What’s on the line, and in the way of Justin Verlander’s Cy Young campaign

Justin Verlander is putting together an impressive season for Houston. Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images.

The Oakland A’s have been a giant steaming turd of a baseball team this season. They made the playoffs in 2018, 2019, and 2020, were a credible 86-76 last season, but in 2022 have been the worst team in the American League and are on pace for more than 100 losses. Their offense is a joke. It’d need a double dose of Viagra to rise to impotent. The team batting average is .214, only the Tigers score fewer runs. Aside: notice how much smarter a manager the Tigers’ A.J. Hinch was when he had the Astros’ roster? Back to Oakland. The A’s stadium situation is a long-running joke, and their owner John Fisher is more interested in landing a sweetheart ballpark/real estate deal either in Oakland or Las Vegas than he is in spending to field a competitive ballclub right now. Yet over their last seven head-to-head matchups, the win tote board reads Steaming Turd 5 Astros 2. Baseball! Monday and Tuesday nights as the worst in the AL A’s were confounding the Astros, the worst in the National League Nationals were beating the best in the NL Dodgers. Baseball!

If the Astros were predestined to come out of the All Star Break winning five of their first seven games, they sure won the right five. Sweeping the doubleheader from the Yankees has the Astros in prime position to snatch the top seed in the American League playoffs, sweeping three in Seattle crushed any delusional Mariners’ fantasy about mounting a run at the Astros in the AL West. Let’s see what General Manager James Click gets done by Tuesday’s trade deadline to upgrade a roster that while excellent overall has well documented clear weaknesses.

Justin Verlander chasing history

Justin Verlander’s next command performance should be Friday night at Minute Maid Park against the Mariners. Verlander sits at 13-3 with a 1.86 earned run average. At 39 years old. After Tommy John surgery. He is brilliant. Verlander doesn’t quite have the scary mound presence of long-limbed, mulleted Randy Johnson, or the often overtly beyond smoldering intensity of Roger Clemens. I mean, you can boil it down to the nicknames: Johnson “The Big Unit.” Clemens “The Rocket.” Verlander is “JV.” That’s unfortunate considering there is not a molecule about Verlander on the mound that is junior varsity.

Clemens holds the record with seven Cy Young Awards. Johnson is in second place with five. Verlander is taking dead aim at winning his third. He’s already a lock first ballot Hall of Famer but if you’ll think of Hall membership as being made up of concentric circles, Verlander makes a big move toward the innermost circles if he wins Cy number three. After Clemens and Johnson, Greg Maddux and Steve Carlton are next with four Cys apiece. Next comes a group of six to win three times: Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Pedro Martinez, Clayton Kershaw, and Max Scherzer. Nothing but legends in that group. When Scherzer is the “weakest” link you have one heck of a club. I do not literally love Justin Verlander but I do love that he is acutely aware of baseball history, his place in it, and places he’d like to get. Winning a third Cy would be a doozy. Shane McClanahan has other ideas. Some may ask “Who?” More on him shortly.

There are 11 two-time Cy Young Award winners, all tremendous pitchers at their peaks obviously. Some are legends like Bob Gibson and Gaylord Perry. Tom Glavine and Roy Halladay are Cooperstown-enshrined. But several guys to win two Cys are not remotely close to Hall of Famers. Think Jacob deGrom, Corey Kluber, Tim Lincecum, and Denny McLain. Two others won twice and barely got a sniff in Hall of Fame balloting but for whom I think you can mount credible arguments. For Bret Saberhagen it's a shaky but not meritless case, for Johan Santana it's a pretty good case when compared to, gulp, Koufax.

The Cy Young Award was first given out in 1956. For its first eleven years only one winner was named for all of Major League Baseball. 1967 started one recipient per league.

All eyes on the competition

As for that McClanahan fellow. The 25 year old Tampa Bay Rays’ lefthander has been awesome this season, better than Verlander by a number of criteria including earned run average and ERA+ (which adjusts for ballparks pitched in), strikeouts, and strikeout-to-walk ratio. But the margins are all slim. McClanahan pitches for a clearly inferior team (meaning Rays vs. Astros) with the inferior defense backing him. The guy has been spectacular. It’s the 2022 Cy Young Award so Verlander should get no additional credit for his comeback, there’s a Comeback Player of the Year Award for that. Still, some voters may factor it in if it’s a really close call at the end. As a rookie last season McClanahan threw 123 and a third innings. He may top that total in his next start. We’ll see how he holds up the remaining two-plus months. How Verlander holds up is a question also, but if anything he’s been getting stronger. Last five starts: 5-0, ERA 0.79. The Astros adding additional days rest between several of Verlander's starts was/is a smart luxury the Astros can afford.

