Somewhere along the way, Clayton Kershaw silently tripped into a generation of "old guard pitchers still working" alongside Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Thanks for your hard work. You can start the second game of a postseason series, as a treat. But, when push comes to shove, the kids have the edge.
Except those ready to cede the throne to Zac Gallen, Gerrit Cole and Corbin Burnes forgot one thing: Kershaw's 35, and his current form would represent the "peak" of nearly any other pitcher.
For reference, Jacob deGrom -- who most agreed was a nervy injury risk, but well worth the $185 million the Rangers paid him this offseason -- is just 92 days younger than Kershaw, who operates on a much different contract scale.
Does that mean Kershaw is a safe bet to take his stuff into the 40s and pile up 300 wins? Of course not. There's not a pitcher alive who represents "safety" in any form. It does mean, though, that Kershaw is still a top-five pitcher in the league and a top-10 arm in the game.
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Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw remains a top-10 pitcher in MLB
If anything, Julio Urías' scuffling to start the season should remind you how tenuous pitching success is, and how remarkable it is that Kershaw remains this elite (on the back of a pitch everyone knows is coming).
Entering his start against the Cardinals this weekend, St. Louis was the best offensive team against left-handers in MLB. By the time he was done with them, 88 pitches and seven innings later, his ERA had been lowered nearly a half-run. The Cardinals picked up two hits in the process.
Kershaw may no longer be a pitcher who can provide you more than 150 dominant innings in a season anymore, but you can be assured that however many innings you receive, they'll be among the most predictable in baseball. There's so little you can count on in this game, but Kershaw effortlessly lulling top lineups to sleep with his pitch mix and saving the bullpen remains one of them.
If he's starting, he's nabbing the win 50% of the time. That's remarkable.
Burnes will have his mega-contract someday soon. Gallen will earn his plaudits. Spencer Strider will flirt with perfect in Atlanta.
And all of these arms and more will also have to reckon with the fact that Kershaw, the old dog, remains a member of their class as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer graduate.
A league-leading 38 innings. A league-leading 0.763 WHIP. 41 whiffs. A 234 ERA+. A Hall of Fame career that will finish whenever he dictates. Up until that moment comes, though, you can comfortably pit him against any opponent of any generation. That's transcendent greatness.