Nothing is as quintessential to Dodger greatness as dominant starting pitching. The 2019 team’s rotation has been almost too good for words as of late, with Walker Buehler rounding into form at last, Rich Hill shaking off his rust, and Clayton Kershaw being as not-great-but-really-good as he can be at this point.
From @DodgersPR: With 31 straight scoreless innings, Hyun-Jin Ryu is now tied for 10th all-time in Dodger franchise history with Fernando Valenzuela (9/19/80-4/14/81) and Bob Miller (5/23/64-6/26/64) for longest scoreless streaks
— Alanna Rizzo (@alannarizzo) May 19, 2019
The true leader, though, is a blessedly healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu. Our Korean Son has a case for the best pitcher in the NL, with an active scoreless streak as of this writing. It’s enough to place him in the top ten such streaks in franchise history, and with that in mind, it’s the perfect moment to see who else he’ll have to pass on his way up the leader chart.
10. Hyun-Jin Ryu (2019), Bob Miller (1964) and Fernando Valenzuela (1980-1981) – 31
After his typically spotless effort in Cincinnati yesterday, Ryu moved into a three-way tie for 10th on the all-time Dodger scoreless streak leaders with 31. The first was by journeyman reliever Bob Miller in 1964. In an otherwise sluggish World Series championship hangover year, Miller managed the streak in May and June.
Fernando Valenzuela was next to reach 31, spanning across the end of 1980 and the beginning of 1981. Interestingly, it started as a reliever, as he was called up in September 1980 to augment the bullpen for a late-season division chase against Houston. Converted to the starting rotation for Opening Day 1981, he picked up where he left off by extending the streak in a season-opening shutout of Houston and all the way to the eighth of his second start. It’s (shocker!) not the only time he’s on this list.
The best part: if Ryu posts a zero in the first inning of his next start, the 10th spot will belong solely to him. Perhaps en route to even more spots after that.
9. Sandy Koufax (1963) and Chan Ho Park (2000-2001) – 33
In his time as the undisputed best pitcher in baseball in the early ‘60s, Sandy Koufax did everything an ace possibly could. 1963 in particular was a year of consummate dominance, including a no-hitter against the Giants, the pitching Triple Crown, NL MVP, a World Series title, and the first unanimous Cy Young Award. He also notched 33 scoreless innings from July 3 to 16, including three consecutive complete game shutouts.
That Koufax isn’t even higher on this list is a testament to the Dodgers’ incredible pitching legacy.
Another 33-inning run was amassed by the original Korean Dodgers ace, Chan Ho Park. The right-hander finished the 2000 season with three consecutive scoreless starts and 34 strikeouts, the first two 1-0 wins and the third game a shutout in his final start of the year. He started his All-Star 2001 season similarly, throwing seven scoreless innings against Milwaukee in a 1-0 win. Another blank inning in his next start took him to 33.
8. Orel Hershiser – 33.2 (1984)
When you think of Orel Hershiser and a scoreless streak, you very likely don’t think of his rookie year of 1984. Especially since he started the season in the bullpen, it would seem all the less likely. Yet the Bulldog showed a sign of things to come with 33 straight blank frames from June 29 to July 24, the bulk of them coming via three complete game shutouts. It was impressive, but as we all know, he’d blow it out of the water four years later
7. Don Sutton – 35 (1972)
1972 is an oft-forgotten year in Dodgers history, as the team finished a distant second to the NL champion Cincinnati Reds. In retrospect, though, it marks the growth of a powerful core that would win three NL pennants that decade. A part of that core was starting pitcher Don Sutton, who had toed the rubber reliably for L.A. since 1966.
In 1972, however, his pitching reached new heights. The eventual Hall of Famer won 19 games against just nine losses, had just a 2.08 ERA, threw an MLB-best nine shutouts, and struck out 207. He earned his first All-Star election as a result. Sutton fittingly capped his monster year off with 35 straight innings without a run that stretched from September 10 until the final game of the season on October 3.
6. Fernando Valenzuela – 35 (1981)
Fernando’s 31-inning streak to begin his career was impressive. But it was merely the beginning of his supremacy on the rubber in his rookie year. Immediately after that streak ended on April 14 in the eighth inning In San Francisco, he started another one in the ninth. It continued until May 6 in Montreal, when the Expos scored a run in the bottom of the eighth. That these 35 other innings came so quickly, and are just a snippet of how masterful he was in 1981, is mind-boggling.
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5. Clayton Kershaw – 37 (2015)
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I feel like we don’t talk enough about Kershaw’s 2015 season in particular. Maybe it’s because he was overshadowed by Zack Greinke, or the fact that both lost the Cy Young to Jake Arrieta. Maybe it’s because he didn’t have an icon moment like his no-hitter, or the fact that the 2015 season feels more like one of bumpy transition with Friedman and Zaidi new at the FO helm but Don Mattingly still managing. (Which, of course, changed come November.)
