The AL Cy Young race has been mostly dominated by three names—Justin Verlander for Detroit, LAA’s Jered Weaver and the Yankees’ C.C. Sabathia. At varying times, Boston’s Josh Beckett has floated in and out of the conversation. Last night against the Twins, Verlander won his 18th game and is threatening to get a hold of this race. Today the Notebook takes a general overview look at the fight for the AL’s top pitching honor…
Verlander: 18-5, 202 IP, 2.31 ERA
Weaver: 14-6,181 IP, 2.13 ERA
Sabathia: 16-7, 190 IP, 2.93 ERA
Beckett had been in the discussion when his ERA was second in the league to Weaver’s, but the Boston ace has seen that figure “rise” to 2.40. And he’s only at 150 IP. Beckett’s numbers are more comparable to Cleveland’s Justin Masterson—which is hardly a shame, but outside the realm of Cy Young discussion.
Returning to the Big Three, it’s easy to see why Verlander has emerged as the frontrunner, leading in both wins and innings pitched. Sabathia would seem to bring up the rear in third with an ERA sizably higher. But don’t overlook the fact he pitches in the best hitter’s park of any of these three, and he has to face the potent Boston lineup six times a year, none of which does wonders for an ERA. Weaver has the dazzling ERA that leads the league and will have his biggest start of the season coming up Thursday against the Rangers. The case against the Angel ace is that his innings are the lowest and with Dan Haren in the same rotation, he doesn’t bear the kind of burden that Sabathia and Verlander do for the success of their staff. Turning in a good eight-inning effort against Texas and keeping LAA alive in the AL West would be a major boost for the Weaver candidacy.
There are no closers in position to make a run at the award this year. Detroit’s Jose Valverde leads the league in saves and is perfect in his opportunities, but his ERA is substantially higher than Mariano Rivera’s, and the Yankee legend doesn’t have enough raw saves to merit the Cy Young.
When you add it all up, Verlander’s front-runner status is justified. He’s a horse, he gets the wins and he shuts people down. But Sabathia and Weaver in that order, are close enough that this is still a hot race.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS PREVIEW
A year ago the Chiefs were the surprise team of the NFL, coming from complete obscurity to steal the AFC West title from the Chargers with a 10-6 record. Skepticism still remains about this team though. San Diego is seen as more talented, and it’s hard to look past the beatdown KC suffered at home in the playoffs to Baltimore. There seems to be a belief that Todd Haley’s team benefitted from the strange forces that govern NFL football and seem to dictate that the surprise team falls as quickly as it rises.
Kansas City doesn’t have the big-play potential of the league’s upper crust. Matt Cassell clearly established himself as a legitimate NFL starting quarterback last year and showed that his quality play in New England when Tom Brady was out for the year in 2008 wasn’t just about the supporting cast around him. But he’s not a big downfield passer and doesn’t really have the targets to hit even if he was. Cassell excels at game management and keeping drives going. As long as the Chiefs continue to run the ball effectively with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones—and they had the best running game in the league a year ago—Cassell can settle in and direct the offense and find tight end Tony Moeaki for first downs. The big concern I see on this offense has more to do with problems at both tackles—with the inability to protect the edges being yet another hindrance to a legitimate deep passing game.
On defense Kansas City doesn’t have the same issues with making big plays. Linebacker Tamba Hali led the AFC in sacks and Derrick Johnson is a stud at inside linebacker. KC gets reliable work from Andy Studebaker and Jovan Belcher making this one of the better foursomes in the league. The secondary is steady on the corners, with Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr and Eric Berry is solid at strong safety.
I understand where the skepticism comes from regarding Kansas City. They have a low ceiling as a team and probably hit it last year with the 10 wins. But a team that runs the ball, doesn’t make mistakes and can make some big plays defensively will get its chances to steal wins against more talented, but less disciplined teams. As long as San Diego is the frontrunner in the West, that leaves an opening for the Chiefs.
CENTRAL FLORIDA SEEKS RESPECT
When you think of Conference USA you think of high-powered offenses and the kind that are run at Houston with Case Keenum at quarterback, and SMU, coached by passing game whiz June Jones are the ones that come to mind. Or maybe you think of East Carolina because you know Lou Holtz’s son Skip coached there before taking the South Florida job. What you may not think of is Central Florida—other than the fact they were the school that hired head coach George O’Leary after he spent just five days as Notre Dame coach before his resume falsifications did him in. But it’s Central Florida who not only won the conference championship in 2010, not only beat Georgia in the Liberty Bowl, but is aiming to come back with a strong year this season.
UCF’s offense is anchored by a veteran line that returns four starters and they’re led by sophomore quarterback Jeffrey Godfrey. He got the job in his freshman year last season and put up big numbers both running and passing. With top target A.J. Guyton back, along with his top two backs, Latavius Murray and Ronnie Weaver, Godfrey will have no problem again directing a prolific attack.
The defense will be a concern, as most are in C-USA. The line is very young and new ends Toby Jackson and Troy Davis will have to come up to speed in a hurry. The junior starters are going to have to be the leader of this group and generate a pass rush, because having to blitz the linebackers in a 4-3 scheme in this league against these types of offenses spells disaster. Even more so given that O’Leary will have to start a freshman at strong safety, while relying on returnees Josh Robinson at corner and Kemal Ishmael at free safety. Both were key pieces on a defense that was the difference in the conference race last year.
Central Florida is C-USA’s East Division, opposite both Houston and SMU and the only play the latter during the regular season. The division likely comes down to consecutive November road trips to Southern Miss and East Carolina. At that point, it comes down to a question of whether the defense will be up to snuff for a December title tilt against Houston or SMU. Last year they shut down the Mustangs in a 17-7 championship game win. There’s a lot of work to get back to that level this year, but they have the offense to do it and the program is in good shape. Time to give UCF some respect.
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