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Nick Caserio's history of drafting injury prone players has become a problem. Composite Getty Image.

Nick Caserio was hired to serve as the general manager (GM) of the Texans on January 7, 2021. Some saw it as another nod to the organization's obsession with the Patriots. Others saw it as the team finally getting their guy after pursuing him previously. They were even hit with a tampering charge while trying to talk to him about the job. Since he's been on the job, there have been highs and lows.

Recently, the news about Kenyon Green and Derek Stingley Jr put a stain on his tenure. Green was placed on season-ending injured reserve (IR) and Stingley Jr is expected to be placed on IR, likely missing six to eight weeks, per Aaron Wilson. Both guys were Caserio's 2022 first rounders. Both guys are starting to look like busts and have fans a little more than just upset.

Green's case was curious because he was said to have needed surgery before he tore his labrum during the Saints preseason game. He had knee surgery this past offseason. There were knee injury concerns when he was coming out of A&M. Adding to his injuries, Green has played poorly. To make matters worse, the Chargers drafted fellow guard Zion Johnson two picks later. Johnson played all 17 games last season as a rookie at right guard and has moved to left guard this season. The pick used to draft Green was part of a trade back with the Eagles. They used the 13th overall pick to take Georgia defensive tackle Jordan Davis, a guy at a position this team could desperately use.

Stingley Jr was a highly touted recruit coming into LSU as a freshman. He played as well as any corner in the country that year. Oh, and they won a national title with arguably one of the best teams in college football history. His net two years in Baton Rouge were marred with injuries. Some believed his junior year was more him holding back to stay healthy for the draft. It worked because he was taken third overall, one spot ahead of Sauce Gardner. Gardner went on to be an All Pro as a rookie. While he's surrounded by more talent on the Jets' defense, people will forever link them because Stingley Jr hasn't lived up to expectations. He missed six games last season and is set to miss at least that many this season. When he has played, he's looked okay. “Okay” isn't what you want from a guy drafted third overall ahead of the other guy who was widely considered better than him.

For the 2021 draft, Caserio was handcuffed. He had no first or second rounders, and made a few trades that lessened his draft pool from eight to five picks. Of the five guys drafted that year, only Nico Collins seems to be a player. The 2022 draft was more productive. Although Green and Stingley Jr were the headliners and haven't played up to the hype, the others are carrying the load. Jalen Pitre and Dameon PIerce alone make that draft class dope. This past draft was seen as the one to save the franchise so to speak. Getting C.J. Stroud and Will Anderson Jr got the team a franchise quarterback and edge rusher with picks two and three overall. The price paid to move back up to three was hefty and puts more scrutiny on Anderson Jr. They appear, so far, to have also found a couple other nice players. Tank Dell being the hidden gem of this class.

While people can't, and shouldn't, base Caserio's performance strictly off of the guys he's drafted, one must call it into question. The '21 draft was a wash. The '22 draft looks suspect, but has some redeeming qualities. The '23 draft will most likely be his saving grace. But should it? Former Texans GM Rick Smith nailed almost every first rounder he drafted. Even he was almost run out of town because folks didn't like what he did. Why should Caserio be any different? So what if he cleaned up the mess by the previous regime! That's what he was hired to do!

“Keep that same energy!” That phrase is used when people try to hold others to different standards. Where's that energy everyone had for Bill O'Brien, Jack Easterby, Rick Smith, Gary Kubiak, David Culley, and Lovie Smith? When others weren't performing well, their heads were called for. I see some people holding Caserio accountable. For the most part, it appears as if he's getting a bit of a pass. I'll be interested to see if this continues should the team has another subpar season. If that pick they traded to the Cardinals is another top 10 pick and the Browns pick the Texans own isn't...if Green can't come back and/or Stingley Jr doesn't show any signs of being a lockdown corner...then what? Let's hope none of this comes to fruition. If it does, we'll have to revisit this conversation.

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