Five Up, Five Down
AL Cy Young race heats up; Jose Reyes cools down
Posted: Friday September 14, 2007 5:33PM; Updated: Friday September 14, 2007 6:30PM
I. AL Cy Young race: With just over two weeks left in the regular season, there are few unpredictable outcomes left. Five of six division races are cooked, as are many of the major individual awards, including the National League Cy Young Award, which Jake Peavy's running away with.
But one award remains extraordinarily wide open: the AL Cy Young. In most seasons, the list of viable Cy Young candidates is whittled down to two or three names by September. But in 2007, there are over a half-dozen legitimate nominees. And best of all, the list isn't limited to the usual suspects -- there's plenty of new blood.
By my estimation, nine hurlers have at least an outside chance of taking home one of the most coveted awards in American sports. There's little separation between Nos. 1 and 9, making every remaining start paramount.
Here's how I position the players on Friday morning (order within each tier does matter):
Frontrunners: C.C. Sabathia (17-7, 3.15), Josh Beckett (18-6, 3.27).
Sabathia holds a slight edge over Beckett, largely due to the fact that he's outdueled Johan Santana three times this season. Sabathia's 5.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio is just absurd for a starter.
Steady contenders: Justin Verlander (17-5, 3.47), Kelvim Escobar (17-7, 3.25), John Lackey (16-9, 3.21).
Verlander's 12-strikeout no-hitter is this season's most dominant outing. The Tigers' ace is 4-0 with a 0.94 ERA over his last four starts, and the only thing holding him back is the Tigers' fading playoff hopes. Escobar was in the top tier prior to this month (in which he has posted 9.22 ERA). Lackey's just 5-4 since the All-Star break, and figures to split votes with Escobar.
Long shots: Fausto Carmona (16-8, 3.20), J.J. Putz (38 saves, 1.38), Chien-Ming Wang (18-6, 3.69), Santana (15-11, 3.09).
In Fausto's case, voters may have a hard time supporting a player who's one year removed from posting a 1-10 record. Putz's candidacy relies on Seattle making the playoffs (in other words -- better luck next year). The Wanger needs 20 wins to realistically enter the discussion. And Johan has to at least be considered, as he leads the AL in ERA once again.
II. Red Sox Nation presidential candidacy: On Tuesday, the Red Sox unveiled 11 finalists for the official title of "President of Red Sox Nation." There are a number of famous folks on the list, including Peter Gammons, Jerry Remy, Rich "El Guapo" Garces and Pulitzer Prize winner Doris Kearns Goodwin. Here at Five Up, Five Down, we've decided to officially endorse the only non-human on the list, Big Pupi, a dog from Austin Texas. Check out Big Pupi's platform here.
III. Brandon Phillips: This is the 22nd installment of Five Up, Five Down this season, and it just came to my attention that I have yet to mention Mr. Phillips. This is a shame.
It may shock some people to hear this, but Phillips' overall season rivals that of fellow second baseman Chase Utley. Cincinnati's cleanup hitter is one homer shy of joining Alfonso Soriano as the only second basemen in the 30-30 club. On top of that, the 26-year-old is hitting .288 with 85 RBIs and 100 runs. He also leads all National League second basemen in putouts and should earn serious Gold Glove consideration.
IV. Mr. Pena goes to Washington: While Bostonians continue to spew hatred at their $70 million right fielder, they must be a bit perturbed by Wily Mo Pena's success in Washington. Wily Mo barely had a pulse as the Red Sox's fourth outfielder. Since being traded to the Nationals last month, though, he has far exceeded expectations and already eclipsed his production in Boston.
V. Kouz turns 26: Recently, inquiring minds hammered the inbox with questions about my age. (Ex. "Jesus, how old are you and what kind of nepotism got you this job?") Well, I just turned 25 last weekend and I'm sorry to report -- besides gaining car-renting privileges -- it turned out to be a pretty uneventful birthday. Hopefully, B-Day No. 26 will prove more worthwhile. And if Kevin Kouzmanoff's season is any indication, it will. Kouzmanoff struggled through the first half of his rookie season, and his batting average dropped to .228 on July 24. But the very next day, Kouz turned 26. Since then, he's hitting .329 with a .510 slugging percentage.
I. Jose Reyes: No player entered this season with more hype than Reyes. Coming off his first All-Star campaign, Reyes was considered by many as the game's most dynamic player. The Mets shortstop came out the gates blazing hot, hitting .356 with a rotund 1.038 OPS in April. But after the season's opening month, his production steadily declined, especially after the All-Star break. Since July 1, Reyes is hitting .264.
To his credit, Reyes continues to improve his pitch selection and is well on his way to a third straight NL stolen base title, but this just hasn't been the year we all expected from the 24-year-old. He's still a budding superstar, but this season slowed his progress a bit. Truth be told, in 2007, Reyes is the third-best offensive shortstop ... in the N.L. East.
II. The Red Birds: The defending world champs sat one game back in the division race at dawn last Friday. Then they hit the road. Seven straight losses later, their season is virtually over, and St. Louis' beloved team is falling apart in spectacular fashion. Starting at the top, future Hall of Famer Tony La Russa isn't sure he still wants to manage the team. Earlier this week, USA Today reported that the skipper "is contemplating leaving St. Louis after this season for a change of scenery." And that's just the beginning. Franchise fixture Scott Rolen recently had surgery on his shoulder, joining Juan Encarnacion on the long-term shelf. Breakout slugger Chris Duncan is probably out for the season with a sports hernia, while Mark Mulder may as well return to the disabled list with the way he's pitched since coming back (0-2, 12.38 ERA). If all that wasn't enough, the feel-good story of the summer -- Rick Ankiel's reemergence -- has been sullied by recent reports of HGH usage. The Gateway City has definitely seen better days.
III. Adam Eaton: Can Eaton truly be labeled a bust? I mean, doesn't a player have to actually enter a ridiculously bloated contract with some potential in order to eventually be considered a "bust?" When the Phillies signed Eaton to a three-year deal back in November, we all knew they were throwing away $24.5 million. Eaton's just confirming our assumption.
Eaton's latest outing (5 IP, 4 ER, 3 HR) raised his ERA to 6.31. Following the game, Phillies manager Charlie Manuel basically admitted that the only thing keeping Eaton in the rotation is his absurd contract: "As far as what our rotation will be, [Rich] Dubee and I talk about that every day," Manuel told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Any time we can try to better it, we more than likely would do it. But at the same time, Eaton signed here as a starter."
IV. Joey Gathright's base-stealing ability: At the turn of the millennium, an unproven Devil Rays prospect by the name of Joey Gathright became somewhat of a household name in baseball circles for his lightning speed. Gathright's legend grew after he took up a new hobby: car jumping. Naturally, I bought into the hype, figuring this freakish athlete would immediately take the majors by storm and begin swiping bags by the dozens with his cleats tied together.
Gathright's career hasn't quite progressed as quickly as I imagined, though, especially on base-stealing front. Gathright, now a Royal, is finishing up his sixth professional baseball season. While he is beginning to come into his own at the plate (with a .320 average in 62 games this year), Gathright has yet to figure out how to consistently steal bases. On the season, Gathright boasts just nine steals in 16 attempts. "He still needs to work on his base-stealing skills," manager Buddy Bell said. "It has a lot to do with leads and instincts and things like that."
V. Wednesday's Marlins-Nationals game: On Wednesday, Florida thrilled the home crowd with a 12-inning win over Washington. Unfortunately, this "home crowd" consisted of around 400 fans ... total. With a story like this, I could leave you with the standard, caustic remark. But I think this game picture will suffice:
Photo courtesy of AP