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Missed Opportunities

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland

Saint Louis, MISSOURI--Like the Dow Jones Industrial, Ubaldo Jimenez continued a downward slide last week. The Rockies ace left the door wide open for his fellow National League starting pitchers, Adam Wainwright and Josh Johnson, to dethrone him from the top Pitcher Rating spot he has held for the entire season.

On Fox Network's nationally-televised Saturday game of the week, Jimenez lasted only two innings in Philadelphia. He gave up six earned runs and subsequently his PR dropped 2.15 points. Come Sunday morning, this decline was enough to put him in second place behind an idle Wainwright.

Because the three arms--competing for the NL Cy Young--are not aligned in the days that they throw, it took until Tuesday for Wainwright and Johnson to respond. But when they did step on a mound again, one had a chance to extend his lead over Jimenez; while the other had the potential to leapfrog both pitchers ahead of him. For both, all it would take was another stellar performance, and a W, on the road. With the streaks they were carrying into the games, this seemed very possible.

With Johnson out west, Adam Wainwright was first to toe the rubber--in Citi Field. It was his first pitching appearance in New York since he closed out the 2006 National League Championship Series, but was certainly not a repeat performance. He was the Cardinals closer then, and the result was a Saint Louis victory. Wainwright did not pitch terribly, but surrendering two home runs to a sputtering Mets offense in their cavernous ballpark was a bit unnerving. This wasn't a Wrigley Field day game with the flags blowing out to left. So, for the first time all season, Wainwright gave up more runs (six) than he had innings pitched (five). He also took his first loss in a month, dropping his PR 1.14 points.

Because Pitcher Rating is updated on Wednesdays, the PR top spot that Wainwright held for two short days never happened. He was "pitching with the lead" and spoiled the opportunity.

Perhaps a slice of humble pie is just what Wainwright needed. If you live by the law of averages, then a bad outing was on the horizon for all of these top Cy Young candidates. Now that they are out of their systems, it could be a full-bore sprint to the finish line without any further hiccups. And that would be a sight to see.

Johnson came into San Francisco with a streak of eight-straight starts where he pitched more than seven innings and surrendered two runs or fewer. With Wainwright and Jimenez faltering, any stat line that read something close to: W, 8 IP, 1 ER, 8 SO would have taken him from third to first. Instead, the line was a microcosm of Josh Johnson's season: ND, 7 IP, 3 ER, 5 SO. In other words, a typical Marlins ball game that was decided in the late innings after the starting pitcher was long gone.

Yet again, Johnson pitched well enough to win but was not so justly reward. With a formula predicated on the W, Johnson actually slid back a few points, nestled into his familiar third place spot.

So what did we learn from this week? These men are human. But they are also the three best by a sizable margin. In a cluttered list, where decimal points separate two or three pitchers, the combination of Johnson, Wainwright, and Jimenez have distanced themselves as a cut above. All three slipped up and yet a third place Josh Johnson is still 2 full points ahead of the next closest competitor, Roy Halladay.

There is no denying that the ball was dropped by all the power pitchers involved. For Wainwright, the positive spin is that the short outing was an anomaly. For Johnson, it was that he pitched a decent game and his team spared him a loss. Both could easily record a shut out in their next start and I would not be surprised. Jimenez, on the other hand, seems to have lost something. His downward trend has exposed some mechanical flaws, leading to more hitter's counts. And you know what those usual lead to.

To the defense of Jimenez, I feel he is already being unfairly looked down upon. In a "what have you done for me lately world" he has been moved to the back burner of sports media. You cannot luck your way into a 15-2 record and a no-hitter against a division-leading team. He still is the best pitcher in the game until someone else takes the title from him.

It will be interesting to see if Jimenez rights the ship. Even more interesting to look back on, when this Cy Young voting is through, is whether or not a series of mid-season poor starts adversely affect his chances. In other words, will a 22-5 record be looked at negatively because it had patches in the middle that were not "dominant" enough? If so, the door will be open once again for Wainwright and Johnson.

If each ace in the mix has 12 more starts remaining, going 10-0 to end the year is not out of the question for any of them. Should each succeed, Jimenez would finish 25-2; Wainwright ending 24-6; and Johnson with a 20-3 record. It would be the first time one league contained three 20-game winners since the AL did in 2008. It should definitely be a fun race down the stretch.

As for the dreaded ESPN Cy Young Predictor, ask yourself where Cliff Lee's name is. The Rangers new ace is not even on the list, which goes up to ten places in each league. Essentially, Cy Young Predictor is saying that Cliff Lee is not one of the 20 best pitchers in baseball right now. I respectfully disagree.

Instead, Phil Hughes makes the cut. Hughes, who slipped all the way down to 43rd in Pitcher Rating, is beginning to show his true colors. He is a reliever-turned-starter, not accustomed to this work load, and might have been the victim of a flash-in-the-pan first half. I can't deny he belonged in the All-Star Game and near the top of Pitcher Rating in the past. The key is "in the past," it is a very fluid ranking. Now, Hughes has an ERA over 4.00 and run support over 10 runs per game. Pitcher Rating exposes that kind of watered down win total. Cy Young Predictor obviously does not.

Pitcher Rating July 28
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