Monday, September 28, 2009

Greinke Schoen

Zack Greinke has been the best pitcher in the American League since April. That should be obvious to anyone with or without a cerebral cortex. What wasn't obvious, at least until the last three weeks, was whether Greinke would win the AL Cy Young Award. As of September 16, he had just 13 wins which is three shy of the bare minimum number required to garner serious consideration. No starting pitcher in MLB history has won the Cy Young Award with fewer than 16 wins in a 162-game season. Fernando Valenzulea won 13 games in the strike-shortened '81 season. The idea of Greinke getting to 16 wins seemed nearly unfathomable on August 24 when he sat with just 11 wins. It seemed equally unfathomable on September 16 when had just 13 wins. Now? Well, he's got 16 wins. So, I guess it seems pretty fathomable. Greinke is 5-0 in his last seven starts with a .72 ERA in 50 innings. That's not even his best 50-inning stretch of the season. Needless to say, he has solidified himself as "the only AL pitcher in contention for the Cy Young."

This is a good story if you like baseball. Greinke famously suffered from social anxiety disorder and depression in 2006. He was so bad as a starter upon his return in 2007 that he was moved to the bullpen. He returned as a full-time starter in 2008 and posted promising numbers. Then there's the fact that he plays for the Kansas City Royals which has been the worst baseball franchise in the AL for 50 billion years. Kansas City is not exactly the place for a pitcher to breakout. That hasn't stopped Greinke. Despite KC's 64-92 record and virtually non-existant run-support, he has put together one of the most statistically impressive seasons of all-time accounting for 25% of KC's wins in the process. This is, indeed, a good baseball story. Fortunately, this is also a good story if you like the Detroit Tigers.

If you're a Tigers fan, then you are likely well aware of all of this. Greinke has destroyed the Tigers this season. In 36 innings (five starts), he is 3-1 with a 1.00 ERA, a .861 WHIP, and a .176 BAA. I don't have to tell you that those numbers are sickening. If you are a Tigers fan, you have had a case of the "Greinkies" five times this year. However, I am happy to report that "Greinke season" is over in Detroit and just getting started in Minnesota. While Greinke put up those truly horrifying numbers against the Tigers through the first five and a half months of the season, he posted the following line against the Minnesota Twins: 0 starts and 0 innings. Despite playing in the same division as the Tigers, the Twins somehow managed to avoid Greinkie for five and a half months. Their luck ubruptly ended yesterday.

The bell finally tolled for Minnesota on Sunday and the results were predictable for anyone who has fawned over Greinke's game logs this season. He blitzed Minnesota for seven innings of one-run ball. More importantly, he gave the Twins only their second loss in their last 13 games. Perhaps only one pitcher in the American League would've prevented the Twins from winning yet again. The Twins had climbed to within two games of Detroit and the Tigers were getting beat by the White Sox. A razor-thin one-game lead looked inevitable but Greinke's heroics prevented such a fate.

The Tigers must, at the very least, split their four-game series with the Twins this week to maintain their grip on the Central Division. If that doesn't happen, then it's hard to see the Tigers rebounding to overtake the Twins. However, the Tigers have an ace-in-the hole and it's not Justin Verlander, Edwin Jackson, or Rick Porcello. I'll give you a hint, I've written his name 13 times in this post already. Yep, it's Greinke who will, in effect, be pitching for the Tigers on Saturday when he faces the Twins again. In most instances, a last place team like Kansas City wouldn't have much motivation heading into the last weekend of the season. Thankfully for the Tigers, this is not most instances. Greinke is trying to slam the door on the Cy Young race and a win on Saturday would certainly do that. He will be dealin' and, hopefully, the Twins will be foldin'.

The Tigers can make most of this moot by splitting with the Twins over the next four days. They're playing at Comerica Park where they've only lost one of their last nine series. They roll out Verlander and Porcello today and tomorrow against the Twins. They'll also get both against the White Sox in the final two games of the season this weekend. The Tigers should be able to hold on to the division by themselves but don't be surprised if the margin in a tight race is Greinke's right arm against Minnesota on Saturday.

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