Anything Clayton Kershaw can do, Zack Greinke can do better. At least, that was the case on Thursday night, when Greinke followed Kershaw's complete-game shutout of the Phillies with eight scoreless innings of his own in the Dodgers' 6–0 win over the Phillies. Greinke struck out eight and allowed just one base runner on the night, dropping his ERA to a Kershaw-esque 1.39 as he wrapped up what's been one of the most dominant first-half performances in baseball history and tries to build one of the game's all-time great pitching seasons.
Facing a Philadelphia lineup that can charitably be described as putrid, Greinke was simply dominant. His only mistake on the night was a leadoff single in the second inning by Ryan Howard, but from there, he was untouchable, retiring 21 hitters in a row. The Dodgers' All-Star righty didn't get the chance to duplicate Kershaw's feat from the night prior, however, as manager Don Mattingly chose to be merciful to the Phillies and didn't send Greinke out for the ninth despite a pitch count of just 94. Still, he finished the night as the 10th pitcher (and third Dodger) this year to go eight or more innings with no runs and one or no hits allowed in a start.
The eight scoreless frames extended Greinke's current shutout streak to 35 2/3 innings, a stretch that goes back to his June 18 start against the Rangers. In that span, Greinke has allowed just 16 hits and three walks, striking out 31. Since giving up a season-high five runs in six innings against the Rockies on June 2, meanwhile, Greinke has given up just three runs in 50 2/3 innings for an absurd 0.54 ERA.
It's been like this all season for Greinke, who at no point this year has had an ERA above 2.00. Of his 18 starts, 17 have been quality (the lone exception being that five-run outing in Colorado), and only three times has he given up three or more earned runs in a start. He also has yet to go fewer than six innings in any of his starts this season, and after Thursday's brilliant effort against the Phillies, he's now averaging 6.9 innings per start.
All of that excellence is enough to put Greinke in some impressive company for the first half. Heading into the All-Star break, the righty's ERA is just 1.39 after 123 1/3 innings, making him just the fourth pitcher since World War II to finish the first half with an ERA of 1.40 or lower in 100 or more innings pitched.
It shouldn't be surprising to see that the other three seasons all came in 1968, when the majors' average ERA was 2.98, the lowest ever recorded in the post-World War II era. Gibson finished '68 with a 1.12 ERA, the fourth-best mark in major league history, over 304 2/3 innings with 268 strikeouts, 28 complete games and 13 shutouts, winning the NL MVP and Cy Young awards. Tiant logged a 1.60 ERA, 19 complete games and nine shutouts in 258 1/3 innings, while Drysdale was the laggard of the bunch, relatively speaking, posting “only” a 2.15 ERA, 12 complete games and eight shutouts across 239 innings in what ended up being the penultimate season of his Hall of Fame career.
The numbers for Greinke aren't quite as jaw-dropping, but they're impressive nonetheless: His 1.39 ERA is the majors' lowest by half a run, beating A.J. Burnett's 1.99, and his MLB-best 248 ERA+—a number that's only going to climb higher after Thursday's start—simply destroys Burnett's 185. And while there's obviously still a long way to go on the season, if Greinke can keep up this incredible run, he's going to make some serious history. Only four qualified pitchers in the last 15 years have finished a season with an ERA below 2.00: Kershaw twice (1.77 in 2014 and 1.83 in '13), Roger Clemens (1.87 in '06) and Pedro Martinez (1.74 in 2000). No starter, meanwhile, has recorded an ERA+ of 200 or better since Greinke himself pulled the trick in '09, when he finished with a 205 ERA+ and 2.16 ERA and won the AL Cy Young for the Royals. An ERA+ of 240 or better, meanwhile, would make him just the seventh pitcher ever to reach that plateau.
Of course, there's still an entire second half of baseball to be played and no guarantee that Greinke can maintain his pace. But regardless of where he ends the year, his efforts across the season's first three-plus months deserve to be celebrated. Hopefully, he'll get more of that recognition in Tuesday's All-Star Game: As good as Max Scherzer has been this year, it's hard to imagine giving the National League start to anyone other than Greinke.