The 2006 AL Cy Young Award-Halladay, Santana, or Verlander?

The American League Cy Young Award for 2006 is going to go to the hurler that performs best coming down the stretch. Three pitchers are now jockeying for the AL Cy Young Award votes, with no clear favorite among this trio. Roy Halladay of Toronto has the experience and an AL Cy Young Award on his mantle already. Johan Santana of the Twins can make the same boast, having been voted the recipient of the AL Cy Young Award in 2004. The Tigers’ Justin Verlander is only a rookie, but has pitched more like a former AL Cy Young Award winner than a 23 year old kid who had only a pair of Major League Baseball starts coming into the season. One of these three is almost a virtual lock to win the AL Cy Young Award for 2006, as the other runners in this pursuit have slowed considerably.

Mike Mussina of the Yankees and Curt Schilling of the Red Sox were AL Cy Young Award contenders early on, but each have seen their win total stall as of late; Mussina at 13-5 and Schilling at 14-5. Their earned run averages are significantly higher than the aforementioned threesome, making it highly unlikely that they would draw much AL Cy Young Award support come November when the honor is doled out. Boston’s Jonathan Papelbon was on a ridiculous roll to start the campaign as a closer, but even though he currently sports an ERA of 1.00, he has blown too many key saves recently, contributing to the Beantown meltdown and ruining any AL Cy Young Award dreams he may have been harboring.

Roy Halladay took home the AL Cy Young Award in 2003 with a 22-7 record and an earned run average of 3.25. The 29 year old, six-foot-six right-hander has battled aches and pains the last two seasons, but has been healthy for most of 2006. The AL Cy Young Award may be “Doc” Halladay’s to lose, as he stands at 16-3 with a 3.18 ERA. Halladay has 3 complete games and has walked only 25 batters all season, while striking out over 100. If Halladay reaches 20 wins and loses perhaps just one more game, that sparkling record will be hard for the AL Cy Young Award voters to ignore. Toronto is hanging by a thread to any playoff hopes at this point, with internal discord between players and manager John Gibbons in the headlines. It will be interesting to see if Halladay, a ground ball pitcher, can keep his focus and garner a second AL Cy Young Award.

Minnesota’s outstanding lefty, Johan Santana, beat out Schilling two years ago for the AL Cy Young Award. His 20-6 mark came with a sub 3.00 ERA in 2004, which swayed voters enough from Curt’s 21-7 year that was pitched to a 3.26 standard. Johan now leads the American League in strikeouts with 192, which is 29 more than Detroit’s Jeremy Bonderman, who ranks second. Santana is at 15-5 with a league leading ERA of 3.03 and his Twins are in the thick of the wild card chase. If he helps to get them into the post-season, his AL Cy Young Award chances go up. With the strikeout crown all but locked up, and a chance to lead in ERA and wins, Santana could be a Triple Crown pitcher, which would surely bring him his second AL Cy Young Award as well At the age of 27, Santana figures to be in the AL Cy Young Award mix for several more seasons. His teammate, rookie Francisco Liriano, was a strong AL Cy Young Award candidate himself at 12-3, but elbow problems have most likely ended his brilliant 2006 season, along with his hopes of an AL Cy Young Award.

Speaking of rookies, Justin Verlander has more than delivered on his huge potential as the Tigers seek to make the playoffs after several years of pure misery. Verlander is an AL Cy Young Award hopeful due to his 15-6 record and 3.05 earned run average. The second pick of the 2004 amateur draft, Verlander has fast tracked it to the bigs and has provided the Tigers with a right-hander that has been unflappable. His recent 7-1 victory over hard charging Chicago had to turn AL Cy Young Award electors in his direction. Justin has given up ten less hits than innings pitched and has an even 100 strikeouts after making 24 starts so far in 2006. He is the only one of these three AL Cy Young Award aspirants to toss a shutout and is a big reason Detroit leads the Central Division by six and a half games over the White Sox and seven over the Twins as of this writing.

Halladay has a tough row to hoe, with two series apiece remaining with hard hitting Cleveland, Boston, and New York. Santana has one series left with each of those squads, plus two with the defending champs-Chicago. But he also has the luxury of facing the Royals and Orioles perhaps as much as two times each, which would greatly enhance his AL Cy Young Award chances. Verlander is in uncharted territory innings wise, but he has not thrown a really high amount, only 153. The Royals are on the schedule for two more series, but the Yankees, Angels, White Sox, and Rangers also loom. And just maybe the AL Cy Young Award will be decided when the Twins and Tigers meet in a four game set beginning September 7th. Perhaps Verlander will hook up with Santana, as the AL Cy Young Award race is certain be closer than it has been in the last few years.

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