Kershaw will likely win the ERA title.

Here's a breakdown of how the leaders rank after Sunday in the Triple Crown categories.

Wins: Kershaw's 21st Sunday tied Arizona's Ian Kennedy for most in the National League. No other pitcher has 20. Kennedy won't start again the rest of this year, and since Arizona has secured a playoff spot and Kennedy's tabbed for the Game 1 NL Division Series start, it's unthinkable that he'd pitch in relief to get his 22nd win.

Strikeouts: Kershaw fanned six more Sunday, giving him 248 this year. The next highest is Cliff Lee with 232 strikeouts, so he would need 17 strikeouts in his final start Monday to catch Kershaw.

ERA: Kershaw finishes the year with a 2.28 ERA. Roy Halladay pitched six scoreless innings Sunday, lowering his ERA to 2.35. Lee enters his final start Monday with a 2.38 ERA, and even nine shutout innings would only lower it to 2.29. It would take 10 2/3 scoreless innings for Lee to catch Kershaw.

If Kershaw comes out on top of all those categories, he'll owe a big thank-you to Jansen, who was once Kershaw's catcher in the minor leagues. Kershaw allowed a solo home run to Aaron Cunningham in the fifth inning, and took a 6-1 lead into the eighth inning. He allowed a double, a flyout to deep left, and a triple made it 6-2.

Jansen entered the game, and struck out the next two batters to strand the runner at third. If that runner had scored, then Kershaw's ERA would be 2.31, or 0.03 higher. In that scenario, Lee could catch him with seven scoreless innings Monday night.

It wasn't the first time Jansen saved Kershaw's ERA. In Kershaw's previous start, Jansen stranded two runners in the eighth inning, and overall was 5-for-5 this year in not allowing Kershaw's runs to score.

Overall, Kershaw departed his 33 starts with 18 runners on base this year.

If all 18 runners had scored, his ERA would be 2.97 this year.

If none of those 18 runners scored, his ERA would be 2.08 this year. That gap of 0.89 runs is the difference between first and ninth in the league in ERA.

As it turned out, only five of those 18 inherited runners came around to score. They came in back-to-back starts -- June 4 and June 9, at Cincinnati and Colorado -- as Scott Elbert and Mike MacDougal couldn't put out the fires.

The other 13 runners did not score.

So barring 10.2 scoreless innings from Lee on Monday, those stranded runners will give Kershaw the ERA title.

And barring 17 strikeouts from Lee on Monday, that will give Kershaw the strikeout title, the pitchers' Triple Crown, and most likely, sometime in November, the Cy Young Award.

In addition, Kershaw set a new career high with his 33rd start of the season. He also leads the circuit with a .208 opponents' batting average and ranks fourth in innings.

v According to Elias, Kershaw is just one of just four all-time pitchers to reach the 20-win plateau with 240 or more strikeouts in a single season while under the age of 24. The others are Dwight Gooden (24 wins, 268 strikeouts in 1985), Bert Blyleven (20 W, 258 SO in 1973) and Vida Blue (24 W, 301 SO in 1971).

The win today extended Kershaw's career-long winning streak to eight games, which would be the longest for a Dodger since Chad Billingsley won nine in a row from Aug. 30, 2008-May 3, 2009.

v His 21 wins is the most for a Dodger since Orel Hershiser won 23 in 1988, and the fourth-best all-time winning percentage for a Los Angeles Dodger starting pitcher with a .808 mark (21-5). He's currently tied for fourth along with Brad Penny (16-4, 2007) and Rick Rhoden (12-3, 1976), trailing Hershiser (18-3, .857, 1985), Sandy Koufax (25-5, .833, 1963) and Tommy John (13-3, .813, 1974).  

Kershaw is sixth on the Los Angeles Dodger single-season strikeout list, after punching out six on Sunday:
 
LA Dodger Single-Season 
Strikeout Leaders
 
1. Sandy Koufax, 1965	        382
2. Sandy Koufax, 1966    	317
3. Sandy Koufax, 1963     	306
4. Sandy Koufax, 1961    	269
5. Don Drysdale, 1963      	251
6. Clayton Kershaw, 2011	248
7. Bill Singer, 1969       	247
8. Don Drysdale, 1963     	246
T9. Don Drysdale, 1959     	242
T-9. Fernando Valenzuela, 1986	242
--RF Jerry Sands extended his hitting streak to 13 games Sunday with a single to center field. Sands also walked twice in the game. He's got 15 doubles, which ranks fifth on the team, despite barely going over 200 plate appearances on the season.

