If there is a law of gravity in baseball — that what goes up must eventually come down — it does not seem to apply to the Dodgers.
Clayton Kershaw needed 99 pitches to toss his 25th career complete game, striking out 13 and walking none, and newly minted All-Star Justin Turner clubbed a pair of homers to highlight a 5-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals on a steamy 94-degree Sunday in Dodger Stadium.
The Dodgers’ sixth straight win completed their major league-leading 10th series sweep and sent them to the All-Star break with a major league-best 61-29 record. They’re 26-4 since June 7, a span in which they turned a two-game National League West deficit into a 7 1/2-game lead.
They have the best run differential (plus-163) in baseball, the game’s best starting pitcher in Kershaw, the NL’s best closer in Kenley Jansen and its best rookie in Cody Bellinger, who has a team-leading 25 homers and 58 RBIs in 70 games. Some nights, they pummel teams; others, they stun them with late-game rallies.
The Dodgers have been so good for so long that it prompts the question: Are they a hot team, or is this the way they’re capable of playing?
“How long is a hot streak, or is this just us?” Kershaw said. “I guess we’ll find out the next half.”
Turner, asked the same question, cited the team’s state of mind as a factor in its on-the-field success.
“I think we’re really good at being in the moment right now,” Turner said. “We’re not worried about what happened yesterday or what’s in front of us. It’s about today and what we’re going to do to prepare and try to win a game.
“We’ve done a good job of that, whether we’re ahead, and the bullpen is keeping leads, or we’re behind, and you’ve seen us fight back. This team has a lot of resiliency, and we know if there’s outs left, we have a chance to win a game.”
The Dodgers were in control from start to finish in Sunday’s 2-hour 16-minute game. Turner hit a solo homer in the first and capped a three-run third with a two-run shot, giving Kershaw an early four-run cushion. Austin Barnes hit a solo homer in the sixth.
Mixing a fastball that touched 94 mph with a sharply breaking slider and a slow curve, Kershaw, with idol Sandy Koufax in attendance, kept the Royals off balance all afternoon. He allowed six hits, his only blemish Eric Hosmer’s two-run homer to left-center in the fourth, to improve to 14-2 with a 2.18 ERA.
“It’s about time, it’s been awhile,” Kershaw said after his first complete game since May 23, 2016. “Sandy was here today, so I wanted to do it for him.”
Thanks to the aggressiveness of the Royals hitters, Kershaw became the first pitcher in major league history to strike out at least 13 in a complete game while throwing fewer than 100 pitches.
“He was Clayton-esque,” manager Dave Roberts said. “He had everything working. … I think those guys are swinging once they’re in the batter’s box. Being around the strike zone lends itself to efficiency, and when Clayton got ahead in the count, he was able to wipe them out.”
Turner’s first homer off Royals left-hander Danny Duffy traveled 412 feet to dead center. His second, which followed a Trayce Thompson triple and a Logan Forsythe RBI single, was a towering shot to center that carried 405 feet and reached 127 feet at its apex, according to Statcast.
“It was hot out there,” Turner said. “I was trying to bring some rain down.”
Turner hit one homer in his first 39 games. Since he returned June 9 from a right-hamstring strain, he has nine homers in 26 games.
“There was no adjustment — sometimes they go over the fence, sometimes they don’t,” Turner said. “There are a lot of conversations about juiced balls, but I’ve flown out to the warning track about 30 times this year, so I guess they’re not juiced for me.”
Turner, who won the “Final Vote” contest for the last spot on the NL All-Star team, headed to Miami with a .377 average, .473 on-base percentage, 10 homers, 17 doubles and 37 RBIs.
“It doesn’t matter who he’s facing, lefty or righty, hard thrower or soft thrower, he continues to put good at-bats on guys,” Kershaw said of Turner. “I’ve never done a scouting report on him, but it seems like there’s no weakness you can exploit as a pitcher. He does everything well, and that’s why he’s going to Miami.”