By Ernie Palladino
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The Mets have only an outside shot at a .500 season, and the Yanks will have to play outstanding ball to jump over Oakland, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Kansas City and Cleveland to land that last Wild Card spot.
Bleak, right? And yet, there are enough good things happening that one’s imagination can stand another whimsical foray into the world of postseason awards.
We’ve already put up Matt Harvey for the National League Cy Young Award, and why not? The kid keeps getting better and better. Following Tuesday night’s loss in Los Angeles — in which he uncharacteristically struggled — he is 9-4 with a 2.23 ERA and the second-best WHIP (hits plus walks divided by innings pitched) in baseball at 0.89.
Double-figure wins, even the low doubles, should put Harvey right in the middle of the NL conversation.
But that’s a several-weeks-old theory. Time to update it.
How about Yankees ace Hiroki Kuroda for the American League Cy Young?
Kuroda, as spry as a spring chicken at age 38, just ran his record to 11-7 with a 2.33 ERA following eight innings of three-hit, shutout ball on Monday against the Angels. On a staff where the nominal ace, CC Sabathia, just hasn’t done it, supposed up-and-comer Phil Hughes has thrown, well, perfectly awful, and Andy Pettitte has proved that few good days remain in his future, Kuroda consistently has been the diamond amid all the muck.
He hasn’t just won. He’s been dominant.
Kuroda’s last bad outing came on June 30, when he gave up four runs in six innings to Baltimore. Since the last three scoreless innings of that appearance, he has pitched to an 0.88 ERA with five earned runs in 51 innings. In the last seven starts, he’s only gone fewer than seven innings once. They have all been quality starts, even the August 6 loss at the White Sox when he allowed three runs in seven innings. His nine scoreless starts this season leads the majors.
It’s not like the bats have given him a bunch of comfortable cushions, either. He’s done it all with minimal run support. In 13 of his 24 starts, the final margin has been three runs or less.
Unfortunately for him, a fellow named Max Scherzer is having quite the season for the Tigers — 17-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 175 strikeouts in 158 1/3 innings. That win total alone should get him the trophy if he continues along those lines the final month-and-a-half.
But let’s say he doesn’t. Let’s say he stumbles badly, and finishes with more human numbers like 18-5 with a 3.05 ERA. And let’s assume people actually start making contact with the majors’ strikeout leader, the Rangers’ Yu Darvish. And maybe Oakland’s Bartolo Colon cools off, and Seattle workhorse Felix Hernandez finally gets tired.
Kuroda, a guy who didn’t even make the All-Star team, should be right in there. And if he and Harvey wind up at the top of the voting, New Yorkers would witness some baseball history in a season torn by bad play, injuries and performance-enhancing drug stories.
Never before have two New York pitchers won the Cy Young in the same year. The closest thing to that were the consecutive awards that Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle and starter Ron Guidry nailed down in 1977 and ’78, the latter when Guidry became a unanimous selection.
Harvey could duplicate that feat on the NL side if he follows last year’s win by R.A. Dickey.
But two Cy Young winners from the same city in the same year?
Never happened. Anywhere.
A Kuroda win would also make for some interesting offseason discussions in the front office. He’ll be a free agent after this, and the Yanks will have to decide whether it’s worth it to have what will be a 39-year-old starter in the rotation. They should consider this carefully, and also note that Kuroda hasn’t thrown like an aging star. That 2.33 ERA is, after all, the best of his American League career. And that number has dropped every year from the 3.39 he posted with the Dodgers in 2010.
Steady year-by-year improvement is not the issue here, though. It’s what he’s done this year, amid all the injuries and the distractions and the second-half failure that counts. Without him, the Yanks would be looking up at their four other AL East mates.
Cy Young? Maybe, maybe not. But he’s pitched well enough to dream. And Harvey’s season speaks for itself.
It would be nice if the year ended with a little positive history.
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