At first glance, Clayton Kershaw and R.A. Dickey are polar opposites. Kershaw's a southpaw, Dickey's a righty. Kershaw is 24, Dickey 37. The two don home uniforms on opposite coasts of the United States, Kershaw in Los Angeles and Dickey in New York.
But under closer examination, it turns out the young ace and the veteran knuckleballer have a few things in common.
For one, they're both up for the National League Cy Young Award.
"It's always great to be in the mix for that," Kershaw acknowledged. "It's always a humbling feeling to be considered for Cy Young and all that stuff, but there's a lot of great candidates this year. So I'm hoping I can be part of it somehow."
Many think Kershaw will, with a 2.68 ERA (tops in the National League, just ahead of Dickey's 2.69) and 211 strikeouts, second only to Dickey's 222.
Kershaw has long had great expectations attached to his name. He was the first in a generation of young pitchers who were surrounded with hype: Aroldis Chapman, Stephen Strasburg, Yu Darvish.
From the time Kershaw was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2006 Draft, he's lived up to the hype.
In 2008, he became the youngest player in the Major Leagues, a title he'd hold for a full year.
Kershaw also garnered comparisons to Dodgers great Sandy Koufax, a fellow strikeout southpaw.
"You take that with a grain of salt, just because he's been so good for so long," Kershaw said. "I've got a really, really long way to go before I get anywhere close to [Koufax]."
But those great expectations haven't weighed on Kershaw.
"It's always fun to have expectations as a pitcher. It makes people think you're good, which is always a great thing, but I just put enough pressure and expectations on myself so I don't have to worry about that," Kershaw admitted. "If you care about what you're doing, you'll care enough not to make a big deal about it."
Want proof that Kershaw is exemplifying his expectations?
Look no further than the numbers he posted in the 2011 season, a 21-5 record and 2.28 ERA. Those earned him the NL Pitching Triple Crown (with 248 strikeouts) and Cy Young Award. Now, Kershaw is a rock in the Dodgers' rotation, but he won't go so far as to call himself the team ace.
"I don't know if we ever think about it as ace, because we've got four other really capable guys [Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Joe Blanton and Josh Beckett] in our rotation. For me it's just, right now, about getting back out there [after injury] and, for the rest of the season, giving our team a chance," Kershaw said.
Having dealt with a right hip injury since Sept. 11, Kershaw returned Sunday to throw five strong innings in a no-decision against the Reds. He'll make his 32nd start Friday against the Rockies.
Kershaw said that with his team "right in the middle of [the playoff chase]," sitting out wasn't easy.
"It's not fun, definitely not fun to have to watch, but you just try to be the best teammate you can be and you root your teammates on," he said.
Another thing Kershaw and Dickey have in common is authorship. Dickey's "Wherever I Wind Up" and Kershaw's "Arise," written with his wife, Ellen, were both released earlier this year.
"Yeah, how about that," Kershaw chuckled. "Never thought I would ever write a book. But the opportunity presented itself, and it was a fun opportunity and experience to get to do it."
The Kershaws' book focuses on the charity work the couple does in Zambia.
"Africa is something that Ellen and I were pretty impassioned about," Kershaw said. "The kids over in Zambia [really inspire us]. Actually, the orphanage [we built in Zambia] just got finished a couple of weeks ago. The electricity just got [put] in. It's exciting. We're going to go back over this offseason and see the kids moving in.
"It's awesome to be in the position we're in, playing baseball. We get to get the word out about things we're impassioned about off the field. And people care about it because we play baseball. It's a cool thing and it's exciting to have that platform."
So maybe Kershaw and Dickey do have some things in common after all.
Megan Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest who earned the job of youth correspondent in 2011, is a reporter for MLB.com.