At 40-years-old, Mariano Rivera is quietly having one of the best seasons any pitcher has ever had, and it's time to start considering him for the Cy Young Award.
The Yankees hold over first place (slight though it may be) has everything to do with their unflappable closer. With an almost unheard of 0.647 WHIP and a just-as-unprecedented-this-late-in-the-season 0.93 ERA, he's been the single most dominant pitcher in baseball.
It's been 18 years since a reliever won pitching's most prestigious honor. In 1992, Dennis Eckersley's 1.91 ERA, 51 saves and seven wins made him the right choice for both the Cy Young and the American League MVP, but Rivera's resumé is much different this season. As a closer for the Yankees, Rivera could never get the opportunity to record 50+ saves, because the Yankees have a penchant for winning games by more than three runs (the difference needed for a save opportunity). So while Rivera gets fewer opportunities to make mistakes and wear down his arm, the few mistakes he does make are magnified in his statistics.
That ERA, which has hovered near one for much of the season, is the result of just four earned runs allowed all season long. With the Yankees leading the division by only one game, that consistency makes Rivera the most important asset the team has.
Rivera does have some competition for the award. David Price has compiled some incredible statistics this year. The Rays' young ace has been stunningly good, nabbing a 2.90 ERA while going 14-5 this season. But even if he gets to 20 wins, Price should need to keep that ERA below 3.00 to win the award over a closer who's below 1.00.
There are a few others Cy Young candidates out there — Cliff Lee, Clay Buchholz and Andy Pettitte — to name a few, but none yet have resumés that quite compare with Price's or Rivera's.
In Other Yankees News
Álex Rodriguez is Killing My Fantasy Baseball Team: The nervous one has been stuck at 599 home runs since July 22. His homer-less streak, coupled with the annoying spectacle of the ball boy exchanging those special "600th home run" baseballs with the umpire every time AROD comes up to bat, has become maddening. You drop everything to make sure you watch his every at-bat, not because seeing 600 is really something special, but because you've watched so many of the at-bats since 599, that it would be like missing the toast pop if you didn't manage to catch the home run. Fine, maybe you don't do that, but I do. It's maddening.
Does Anyone Else Feel Bad for the Newest Yankees? The Yankees made a few trade-deadline moves, adding the bats of Lance Berkman and Austin Kearns, as well as reliever Kerry Wood. Berkman and Kearns went a combined 1-for-10 at the plate over the last two games. Meanwhile, Wood struck a few out, but also managed to load the bases before being yanked from a close game. Not the strongest start for anyone.
Dude, How are the Rays Only One Game Back? Look, if Tampa's going to go ahead and win eight out of every nine games (as they have in this recent stretch) for the rest of the season, than we might as well focus on the wild card. Fortunately that's not the case. We can, however, expect this division to come down to the seven remaining games we have against the Rays (and conceivably, the seven remaining games against Boston).