Clayton Kershaw is 27, and already it is difficult to find something he has not done in his career.
Most valuable player? Got one. Cy Young? Got three. Best earned-run average in the major leagues? Four years running.
Lead the major leagues in strikeouts? That would be new.
So here he comes, atop that leaderboard after his latest brilliant performance Friday night in a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Cubs that extended the Dodgers’ winning streak to four games.
Kershaw tied a season high with 14 strikeouts while giving up one run over eight innings, never going more than three consecutive batters without a strikeout.
“He really set the tone for us,” Manager Don Mattingly said.
And, although this year’s National League Cy Young award had been popularly conceded to Zack Greinke, Kershaw is putting his name back into the conversation. Grienke leads the league with a 1.63 earned-run average, but Kershaw is third at 2.24. The pitcher in between, the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta (2.22), faces the Dodgers on Sunday.
Kershaw is 6-0 in his last 10 starts, with an ERA of 0.92, eight walks and 96 strikeouts.
Kershaw’s 248 strikeouts in 2011 are his career high. Not for much longer, though. He has 236 already this season, seven more than major league runner-up Chris Sale of the White Sox, with an outside possibility of becoming the first Dodgers pitcher with 300 strikeouts since Sandy Koufax in 1966.
Kershaw twice has led the NL in strikeouts. In 2013, he finished third in the majors, behind Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers. In 2011 he was second, two strikeouts behind Justin Verlander of the Tigers.
He said it would not mean too much to lead the majors in strikeouts.
“Not really,” he said. “Leading the league in outs would be good, though.”
He leads the NL in that category, 28 behind major league leader Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians.
Kershaw and the Dodgers benefited Friday from some alert baserunning, a rare sight at Dodger Stadium this season.
In the third inning, Chase Utley could have stopped at second on a drive to the gap that drove home Jimmy Rollins, but Utley raced to third on the throw home. In the sixth, with the score tied, 1-1, Utley keyed a three-run rally by scampering from second base to third on a not-so-wild pitch.
Mattingly praised Utley, a Dodger for all of a week, for running the bases aggressively but not recklessly. A player need not be fast, he said, to run the bases with smarts.
“Without bad-mouthing anybody else, it’s just an awareness of how to run the bases,” Mattingly said. “It’s one of the areas we’ve honestly been lackadaisical.”
After the Dodgers lost their fifth consecutive game last week, Kershaw said he hoped his teammates were “panicking a little bit,” then amended his words to a “sense of urgency.” The Dodgers are 4-0 since then, but Kershaw declined to take any credit Friday.
For one, he said, three of those victories came against the last-place Cincinnati Reds. For another, he isn’t so sure his teammates hang on his every exhortation.
“I don’t think they care,” he said. “We’re just playing good.”
The Dodgers’ Mat Latos (4-9, 4.81 ERA) faces the Cubs’ Jon Lester (8-9, 3.44) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Dodger Stadium. TV: SportsNet LA. Radio: 570, 1020.