5 Questions: Willis Should Win NL Cy Young

By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 30, 2005 11:06 AM

1. Who should win the Cy Young in the National League?

What seemed like a great battle between two pitchers who kept getting better and better, has turned into a great battle at the end of the year -- for the wrong reasons. Cardinals pitcher Chris Carpenter and the Marlins' Dontrelle Willis seem to be trying to pitch themselves out of the Cy Young award.

Carpenter has been blasted in three of his last four starts and has seen his ERA leap from 2.21 to 2.83 since Sept. 8. He has also allowed 36 hits and 25 runs in that time. But he will finish 21-5.

Willis, on the other hand, was hammered by the Nationals on Tuesday but also finished 22-10 with a 2.59 ERA.

In the end, the best choice is still Willis. His rotation fell around him, leaving him to have to carry the Marlins much of the way toward the postseason. Carpenter's sudden decline could be a mental fatigue left from pitching so well earlier in the year. But he has been surrounded by a good team and a good staff. Plus his bullpen has been far more dependable than Florida's.

One stat to keep in mind: Willis had 12 wins after a Marlins loss this year.

2. Will the Braves sweep MVP, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards?

It could very easily happen. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviewed one voter in each of the National League's 16 cities to come to get an idea of which way the elections were heading. The poll had Atlanta's Andruw Jones beating the Cardinals' Albert Pujols, 11-5, for MVP. It had Bobby Cox getting all but one vote for Manager of the Year and the Braves Jeff Francoeur (whose average has dropped to .306) just edging past Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard for the rookie award.

As an aside, the poll showed Willis was beating Carpenter, 11-4, for the Cy Young.

Remember, this is very informal but seems to be tracking the way a lot of baseball writers seem to feel. They see Jones as having to do more to carry Atlanta rather than Pujols, who was blessed with a deeper team. Cox has had to endure countless injuries and Francoeur stunned people in baseball with his amazing start after being called up in the summer.

The last team to sweep MVP, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year? St. Louis in 1985 when Willie McGee, Whitey Herzog and Vince Coleman took the awards.

3. What happens to Jimmy Rollins' hitting streak if it goes on to next year?

The Phillies shortstop is in an interesting place when he comes to RFK this weekend. His hitting streak is at 33 games -- the 16th longest hitting streak of all time. Florida's Luis Castillo hit in 35 straight in 2002.

If Rollins can get a hit in each of the next three games, he will carry a 36-game hitting streak into next season. Should it continue and he breaks Joe DiMaggio's 56 consecutive game streak he will be credited with the longest hitting streak in history. But he will not hold the single-season mark. That will still belong to DiMaggio and his 56 game streak in 1941.

4. What was the White Sox's best move this year?

It was actually one they never made. Back around the trade deadline, the White Sox and Marlins tried to work out a deal in which Chicago could acquire pitcher A. J. Burnett for starter Jose Contreras. As it turned out, the trade couldn't happen and while Burnett struggled down the stretch, Contreras has gone 8-1 with a 2.03 era in the 10 starts since the trade deadline.

"If there's anyone better right now, I'd like to see him," center fielder Aaron Rowand told the Chicago Tribune. "His stuff is as good or better than anyone in the game. The way he's been throwing, there's no doubt he'd be the Cy Young winner if he threw like that in the first half.'"

5. Who will get Burnett this offseason?

Burnett might be the most intriguing free agent this offseason. He has the best arm of any pitcher who will realistically be available and is in line to draw about $48 million over four years. Yet he has been a career .500 pitcher and never even had the great season like his former teammate Carl Pavano put up last season before taking George Steinbrenner's money.

Add in Burnett's recent dismissal after he blasted the culture of the disappointing Marlins and he would seem to come with many warnings. But Burnett is considered a good teammate by the Florida players and there seems a strong belief inside that clubhouse that he will be a big winner someday. His problems with the Marlins go back to 2003, the year he blew out his elbow and needed reconstructive surgery. While he was disabled, the team fired manager Jeff Torborg and Burnett's favorite pitching coach Brad Arnsberg.

He has longed for Arnsberg and has been careful not to commit himself to any situation -- like the Orioles, with whom he would not sign a contract extension this summer when Marlins found a sucker for Mike Lowell's $18 million salary. Since Arnsberg is in Toronto, there is a very good chance Burnett could wind up there provided the Blue Jays can afford him. Which might squelch the Nationals' dream of landing the one big starter they think they need to fill out their rotation.

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