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Don't let Royals ruin Greinke's Cy Young bid

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Jon Paul Morosi

Jon Paul Morosi is a National MLB Writer for FOXSports.com. He previously covered baseball for the Detroit Free Press and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. He began his journalism career at the Bay City Times in his native Michigan. Follow him on Twitter.

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In the end, will Zack Greinke be penalized because he pitches for the Kansas City Royals? That's the essence of the American League Cy Young Award race, with a little more than two weeks left in the regular season.
GREINKE'S ODDS 50-50?
Zack Greinke entered Thursday with the lowest ERA in the majors at 2.19. An AL pitcher has finished with the best overall ERA four times since 2000. Two won the Cy Young Award unanimously and two lost out to 20-game winners.
Year
Pitcher
Cy Young
2000
Pedro Martinez, BOS, 1.74
Martinez
2002
Pedro Martinez, BOS, 2.26
Barry Zito, OAK
2003
Pedro Martinez, BOS, 2.22
Roy Halladay, TOR
2006
Johan Santana, MIN, 2.77
Santana
Greinke had a major league-best 2.19 ERA entering Thursday's start against the Tigers ... then lowered it with five shutout innings. His other numbers are near the top of the American League, too: second with 222 strikeouts, second with six complete games, fifth with 210 1/3 innings. Oh, and he's thrown three shutouts. That leads the league. Based on that array of numbers alone, the award should be his. Let's not outthink ourselves here: An American League pitcher is leading the majors in ERA. The last AL starter to do that — Johan Santana in 2006 — won the Cy Young Award easily. Check that. He won it unanimously . And Santana's ERA was higher three years ago than Greinke's is now. But some people are hesitant to call Greinke the best pitcher in the American League for two reasons: He's pitching for a team that's been out of the race for months and his 14 victories don't compare favorably with totals for the other Cy Young candidates. Both are valid points. And both are largely out of his control. Consider that Greinke has allowed one or zero earned runs on six occasions without earning a victory. Six! If he had won half those games, he would be one ahead of Justin Verlander and tied with CC Sabathia at 17 ... and a much stronger candidate in the eyes of some.
Instead, a lousy offense (second-fewest runs in the league) and lousy bullpen (highest ERA in the league) conspired against him. Horacio Ramirez, for example, gave up Greinke's one-run lead against Cleveland on May 21. The Royals lost 8-3. So, let's ask ourselves: Do we really want Ramirez, who finished his season with the Class AAA Syracuse Chiefs, to affect how we determine the American League's best pitcher? But history says Baseball Writers' Association of America voters care how many games a Cy Young candidate has won. No starter has won the award without at least 16 victories. It would behoove Greinke to win three of his final four starts, but he hasn't had a stretch like that since mid-May. Come to think of it, the Royals haven't had but a handful of those stretches since mid-May. Cy Young ballots don't come with rules or checklists. Electors are merely instructed to vote for the starter or reliever who, in their opinion, had the best season. I know this: If Greinke is going to engage in a late push for votes, he's going to do it with his pitching and not his postgame comments. On Tuesday, I asked him how important wins should be in determining the award. Greinke said he wasn't sure. "It's up to them," he said of the voters. "It's a personal preference." But don't interpret that as a sign of disinterest in the award. Greinke wants to win and knows how meaningful it would be if he did. "I'm pretty sure I've got four more games left," he said earlier this week. "I've got to pitch good in those and hopefully get a couple wins. That would make it an easier vote for everyone. I've got to continue to do (what I've been doing)." Early in the season, we heard a lot about what Greinke was doing. He won his first six starts, including three complete games. On the next-to-last day of May, his ERA was 0.84. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated. He was the toast of baseball, the guy who came back from social anxiety disorder to rule the major leagues. Statistically, we knew he couldn't maintain the same pace. In today's game, no one could. But he has continued to be very, very good. His 2.12 ERA in the first half has been followed by a 2.31 ERA in the second half. Over his last four starts before Thursday, his ERA was 0.84. Ironic, huh? The same number we saw over his first 10 starts. To me, that is some of the most compelling evidence in Greinke's favor, that his season might be arching back to where it began. And we all remember how impressive that looked. "The nice thing about it to me is it just confirms the plan is a good plan," said Greinke, who has fully implemented a changeup for the first time in his career with help from pitching coach Bob McClure. "If it's just working at first, it could just be lucky, or you're doing something a little different. You get by for a couple games, maybe a month or two. But for it to still work means the philosophy is a good philosophy. "There isn't any worry when you're going out there, because you feel confident in what you're doing, instead of, 'Maybe they'll figure it out this time.'" Greinke is a great admirer of the other main contenders for the award, to the extent that he was initially much more willing to discuss their qualities than his own during our interview in the Royals clubhouse at Comerica Park. Verlander? "If he throws his fastball high, no one can catch up to it. His changeup looks like a fastball. It's hard to stay back on it. His fastball sets up everything, because his fastball's so good. It's the perfect idea for him." CC Sabathia? "I try to pattern myself after him — just he's a lefty. Our stuff's pretty similar. I talked to him before about what he tries to do. Now, I do the exact same thing he does." Felix Hernandez? "He's nasty. He's figured out that all he has to do is throw strikes, and it's hard to hit him because his stuff's so good. He's got a good defense behind him, so he just attacks the zone and makes it simple." He praised Roy Halladay, too, saying, "It's different than what everyone else can do. ... Halladay just paints." Then he paid Scott Feldman one of the game's ultimate compliments by saying that the Texas right-hander comes "as close as anyone in baseball" to matching Halladay's stuff and approach. Of course, a strong case could be made for Mariano Rivera, too. He already has 40 saves. That's his highest total since 2005, when he finished second in the voting to Bartolo Colon. But it seems that relievers have their best chances in those seasons when there isn't a standout starter. That's hardly the case this year. Greinke seems to enjoy talking about pitching so much that he could articulate a fine argument for any of his competitors to get the award. Ultimately, though, that task would be too great. For those who would vote for Sabathia, on the grounds that he pitches against tougher lineups in a small home ballpark, I would point out that CC has a slightly lower ERA at Yankee Stadium than he does on the road. Go figure. For those who would vote for Verlander, I would point out that Greinke's ERA is more than one full run lower against a very similar American League Central schedule. Oh, there's one exception: Verlander doesn't pitch against the first-place Tigers, and Greinke doesn't pitch against the last-place Royals. Don't get me wrong: Sabathia and Verlander are great pitchers. They are having terrific seasons. But they haven't been as good as Zack Greinke this year. No one has. In either league.
Tagged: Johan Santana, Blue Jays, Tigers, Justin Verlander, Royals, Scott Feldman, Roy Halladay, Mets, Zack Greinke, Rangers

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