An early NL Cy Young candidate yet again, Clayton Kershaw is in the midst of a historic stretch and on pace for a record-setting season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Perhaps most important, he's followed up a team defeat with a victory in each of his last four starts. The left-hander will finally get to start a winning streak Monday night when the Dodgers open a three-game series against the visiting Cincinnati Reds.
Kershaw (6-1, 1.67 ERA) has to be the last pitcher the Reds want to face after totaling nine runs and batting .197 while striking out 33 times in the last four of a 2-12 stretch.
The 28-year-old ace has struck out at least 10 with one or no walks in six consecutive starts, a MLB record he'll try to extend in the series opener. His run of six straight with at least 10 Ks is also a franchise mark and two shy of the major league record set by Pedro Martinez in 1999 and matched by Chris Sale last season.
With a MLB-best 88 strikeouts and four walks, Kershaw's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 22 to 1 is on pace to break Phil Hughes' 11.63 to 1 mark set in 2014. He's been even better lately with an 0.82 ERA, 48 strikeouts and one walk in four straight wins.
"Adjectives, superlatives - there are none," manager Dave Roberts told the league's official website. "He's consistent, and he's consistently great. ... He continues to do it, punches out guys, doesn't walk guys, and just continues to dominate."
Kershaw has gone at least seven innings in all nine outings and he'll try to provide some rest for an overworked bullpen. After using five relievers in Saturday's 3-2, 11-inning loss at San Diego, the club went through eight in Sunday's 9-5, 17-inning win.
Now the Dodgers (22-23) hope to put together back-to-back victories for the first time since a three-game run May 12-14 and win their seventh straight in this series. The Reds totaled 12 runs and hit .194 while dropping the last six of seven meetings in 2015.
Kershaw has a 2.12 ERA in his last five starts versus Cincinnati (15-29). Joey Votto is hitting .217 with two home runs and 12 strikeouts in 23 at-bats against him, but Brandon Phillips is hitting .360 with a home run in 25 at-bats and Jay Bruce has batted .294 with two homers in 17.
Phillips had a two-run double and Adam Duvall hit his eighth home run in Sunday's 5-4 loss to Seattle that capped an 0-5 homestand. Eugenio Suarez went 0 for 11 with 10 strikeouts in the three-game series.
"At this level, what we're finding with a lot of our young players is they have to learn the fight portion of this as far as staying in the battle," manager Bryan Price said.
Price's club will try to score some runs for Brandon Finnegan, who hasn't won since April 16. The left-hander has a 5.81 ERA in his last six starts - all Cincinnati losses.
Finnegan (1-2, 4.44) gets his first look at a Los Angeles team that had totaled 13 runs during a four-game losing streak before breaking out Sunday. Howie Kendrick went 4 for 8 with his first home run and Justin Turner hit his second homer in three games.