Loaiza has inside track on warhorses

Esteban Loaiza makes a strong case for the AL Cy Young, but don't hand him the hardware just yet.

Originally Published: August 27, 2003
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

While National League voters ponder which closer they'll award the Cy Young, over here in the American League the choice is among at least a half dozen pitchers who actually work for a living.

Esteban Loaiza
Esteban Loaiza's ERA (2.51) this season is two runs lower than his career mark (4.58).

We'll begin with the sentimental favorite, Jamie Moyer (16-6, 3.75) who is the first candidate in the 47-year history of the award to have been an actual teammate of Cy Young. Hah! I'm just making that up. Moyer never played on the same team as Cy Young, though he was in the farm system when Young retired.

Earlier this summer Moyer became the third pitcher to make the All-Star team for the first time at age 40 and he could become the first 40-something to win the Cy Young Award. (Gaylord Perry didn't turn 40 until mid-September when he won the award in 1978 -- Moyer turned 40 last November.) Will he? Probably not. Moyer's ERA is the highest among the top candidates while his strikeouts, innings pitched and quality start totals are the lowest. But he has a lot of admirers for his pitching savvy and if he wins the rest of his starts, he has an outside chance.

Mike Mussina (14-7, 3.18) is as reliable as Bob Sheppard's voice. He's just four wins shy of 200 for his career and he averages about two wins for every loss. He's fifth in ERA, third in strikeouts (with a superb 164-31 strikeout-to-walk ratio) and batters are hitting just .226 against him. He's never won a Cy Young, though he's finished in the top six in voting seven times since 1994. This just might be his year. He's got the league's best team behind him, plus the New York media -- and isn't it about time for another Sports Illustrated cover feature on a Yankees pitcher ("Mighty Moose!")?

Mark Mulder's once-excellent chances are stuck in remote parking at the Coliseum while the reigning winner, Barry Zito, is still trying to figure out what happened to his All-Star invite. But keep your eye on the remaining starter of Oakland's Big Three. If Tim Hudson (13-4, 2.40) doesn't win the Cy Young, blame Keith Foulke. Foulke has blown five saves this season and four cost Hudson a victory.

Unfortunately, Foulke isn't alone. Hudson is second in the league in ERA, second in innings and he has 23 quality starts (tops among the leading candidates), but the Athletics bullpen has blown leads nine times after he left the mound. Hudson has won six decisions in a row and if he can keep that up, get to at least 18 wins and help Oakland overcome Mulder's hip injury to return to the playoffs, he's going to get a lot of He Won When It Counted Most consideration.

Roy Halladay (17-5, 3.55) is tied for the league lead in wins, leads the league in innings pitched and his earlier 15-game winning streak was one shy of the league record. But his ERA is a run higher than Hudson's and Esteban Loaiza's and his streak owed a certain amount to run support -- he allowed five runs or more in three of those starts.

Esteban Loaiza (17-6, 2.51) is the only candidate who was signed to a minor-league contract last winter after his previous team decided he wasn't good enough. Not that the White Sox knew what they were getting -- they didn't even issue a separate press release to announce Loaiza's signing, instead lumping him in with six other minor-leaguers. They did, however, let people know when he was named the starting pitcher in the All-Star Game.

Loaiza earns the same salary as Dodgers pitcher Kevin Brown, only Loaiza earns his $500,000 for the entire year while Brown earns his $500,000 per start. In other words, the pride of Tijuana is the biggest bargain in baseball. He's tied with Halladay for the leads in wins, his ERA is third and he's holding batters to a .232 average.

If the season were to end today, he would probably snag the award, but if the season ended today there also would be a lot of irate season-ticket holders demanding a refund. A strong finish is mandatory for every candidate, but particularly so for Loaiza, who still needs to sway voters that remember him as entering the season with a losing career record and an ERA higher than 5.00 the past two seasons.

Anyone else? Not really. Andy Pettitte has 16 wins, but his ERA is 4.01. Shigetoshi Hasegawa has a 0.75 ERA, has been as dominating as Eric Gagne or John Smoltz since moving into the closer role, and unlike those two actually inherits runners from time to time. But he hasn't been in the role long enough to impress the voters.

But let's not forget Pedro Martinez (10-3, 2.29). He probably doesn't have enough wins, but we're not counting him out and we're certainly not suggesting that he won't make each and every start the rest of the season no matter what some ridiculous Boston talk radio hosts would have you believe. Honest, Pedro! We really, really like you! You're the greatest! In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if you go 7-0 the rest of the way without allowing a run -- especially if you can somehow pitch against the Mariners each game. Honest!

So who's going to win? How should I know? A lot can happen in the season's final four weeks. I remember writing in 1988 that Danny Jackson had wrapped up the Cy Young Award by pitching a shutout, winning his 20th game and homering in the same game. And then Orel Hershier didn't give up a run the rest of the season.

Clemens
Clemens

Boxscore line of the week
With barely a month left in his career -- or at least his major-league career; he's talking about pitching in the Olympics next year -- Roger Clemens is nearing the end of the line. And some days he looks better (the All-Star Game) than others. Like his 600th career start on Tuesday. His mother threw out the ceremonial first pitch -- and it was the best pitch by the family all night. The Rocket allowed nine runs -- one shy of his career worst -- and four home runs. His line:

4.2 IP, 7 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 4 BB, 5 K, 4 HR

"They should have left (my mom) on the mound,'' Clemens told reporters.

Lies, damn lies and statistics
Bobby Bonds will be remembered as Barry's father but, of course, he had a very good and very interesting career of his own. Along with having power, speed and a great glove, he hit a grand slam in his major-league debut (no one else has done it), hit 30 home runs with 30 steals five times (matched only by Barry), struck out a record 189 times in 1969, was traded five times (for such players as Bobby Murcer, Mickey Rivers, Ed Figueroa, Brian Downing, Claudell Washington, Jim Kern, Jerry Mumphrey and John Denny), changed teams nine times, was a three-time All-Star, a three-time Gold Glove winner and twice finished in the top four in MVP voting. Rest in peace, Bobby. Your legacy lives on in your son. ... The Mariners have entered August in first place the past four seasons, but they've blown three of these leads. Seattle lost a seven-game lead in 2000 and a 6 -game lead last year (though it was only 3 games in August). This year, an eight-game lead in June shriveled to zero Monday. The real cutoff date is Aug. 11. The Mariners are 295-172, a .631 winning percentage, before that date and 82-70, .539, after it. ... In the year since Eric Gagne last blew a save, Armando Benitez has blown eight. ... The Tigers have had an 11-game losing streak, two nine-game losing streaks, two eight-game losing streaks, a seven-game losing streak and two six-game losing streaks. The Yankees, meanwhile, haven't had a six-game losing streak since honking seven in a row at the end of the 2000 season. With 97 losses already, the Tigers have given up more games the first five months of this season than the Yankees have lost in any season since 1912.

Win Blake Stein's money
This week's category: "The Biggest Collection Of Losers Outside A Trekkie Convention"

Question: What was the last team to have two 20-game losers?

Answer: The 1973 White Sox with Wilbur Wood (24-20) and Stan Bahnsen (19-21)

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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