Longest Hitting Streaks, 
LA Dodgers Rookies 
1. 20 - Tommy Davis        	July 30-Aug. 20, 1960
2. 18 - Bill Sudakis       	July 31-Aug. 19, 1969
T-3. 16 - Andre Ethier    	July 26-Aug. 12, 2006
T-3. 16 - Steve Sax     	June 11-27, 1982
T-5. 14 - Raul Mondesi    	May 8-22, 1994
T-5. 14 - Raul Mondesi     	May 25-June 10, 1994
T-5. 14 - Mike Marshall 	July 22-Aug. 4, 1983              
T8. 13 - Willy Aybar       	May 26-June 7, 2006
T-8. 13 - Jerry Sands    	Sept. 12, 2011-current
T-9. 12 - Mike Piazza     	Sept. 21-Oct. 3, 1993
T-9. 12 - Bob Lillis     	Sept. 12-26, 1958
	 Source: Elias Sports Bureau
NOTES, QUOTES
--CF Matt Kemp's chance for the Triple Crown took a severe hit Sunday. Milwaukee LF Ryan Braun went 2-for-3, including his 33rd home run, so he's hitting .333 for the year. Kemp went 1-for-5, and his average dropped to .324 overall. Even if Kemp goes 6-for-12 in the final three games, his average would only be .329, so he needs Braun to fall back, and for Mets SS Jose Reyes (.331) to falter in order to win the batting crown. Kemp and Cardinals 1B Albert Pujols remain tied with 37 home runs. Kemp drove in a run, so he's at 120 this year, which is five ahead of second-place Ryan Howard's 115. Kemp leads the league with 110 runs scored and ranks among the NL leaders in hits (190, 2nd), steals (40, T-2nd), on-base percentage (.401, 4th) and slugging percentage ( .582, 2nd). He needs just three home runs over his last four games to become only the fifth all-time player with a 40-home run/40-steal season. He has four home runs in 39 career games at PETCO Park and has homered seven times in 39 games at Chase Field.

--INF Eugenio Velez is 0-for-36 this year and 0-for-45 dating back to May 18, 2010. Manager Don Mattingly says he needs to keep giving him a chance to get a hit. If he doesn't get a hit this year, that would be a record for most at-bats in a season without a hit. The 45 straight hitless at-bats have tied Bill Bergen and Craig Counsell for the record by a non-pitcher.

--RHP Kenley Jansen now has the highest strikeout per nine inning ratio in baseball history. By striking out the only two batters he faced Sunday, Jansen has whiffed 93 batters in 52 innings, a 16.01 ratio that would beat Carlos Marmol's record of 15.99 set last year.

--RHP Chad Billingsley took a one-hit shutout into the fifth inning Saturday, then gave up three runs (two earned) in his final start of the season. Billingsley's strikeout rate dropped for the fourth straight year (9.0, 8.2, 8.0, 7.3). His walk rate climbed from 3.2 to 4.0 this year. His hit rate climbed for a third straight year (7.9, 8.3, 9.0). His innings dropped for a fourth straight year (200 2/3, 196 1/3, 191 2/3, 188).

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Rank of RHP Chad Billingsley for most walks in the National League this year. The only pitcher with more walks in the NL is Jhoulys Chacin (86). Billingsley and Tim Lincecum have each walked 84. Gio Gonzalez leads the AL with 88 walks.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Definitely not what I wanted. But I was healthy through the year for the first time in a long time, made every start. The outcome wasn't quite what I want ... It's a matter of how the ball feels coming out of my hand. I really struggled with my arm slot, trying not to cut the ball, staying on top to get backspin. It was a fight that lasted through the year." -- RHP Chad Billingsley, reflecting on his 2011 season that saw him go 11-11 with a 4.21 ERA.

Angels Win L.A. Attendance Title
The Angels have finally emerged from their northern neighbors' shadow. With Friday night's crowd of 41,113 fans, the Angels have drawn over 3 million for the ninth straight season. This is the first year the Angels have outdrawn the Dodgrs. The Dodgers, beset by ownership turmoil and worries about fan safety at their stadium, completed their home schedule Thursday night with a total of 2,935,139 fans. The Angels have four more home dates and have already drawn 3,006,670 fans, according to the team.    

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