All the same, 2015 wasn’t a step down from 2014 for Clayton. He became the first pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 2002 to notch 300 K’s in a season, led the game in innings pitched and shutouts, and posted a 2.13 ERA. And he went 37 innings without a run allowed from July 3 to August 3, just five short of breaking his mark in 2014. Granted, Kersh has so many moments of greatness, forgetting about this particular one is admittedly easy. You’d think he did it almost every month in his prime.
4. Clayton Kershaw – 41.2 (2014)
In the 2014 season, there was nothing Clayton Edward Kershaw couldn’t do. He went 21-3 with a microscopic 1.77 ERA, for starters. He won both Cy Young and league MVP, a rare feat for a pitcher. Best of all, he threw a no-hitter (near perfect game) that I will be giving a detailed tribute on its fifth anniversary next month.
So it comes as no surprise he had one of the longest scoreless inning streaks in baseball history along the way. It started on June 13 against Arizona, then kicked into high-gear with his no-hitter against Colorado on the the 18. It survived all the way until July 10, a measly one run allowed to San Diego in a 2-1 win where he struck out 11. It was but one part of one of the greatest pitching seasons Dodgers fans – or baseball fans in general – will ever see.
3. Zack Greinke – 45.2 (2015)
While Kershaw dominates our perception of Dodger pitching in the 2010s, the almost equal greatness of Zack Greinke during a portion of it should never be forgotten. In fact, in 2015, Greinke was even *better* than the GOAT. His 1.66 ERA was the best in baseball, and the second-best in franchise history. His 0.844 WHIP, meanwhile, was MLB-best for 2015 and the best in Brooklyn and Los Angeles history.
Much like Kershaw the year before, a scoreless innings streak was merely an obligation. At 45? (the best since Hershiser in ‘88), Greinke built it primarily on six straight scoreless starts from June 8 to July 19, tying a major league record. He even welcomed the birth of his first child, Bode, during the streak on July 23.
The only downside is that he didn’t replicate it in October, as Daniel Murphy and the Mets torched Greinke in Los Angeles in the fifth game of the NLDS. Greinke opted out of his contract and signed with Arizona that winter. But his place in Dodger pitching lore is still a special one for this season alone.
2. Don Drysdale – 58 (1968)
1968 wasn’t a great year for the Dodgers, coming in their post-Koufax retirement dirge. But it was a historically great year for MLB pitching, with superlative feats being set on the mound seemingly every week. Righty Don Drysdale, in the twilight of his career, got in on the action by shattering a seemingly untouchable record. Back in 1913-14, Walter Johnson (arguably the greatest pitcher to ever live) notched 55? consecutive scoreless innings, a major league total that seemed destined to last forever with the advent of the Live-ball Era in the ‘20s.
That is, until 1968. Starting by out-dueling Cubs Hall of Famer Ferguson Jenkins on May 14, Drysdale powered his way past The Big Train’s mark with 58. As if that weren’t stunning enough, he did it thanks to six straight complete game victories. It was set and ended in a 5-3 win over the Phillies on June 8 at Dodger Stadium.
Drysdale’s playing days would end the following year, but after many seasons of championships and a Cy Young Award, he had saved his finest achievement for the end.
1. Orel Hershiser – 59 (1988)
You already know this story. The Bulldog’s 59 blank frames are not only the most in Dodgers franchise history, but the most in MLB history, period. Despite his skinny frame, Hershiser powered through inning after inning at the end of 1988, starting with sixth inning of an August 30 start against Montreal. As he chased Don Drysdale’s 1968 record, he appropriately echoed him with one complete game shutout after another.
It all came down to September 28 at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego. While the Dodgers offense failed to score inning after inning, that didn’t deter Hershiser from matching Padres starter Andy Hawkins. Both went into the tenth inning with no score, but the record still in play. In the bottom half, a runner on second, Hershiser finally prevailed by inducing Keith Moreland to fly out. The game wasn’t over, but action was justly halted to let the Bulldog celebrate one of greatest records in baseball history, complete with Drysdale himself coming on to the field to congratulate him. The Dodgers lost later in the 16th inning, but nobody cared.
What’s more remarkable is that the feat was just a prelude to what he’d do that October, relentlessly shutting down seemingly unstoppable Mets and A’s teams as both a starter and reliever. After making individual history, he helped the team make history with a championship as unlikely as any in the annals of professional sports. He was never quite the same pitcher for the rest of his career, but his 1988 remains a year even the best pitchers could only wish they had.
Author’s Note: This article has been updated to include Chan Ho Park’s streak from 2000-2001, which wasn’t on the chart I originally consulted while writing this.