Johan Santana and Brandon Webb aren't ready to give up their Cy Young crowns just yet. The reigning owners of the American and National League Cy Youngs, respectively, are making a late charge after slow starts.
Overshadowed for much of the season by the AL's stable of up-and-coming young stars, Santana set a team record on Sunday with 17 strikeouts in a 1-0 win over the Rangers to improve to 13-9 and lower his ERA to 2.88.
Webb, meanwhile, has decided he's never going to allow another run. Back on July 20, after a loss to the Cubs, the master sinkerballer was 8-8 with an ERA of 3.38. Since then, he's 5-0 with an ERA that matches Blutarsky's grade point average: 0.00. Webb's scoreless streak of 42 innings is two shutouts shy of Orel Hershiser's record of 59.
Even with their recent surges, repeating won't be easy for Webb or Santana. With six weeks remaining in the season, here's how my Cy Young ballots looks so far, though I reserve the right to change my vote if Santana goes on one of his patented late-season runs:
1. Erik Bedard, Orioles
12-4, 2.98 ERA, 207 strikeouts
The majors' strikeout leader would be the runaway frontrunner if not for the Orioles' shaky bullpen. He's had seven outings in which he's gone at least seven innings and allowed three runs or fewer only to come away empty-handed. Just see last week's no-decision against the Yankees after blanking the game's hottest lineup for seven innings as a prime example.
2. Dan Haren, Athletics
13-4, 2.54 ERA, 138 strikeouts
The AL's ERA leader gets bumped down a notch because of the help he's getting form the rangey Oakland defense. Haren's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) is 3.63, 1.09 runs higher than his real ERA. Translation: The stellar A's defense has shaved more than a run off his ERA. By comparison, Bedard's FIP is 0.39 runs higher than his real ERA of 2.98, so he hasn't gotten nearly as much help. (Among qualifiers, only Toronto's Shaun Marcum has been boosted more by his defense than Haren.)
3. J.J. Putz, Mariners
2-1, 36 saves, 1.40 ERA
If you are wondering how the Mariners are in the thick of the playoff race despite their pedestrian starting rotation, look no further than Mr. Putz (pronounced "puts," as in, "puts the game away.") The best stat for assessing relievers is kept by Baseball Prospectus and is called "Win Expectation above Replacement." Putz's WXRL leads all AL relievers by more than a 1.5 wins. And his current stats (303 ERA+) compare favorably to the last reliever to win a Cy Young -- Eric Gagne in 2003 (335 ERA+).
Just missed: Santana, Josh Beckett, Kelvim Escobar.
1. Jake Peavy, Padres
13-5, 2.19 ERA, 175 strikeouts
Pitching his home games in Yosemite helps, but not as much as you would think: His ERA on the road is 1.06 compared to 2.97 at Petco. The NL strikeouts leader has pitched nearly 35 more innings than teammate Chris Young, who is tops in the NL in ERA+ (213).
2. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
13-8, 2.63 ERA, 161 strikeouts
The game's hottest pitcher in nearly 20 years gets extra credit for durability -- he leads the NL in innings pitched with 184 2/3. And remember that the year Hershiser set the record, he took home the Cy Young as well.
3. Cole Hamels, Phillies
14-5, 3.50 ERA, 156 strikeouts
The kid leads the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.00) and pitches his home games in a bandbox. He gets the nod over Young, who has been helped out by Petco Park to a great degree (0.66 ERA at home).
Just missed: Young, Brad Penny, Tim Hudson.