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Dodgers have top left-right 1-2 punch in game

MLB.com @TracyRingolsby

Forget about the Los Angeles Dodgers' record-setting payroll. There are two reasons the Dodgers are the team to beat in baseball -- Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

It doesn't getting any better than that 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. The left-handed Kershaw and right-handed Greinke are the Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn/Lew Burdette or Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling left-right combo of this era.

Forget about the Los Angeles Dodgers' record-setting payroll. There are two reasons the Dodgers are the team to beat in baseball -- Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.

It doesn't getting any better than that 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. The left-handed Kershaw and right-handed Greinke are the Sandy Koufax/Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn/Lew Burdette or Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling left-right combo of this era.

Since they became teammates in 2013, Kershaw and Greinke are a combined 75-26. To fully appreciate what they have meant to the Dodgers claiming back-to-back National League West titles, the Dodgers are 97-35 in games Kershaw and Greinke have started compared to 107-113 in all other games.

"They have a lot of talent, for one thing," said Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt.

It, however, is more than raw talent.

"It's their work ethic," Honeycutt said. "They push the envelope every day. Good people and good competitors rub off on each other, and it looks like they feed off each other."

They have combined for a better record and a lower ERA (2.25) since they became teammates than any other pair since Greinke joined the Dodgers in 2013.

"As soon as Zack got here, he saw how good Kersh is. Early on he would say, 'I heard about this guy, but I didn't know he was this good,'" said Honeycutt.

Kershaw is real good, particularly when you consider he didn't turn 27 until March. That's right, he won his third NL Cy Young Award in his age-26 season. Big deal? Well, Kershaw won for the third time at a younger age than any of the eight other pitchers who have won at least three Cy Young Awards.

Johnson, for example, was in his age-36 season when he won the third of five. Steve Carlton won the third of his four in his age-35 season. Roger Clemens won the third of his record-setting seven in his age-28 season. Greg Maddux won his third of four during his age-28 season. Koufax, Jim Palmer and Tom Seaver were in their age-30 seasons when they won their third and final Cy Young Award, and Pedro Martinez was in his age-28 season.

Kershaw, 1-2 this season, has not had a losing record in seven big league seasons, and in the last five seasons prior to 2015, he was a combined 85-37.

"I saw him evolve from a high school kid," said Honeycutt, the Dodgers' roving Minor League pitching coach before being promoted to the big league job in 2006, the year Kershaw was a first-round Draft pick. "He's never backed down from a challenge."

And to think the reason Kershaw slipped to No. 10 in that 2006 Draft was that several teams ahead of the Dodgers backed off because he didn't score high on the competitive areas of psychological testing.

Former Dodgers scouting director Logan White, now with the division-rival San Diego Padres, wasn't impressed with the tests. He felt like he had a steal when Kershaw was still on the board and didn't hesitate to make the selection.

Video: LAD@MIL: Greinke fans seven, allows one unearned run

Honeycutt's relationship with Greinke began in the 2013 season, when Greinke signed a six-year, $147 million deal -- which does include an opt-out clause for Greinke after this season -- and he has seen a good pitcher get even better.

Greinke had begun using a cut fastball more extensively in the previous two seasons, and he has refined the usage of that pitch with the Dodgers. That, however, was not all.

"What's crazy about Zack is the changeup he came up with," said Honeycutt. "He always had one, but he's even better. He has kept his mechanics a little more where he wants them to be with that changeup and cutter."

It is evident in the results. Greinke has a better win-loss ledger (37-12, .755 winning percentage) and lower ERA (2.57) and walks plus hits per innings pitched (1.106) than he did with the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers or Los Angeles Angels.

And Greinke has been to the postseason in both seasons with the Dodgers, after making a postseason appearance just once in the nine seasons he split between the Royals, Brewers and Angels.

The World Series has been an elusive goal for Greinke, just like it has for Kershaw, who has been on four postseason teams in his first seven years with the Dodgers.

With Kershaw and Greinke, however, the Dodgers have a major edge in ending that World Series quest.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Los Angeles Dodgers, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw