Sport Imitates Life

September 2, 2009 6:26 AM

Recognize Game: Zack Greinke

Alright Kansas City Royals fans, gather around. It's becoming more and more obvious ... hello? Kansas City Royals fans? Anyone there? Kansas City? Royals? Fans? Hello?

Okay then, baseball fans everywhere else, listen up. It's time to start talking seriously about Zack Greinke for the American League Cy Young award. Stop laughing. Have you seen Greinke's last two outings? They were a lot like the rest of his 27 starts, only he got a few timely hits and a couple manufactured runs from his offense, and we wouldn't be having this discussion had that been the case all season long. The 2009 Royals have a triple-A offense, but don't bother calling on them when you're stranded on the side of the road with a flat tire. Greinke hasn't even been able to call on his offense each time he needs three measly runs to keep another quality start from turning into another no-decision.

Greinke struck out a franchise-record 15 Indians Aug. 25 in KC and followed that with a complete-game one-hitter in his next start at Seattle. Those back-to-back beauts' raised his record to 13-8, with a WHIP of 1.08 and an American League-leading 2.32 ERA, a major league-leading six complete games, a major league-leading three shutouts, a career-high 202 strikeouts in a career-high 190 innings pitched. With the exception of that win-loss record, those numbers are inarguably Cy Young-quality. 13-8, however, is a middle-of-the rotation mark, so this is where the subjectivity of human voters must serve its purpose. Baseball writers must look behind Greinke's win-loss record to see exactly what's dragging it down, and when they do so, they'll realize they shouldn't punish Greinke for his team's inablitiy to support him.

For some reason, individual award winners almost always come from contending teams, and while an offensive player vying for the MVP or batting title or homerun crown needs runners on base in front of him and protection in the lineup behind him, a pitcher's stats are far more dependent on his teammates' performance. Even the most assailing ace needs a good defense around him, a good offense beside him and a good bullpen behind him to put up award-winning statistics.

If Greinke pitched for a team that could hit AND defend, he would probably be 27-0 right now. If he played for a team that could hit OR defend, he would probably be about 18-3 right now. If he played for the Yankees or Red Sox, which he will almost surely do when his contract expires in 2012, he would be set to receive the Cy Young award this weekend in a special Labor Day ceremony broadcast live from Bud Selig's personal yacht to every jumbotron in every major league stadium.

Back to reality, though: Greinke pitches for the last-place, 51-81 Royals in Kansas City, Missouri, and odds are C.C. Sabathia (15-7, 3.56 ERA, 1.13 WHIP for first-place New York) or Justin Verlander (15-7, 3.38 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 215 K for first-place Detroit) will win the 2009 American League Cy Young. Don't count out Anaheim's Jered Weaver, Toronto's Roy Halladay, or even Boston's Josh Beckett, Tim Lester or Tim Wakefield if one of them gets hot down the stretch. Greinke is scheduled for five more starts this season, including early free-agent auditions against the Red Sox and Yankees in the final week of the season. If he wins all five of those starts, I rest my case. If he loses all five, I shut my mouth. If he goes 2-2 with a no-decision, which is unfortunately probable, chances are his team is to blame.

No Royal has won the AL Cy Young since Bret Saberhagen won his second in 1989, but not only was Greinke the American League's Pitcher of the Week, he's the pitcher of the year. Stay tuned, baseball fans. Hold your breath, Royals fans, and pray for the big-market, east-coast bi ... hello? Royals fans? Hello? Anyone there?

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