I love Johnny Cueto. In 2014, when he was with Cincinnati, I used the MLB Extra innings TV package to watch almost every one of his started, even though my rooting interest is with Boston. I’ve argued that he gets unfair short shrift when compared to other top starters, notably Clayton Kershaw. I think Johnny got robbed of the Cy Young Award in 2012 and he should have won it in 2014.
But the numbers don’t lie—last night, Johnny was awful. Had Kershaw come up that small in a big game, you can be assured I’d be rushing into this space to pounce. Fairness requires that my guy Johnny C get the same treatment.
His pitching line speaks for itself—eight runs in two innings, with a lot of balls absolutely crushed by Toronto last night. The Blue Jays beat the Royals 11-8, but the game wasn’t that close. Kansas City scored four times in in the ninth and never brought the tying run to the plate. The most the Royals can take solace in was forcing to use Toronto to use closer Roberto Osuna. We’ll see if that has consequences with a quick turnaround, an afternoon Game 4 today.
What really got crushed, along with Cueto, was the last vestiges of my argument that he’s the best pitcher in baseball. I’m not so much conceding with regards to Kershaw. Johnny has still pitched most of his career in an extreme hitters’ park in Cincinnati, while Kershaw has had an extreme pitchers’ park in Los Angeles. Cueto should still have two Cy Young Awards, which would make this debate much more interesting. And Cueto’s Game 5 gem in the Division Series against Houston last week still trumps anything Kershaw has ever done in October.
But in today’s game, you can’t be up and down in October and lay a claim to being the best. Maybe pre-1994, when you had win a division of 6-7 teams to advance directly to the League Championship Series, making baseball a much more regular season-oriented sport, it was doable.
Now, you don’t have to be great to make the playoffs. One-third of the teams qualify. Which means the pitchers teams should want the most are ones who are good enough to get in and then capable of raising their game. Madison Bumgarner leads the list. Guys like Jon Lester and Cole Hamels would come in after that. Johnny’s got a ways to go before being able to match up to those October resumes.
I still love Johnny—as evidenced by the fact I’ve gone first-name basis throughout this post, as though he would have the foggiest idea of who I am. I still have strong confidence that if he gets the ball in Kansas City on Saturday night for a Game 7, he’ll get it done. But last night was very hard to watch.