Like many times before, Clayton Kershaw downplayed his performance Friday and highlighted the contributions of his teammates.
Only this time, his words reflected reality, not his modesty.
Kershaw became baseball’s first 20-game winner on a day he wasn’t close to his best, as the Dodgers made up for his pedestrian five-inning start with a six-run first inning and four home runs in a 14-5 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.
“I’ve always said wins are a team stat,” said Kershaw (20-3), who was charged with three runs in a laborious 106-pitch effort.
Here’s another team stat: The magic number to guarantee the Dodgers a postseason berth is zero.
The Dodgers are in the playoffs. Their win, combined with a loss by the Milwaukee Brewers, secured them at least one of the two National League wild cards.
“If you’re able to do that, you’ve at least given yourself a chance to play when there’s only going to be 10 teams left,” Manager Don Mattingly said before the Brewers lost. “If that’s your only way, you’re good with it. But you feel like winning the division is really what you’re here to accomplish.”
The magic number to win the NL West is six.
Kershaw’s next turn in the rotation will be Wednesday in the series finale at Dodger Stadium against the second-place San Francisco Giants.
He will enter that start as a two-time 20-game winner. He was 21-5 in 2011, when he won the first of his two Cy Young Awards. The Dodgers’ last two-time 20-game winner was Claude Osteen, who reached the benchmark in 1969 and 1972.
If the 2011 season represented a breakthrough for Kershaw, this season has marked his ascension to historic heights.
Because Kershaw missed the entire month of April with a strained back muscle, he has started only 26 games.
One other pitcher since World War II won 20 games in fewer than 30 starts: Pedro Martinez in 1999.
“It’s basically because he doesn’t have games like today,” catcher Ellis said.
Behind home runs by Matt Kemp and Ellis, the Dodgers knocked out Cubs starter Edwin Jackson in the first inning.
But Kershaw gave up three runs in the bottom of the inning, with the Cubs getting an RBI double by Anthony Rizzo and an RBI triple by Cuban rookie sensation Jorge Soler.
“My control wasn’t good today,” Kershaw said. “My fastball was kind of all over the place and breaking balls weren’t breaking. It was just a battle, just a grind.”
He never really found his rhythm as he allowed multiple baserunners over each of the next four innings.
Here’s what makes Kershaw special: None of them scored.
“He had a few different jams and you see what he’s made of,” Mattingly said. “He gets out of every one of those jams. I think he shows you what he’s all about, even in that outing.”
The Dodgers continued scoring.
Ellis belted his second home run of the game in the third inning.
Of Kershaw, Ellis said, “He’s made me look good for so long for so many years it was nice to kind of help him in this game, give him a little offense so he could battle his way through five innings.”
This has been a difficult season for Ellis, who underwent a minor knee operation in April and sprained his ankle less than two weeks after returning. He entered this game with one home run and a .188 average.
Kershaw was delighted for Ellis.
“A.J. does so much work for me,” Kershaw said. “It’s a selfless job catching. It’s his fault when I pitch bad and I’ll take the credit when we win. He comes every day and prepares, gets ready for me and my mood swings, getting mad at him. He puts up with all of it, calms me down, calls the right pitches.”
The Dodgers added six runs in the sixth inning, including three on a home run by Yasiel Puig that sailed out of Wrigley Field.
The home run was the second in four games for Puig, who is batting.412 over his last eight games.
“I don’t worry about home runs or extra-base hits,” Puig said in Spanish. “I’m just looking for good pitches and to make solid contact.”
By doing so, Puig thinks he has emerged from a monthlong slump.
“I’m looking for better pitches,” he said. “I’m not rushing as much at the plate.”
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez