If Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez wasn’t already being considered a serious contender for the National League Cy Young award, then Monday’s performance assured that. Gonzalez, even battling his own command, tossed six strong innings to become the first pitcher to 19 wins in the major leagues and dropped his ERA under 3.00.
Gonzalez was already an all-star in Oakland before the Nationals traded away four of their best prospects for the left-hander in the offseason. Yet, in his first year in the National League, he has flourished. He has always possessed dominating stuff — sneakily explosive fastball and biting curveball — but he has grown as a pitcher this season, learning more when to use what pitch and chug through a start when his command suffered. And as a result, he is posting career-high marks and rates in many pitching statistical categories.
Here’s a brief look at how he stacks up compared to other top pitchers in the NL:
Gio Gonzalez, WSN: 19-7, 2.93 ERA (5th in NL), 181 1/3 innings (11th), 1.13 WHIP (7th), 191 strikeouts (4th).
Matt Cain, SFG: 13-5, 2.96 ERA, 194 1/3 innings, 1.03 WHIP, 175 strikeouts.
Johnny Cueto, CIN: 17-8, 2.71 ERA, 192 2/3 innings, 1.15 WHIP, 155 strikeouts.
R.A. Dickey, NYM: 18-4, 2.64 ERA, 198 innings, 1.03 WHIP, 195 strikeouts.
Clayton Kershaw, LAD: 12-8, 2.79 ERA, 199 2/3 innings, 1.02 WHIP, 201 strikeouts.
Kyle Lohse, STL: 14-2, 2.81 ERA, 186 innings, 1.10 WHIP, 116 strikeouts.
Handicapping the Cy Young Award race is a fool’s errand because each player has a handful of starts remaining, and especially at this point of the season, any dominating performance or slip-up could be magnified. For now, however, Cueto, Gonzalez and Dickey appear to be the leading contenders. (Gonzalez likely has three more starts remaining, and that’s without factoring in rest, if he is given any if the Nationals clinch the division.)
Beyond those commonly used metrics above, Gonzalez has been even more dominant than may appear. Dickey may have more of the public’s attention with his unusual story and pitch, the knuckleball. Gonzalez, however, has some truly standout numbers.
Gonzalez leads the majors in batting average against (.206), slugging percentage against (.587) and hits per nine (6.75). He has the second-best strikeout per nine ratio (9.48) in the majors behind Stephen Strasburg. Gonzalez has also been consistent; despite a small blip in late June, he has pitched at least six innings in all but six of his 29 starts. One of weaknesses is walks per nine ratio (3.38), good for 38th in the majors.
“He’s consistent and I think that’s probably one of the most important things to a Cy Young,” Ian Desmond said. “You’ve got to be able to go out there every single time and give your team a chance to win and he’s done that. And beyond. He’s nasty.”
Nationals Manager Davey Johnson was asked if Gonzalez should be in the conversation for the award and he, as expected, threw his full support behind him.
“No question,” Johnson said. “No doubt about it. I know Dickey gets a lot of attention, but you’re talking about a last-place club. It’s a little bit different. We’ve been on top and getting all those wins.”
Dickey’s, and the Mets’, argument in his favor will likely try to minimize the negative effect of the team’s losing campaign. The most recent example of a pitcher winning the award while on a losing team was Seattle’s Felix Hernandez in 2010. The Mariners lost 101 games that season, last place in the AL West, and his record was 13-12. But the rest of his numbers were dominant: 2.27 ERA, 249 2/3 innings, 232 strikeouts, 1.057 WHIP.
The Nationals get a crack at bolstering Gonzalez’s case when they face Dickey on Tuesday. Dickey fooled the Nationals earlier in the season, notching two wins against them, but in the third meeting on July 24 they knocked in five runs, four earned, against him. Another rough outing against the Nationals and they might just help their teammate earn more consideration for winning the award.
FROM TODAY’S POST
The Nationals bashed three more homers, Gonzalez goes six innings and they top Mets, 5-1, and lead Braves by 6 1/2 games, writes Adam Kilgore.
FROM YESTERDAY’S JOURNAL
NATS MINOR LEAGUES
Tri-City 16, Auburn 7: The Doubledays were eliminated from the playoffs with the loss. Auburn led 6-5 in the seventh before Tri-City scored 11 combined runs in the seventh and eighth. Wander Ramos went 3 for 5 with three RBI, Mike McQuillan went 2 for 4 and Tony Renda went 4 for 5. Auburn used six pitchers.
NATS MAGIC NUMBER