By Evan Sporer
Chicks dig the long ball, that’s for certain. But since former senator George Mitchell released a report in December 2007 outlining steroid usage in baseball, homerun totals have been down, and pitchers have begun to dominate the game.
This year has been no different.
Aside from Blue Jay’s slugger Jose Bautista, no other player in the big leagues looks like they have a shot at 50 homeruns. On the other hand, a number of pitchers look like they could reach the 20 win plateau, and, decide some of baseball’s closest races.
Entering play Wednesday, 16 teams, exactly half the league, was currently in or within 6.5 games of a playoff position. The increase in parity across the board could lead to an exciting culmination of the baseball season – and starting pitchers could dictate those races.
Most teams in the league have played about 90 games, leaving about 70 remaining, and 14 starts for pitchers taking the ball every fifth day. And right now, 18 starting pitchers have 10 wins or more. Of those 18 pitchers, only Clayton Kershaw is on a team not amongst the 16 holding a playoff spot, or is within 6.5 games of one.
As baseball’s best vie for a trip to the October Classic, they will rely on their best arms to punch their playoff ticket.
Pitchers have already proved their dominance this year, and have showed continued dominance over the last few years. This season, teams have combined to average 13.92 strikeouts per game. Only five seasons ago, in 2006, that number was at 12.8. And as mentioned, 18 pitchers have already totaled double digit wins. The last time five pitchers reached 20 wins in a single season was 2003, when Roy Halladay, Esteban Loaiza, Jamie Moyer, Russ Ortiz and Andy Pettitte all won at least 20 games.
This season, five 20-game winners may not only be within reach, but possibly the low end of the spectrum. Some pitchers look like locks for 20. The Yankees C.C. Sabathia leads all of baseball with 14 wins, and with the Yankees in a hotly contested race, there’s no reason to think he won’t win six more.
Then there are pitchers like Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, and Jair Jurrjens, all pitching for playoff contenders, all with sub 2.30 ERA’s, and all eight victories away from 20. Could they all win 20 games?
And who could forget the Doctor, and his surgical partners? Roy Halladay has 11 wins, and with the Braves breathing down the Phillies neck, he’s sure to take the ball for Philadelphia as the playoff picture tightens up. And teammates Cole Hamels (11 wins) and Cliff Lee (nine wins) could also win 20.
And imagine if Kevin Correia of the once lost at sea (but now in first place) Pirates could win 20? Correia has already won 11, despite a 4.04 ERA, but has a shot to win 20 games, and get the Pirates into the playoffs for the first time since 1992.
With October only a few months away, these pennant races could quickly turn into arms races, with the pitchers deciding who makes it into baseball’s postseason.