PHOENIX -- Every once in awhile, the moons align so that a pitcher deserves serious consideration to win the Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season.
It happened in 2011, when Detroit right-hander Justin Verlander won both awards in the American League, and with barely a month to go in this season, Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw is hurtling in the same direction.
Even though I'm a member of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, I don't have a vote. Only two writers per award in each of the league cities do. But if the season ended today, my spiritual vote would go to Kershaw for both awards in the National League. And I'm not the only one thinking that way.
"I think it's reasonable," D-backs manager Kirk Gibson said before Kershaw defeated the D-backs, 3-1, on Wednesday night, throwing eight innings of six-hit, 10-strikeout ball. "With the roll that he's on, you'd have a hard time not drafting him first in your fantasy league, wouldn't you? It's certainly worth a discussion, yes. Clayton's been very impressive."
Pitchers have only won both awards seven times since the Cy Young was adopted in 1956. Three of those were Tigers, and Gibson played with one of them -- Willie Hernandez on Detroit's 1984 edition. Those Tigers opened 35-5 on their way to a 104-58 season and a five-game victory over the Padres in the World Series.
Hernandez was 9-3 with 32 saves and a 1.90 ERA in 80 appearances, and he was the first reliever to win both awards. The other was Dennis Eckersley for the A's in 1992.
"I mean, I played with a guy who was an MVP and Cy Young, and he meant a ton to our team," Gibson said. "He was 32 of 33 [in save opportunities]. He was just exceptional."
Gibson won the NL MVP Award in 1988, when the Dodgers last won the World Series and Orel Hershiser set the record by tossing 59 consecutive scoreless innings and won the NL Cy Young Award. Hershiser, 23-8 with a 2.26 ERA, could have easily also won the NL MVP Award that year.
"The thing about Kershaw -- and I know you're probably trying to keep it to this year -- it's just so impressive what he does year after year after year," Gibson said. "He's been very consistent. Beyond how we face him, we watch him the way he works every day, just watch him grow.
"He's very talented, and you've got to give him credit for continuing to get better with what he's got. He has the will and the determination to not stop right at where he's at. I think that's what separates him."
After opening with a win over the D-backs in Australia, Kershaw missed the next six weeks with a shoulder injury, but he still has compiled a formidable 16-3 record, a 1.73 ERA, 194 strikeouts and an 0.83 WHIP. For those who aren't into pitching victories, the Dodgers are 18-4 in his 22 starts, including a June 18 no-hitter against the Rockies at Dodger Stadium. Since the first-place Dodgers, at 76-58, are 18 games over .500, that's a major impact.
"Wins are a team thing," said Kershaw, the first Major League pitcher to reach 16 wins, despite the early layoff. "You can't judge a pitcher by his won-loss record. You judge a team by a pitcher's won-loss record, and we have a really good team."
Kershaw added that he's currently ignoring all the emerging NL MVP Award chatter and some of the "MVP, MVP" chants that came from Dodgers fans among the crowd of 28,394 at Chase Field, even as he struggled at times on Wednesday night, but allowed no earned runs.
"I'll let you know after the season," he said. "I'm not really thinking about it right now."
Kershaw's ongoing dominance has fans even in Los Angeles comparing him to the great Sandy Koufax, one of two Dodgers pitchers to win both the MVP Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season. The other was Don Newcombe, pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1956. Koufax did it in 1963, another World Series-winning season. Considering that the Cy Young Award was given to only one pitcher in baseball from 1956-66, the feat was much tougher during that period.
It hasn't happened in the NL since 1968, when Bob Gibson was 22-9 with a record 1.19 ERA and 268 strikeouts for the Cardinals. In the year of the pitcher, the Tigers' Denny McLain did it as well in the AL, with a 31-6 record, a 1.96 ERA and 280 strikeouts. McLain, whose Detroit club defeated St. Louis in a seven-game World Series, was the last 30-game winner.
It's the only time pitchers in both leagues have swept the two awards, and in response, Major League Baseball lowered the mound that winter from 15 inches to 10 inches, where it has remained.
The Cy Young Award is usually given to the best pitcher in each league, although as wins have been devalued over time because of the impact of bullpens, not always to the pitcher with the most victories. Other metrics take precedence. But the MVP Award is not purely a statistical award. A player's impact on team success is also a major consideration.
The Dodgers, with a five-game lead over the second-place Giants, are on their way to another NL West title, and Kershaw has certainly been a big part of that equation. Plus, Giancarlo Stanton, the top offensive player in the NL this season, is playing for a Marlins team that is 10 games behind the Nationals in the NL East and fading, five games out in the NL Wild Card race.
Stanton, who leads the league with 33 homers, 97 RBIs, a .403 on base percentage, a .558 slugging percentage and a .961 OPS, is Kershaw's top challenger. Stanton will get a lot of votes by virtue of the mere fact that he plays every day. Kershaw's club has a chance to go to the World Series. Edge to Kershaw, begging the question: Can a pitcher still be a league MVP?
"I think he can be," said Don Mattingly, the Dodgers' manager who won the 1985 AL MVP Award while playing first base for the Yankees when he led the league with 145 RBIs and 48 doubles. "My guy's not too bad. He's been pretty good. I think he's having that type of year. I've been talking about this numerous times because it's starting to come up all the time. I think it has to be one of those years that's pretty special. And at this point, it looks like one of those. So I think he's going to be highly considered."