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Smokin' aces

Beckett leads tight Cy Young race; my MVP, ROY picks

Posted: Monday August 20, 2007 12:04PM; Updated: Monday August 20, 2007 1:18PM
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Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett is tied for the AL lead in wins and has the Red Sox in prime position to make the playoffs.

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If anyone thought this just wasn't Johan Santana's year, they just got another reminder Sunday that the Twins star is still the best pitcher in the game with his 17-strikeout performance in a 1-0 victory against Texas. With one gem, Santana injected himself into the tightest American League Cy Young race in years.

To decipher the AL pitching competition now, you'd need a dartboard and 10 darts, or 11 if you want to include Mariners closer J.J. Putz into the mix.

At the third-quarter point of the season, it could be Dan Haren. Or it could be Erik Bedard, Josh Beckett or Kelvim Escobar. Or Fausto Carmona, C.C. Sabathia or John Lackey. Or any of at least three more pitchers in what's become the Year of the Hurler.

There are 10 superior starters with a chance, and all 10 of them have at least 12 wins and an ERA below 4.00, all but one of them have twice as many wins as losses (Santana being the exception) and all but two have at least 100 strikeouts (Carmona and Roy Halladay being the exceptions).

Here's the way I'd order them all now:

1. Beckett, Red Sox (15-5, 3.15): Still tied for the league lead in wins despite a stay on the DL. His team is on its way to the playoffs, giving him the slightest of nods over Bedard, Santana and Haren, at least on my ballot.

2. Bedard, Orioles (12-4, 2.98): The league's best pitcher the past two months hasn't lost in 12 starts (he's 8-0 in that time). He's the only pitcher in the majors with 200-plus strikeouts.

3. Santana, Twins (13-9, 2.88): He's the only contender among the starters who doesn't have an overwhelming won-loss record, although he's allowed three earned runs or fewer in six of his past seven defeats. Still second in Ks, fourth in ERA., first in Q rating.

4. Haren, A's (13-4, 2.54): League-leading ERA and excellent record for losing team probably makes him the slight favorite in the eyes of many, but he's allowed 11 unearned runs to make the ERA a tad deceiving, toils in a pitchers' park and is working without the pressure of Beckett.

5. Escobar, Angels (13-6, 2.68): Gets lost on a great staff (not to mention in this Cy race), but he's allowed zero or one earned run in six of his past eight starts (in the other two, he allowed two and three).

6. Carmona, Indians (14-7, 3.16): A serious-minded youngster, he has fashioned a quick turnaround after failing spectacularly as a closer last year by working hard and refining his repertoire. He has had two five-game winning streaks.

7. C.C. Sabathia, Indians (14-6, 3.48): Enhanced his negotiating leverage by pitching like an ace for first-place team.

8. Lackey, Angels (15-7, 3.32): In top tier before recent pasting at Fenway, he's still tied for the lead in victories.

9. Putz, Mariners (36 saves, 1.40 ERA): Save for one day in San Francisco, the best closer in baseball all year.

10. Justin Verlander, Tigers (13-4, 3.63 ERA): The no-hit kid has slowed down just a little.

11. Halladay, Blue Jays (14-5, 3.98): A consistent pitcher, he leads a staff with some pretty good young arms and keeps them on the fringes of the race. Just as he's on the fringe of this race.

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