By Nick Fathergill
Prior to the 2015 Major League Baseball season, 11 of 15 members of an expert panel on ESPN picked a member of the American League West to win the ALCS and make a trip to the World Series. Of the 11 picks, 10 experts predicted a Seattle Mariners pennant race, while Jim Caple felt the Los Angeles Angels would ride Mike Trout en route to their first Series since 2002.
As of Tuesday, September 29th, the Angels sit 2 games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West with an 82-74 record, while the Mariners are 10.5 back at 74-83.
A severely disappointing campaign by the ENTIRE division, not just the Angels and Mariners, has been the talk of baseball for a distinctly long time. Even with three winning teams (Rangers, Angels, Houston Astros), the West sports no club with a winning percentage of over .540, and only the Astros have a Pythagorean record (projected wins and losses based off aggregate scoring) of more than 80 wins.
Underperformance by stars like Seattle’s Robinson Cano (.282 average is lowest since 2008) and Felix Hernandez (3.53 ERA is highest since 2007) has produced the division with the worst average record in the American League.
However, in the midst of an underwhelming and disappointing division-wide campaign, two AL West pitchers – a righty and a southpaw – are closing up seasons that will undoubtedly receive votes when the AL Cy Young is decided.
Dallas KeuchelEmbed from Getty Images
Native Oklahoman and unshaven lefty Dallas Keuchel was drafted out of college (Arkansas) by the Houston Astros in the 7th round of the 2009 amateur draft. Coming into the 2015 season, Keuchel had only made 69 career starts to the tune of a 21-27 record and 4.16 ERA.
However, building off a strong 2014 that saw Keuchel hold a 2.93 ERA over 200 innings, the Astros’ ace has befuddled opposing bats in 2015 with a sinker that induces countless ground balls. Through a league-leading 226 innings pitched, Keuchel is 19-8 with a 2.47 ERA and a career-best 213 whiffs. His 1.01 WHIP (walks & hits per inning pitched) also leagues the American League.
Probably the most impressive feat Keuchel has accomplished this year is his success at home. While on the bump in Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas, Keuchel is an astounding 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA and .89 WHIP.
Keuchel’s success is one of the reasons the Astros currently hold the second Wild Card spot in the American League. With a wins-above-replacement (WAR) of 7.3, “Kid Keuchy” is the favorite to win the Cy Young, along with David Price of the Toronto Blue Jays (18-5, 2.45 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 225 K).
Sonny GrayEmbed from Getty Images
Although he suffered multiple poor outings in September, hurting his chances at coming 1st in the Cy Young voting, Oakland Athletics ace Sonny Gray had a Cy-worthy season as well.
In the same boat as Keuchel, the third-year starter from Vanderbilt only had 43 starts before 2015, and came off a very strong 2014 campaign (14-10, 3.08 ERA). Unlike Keuchel, Gray is a member of the A’s, who will likely finish last in the West. While Keuchel received 4.88 runs of support per game, Gray has gotten 4.48.
Nevertheless, Gray has thrown 208 innings in 2015 to a 2.73 ERA, good for third in the American League. He is 14-7 with 169 strikeouts, a 5.7 WAR and a 1.08 WHIP, which is tied with Price for 5th in the AL.
On Friday, after his start against the San Francisco Giants, Gray complained of soreness in his hip, and according to Jane Lee of MLB.com, he will be scratched of his only remaining start. With no more chances to lower his ERA or win a 15th game, Gray is likely to come in third in the voting for the best pitcher in the league.
So who’s it gonna be?
While Gray is done for the year and seemingly has third place locked up, the race between Keuchel and Price is airtight. Keuchel is coming off a 10-strikeout performance against the Rangers on Sunday, reinvigorating the final stretch for the award.Embed from Getty Images
Price’s final game is Thursday night against division rival Baltimore Orioles, while Keuchel makes his case for the hardware this weekend in Arizona versus the Diamondbacks.
However, as it sits now, it appears the order will go Keuchel-Price-Gray.
*All stats provided by baseball-reference.com