By Jon Weisman
While the weekend sweep at Colorado delayed all celebration in Dodgerland, it has set up Zack Greinke to kill two very large birds with one stone-cold toss.
Obviously, Greinke can pitch the Dodgers to the National League West title with a victory in San Francisco tonight. If he does so, it could also be the start that fends off the onrushing Cubs righty Jake Arrieta for the NL Cy Young Award.
Arrieta nearly pitched his second Sunday Night Baseball no-hitter in as many months last night, settling for seven innings of one-hit, shutout ball in a 4-0 Chicago victory over NL playoff rival Pittsburgh. That lowered Arrieta’s ERA to 1.82, very much within shouting distance of the 1.65 of Greinke, who didn’t pitch last week because of a sore calf.
With an unreal 0.44 ERA in 11 starts since August 1, striking out 82 against 56 baserunners in 82 1/3 innings, Arrieta’s role in leading the Cubs into the playoffs has no doubt captured the fancy of many potential voters.
In a way, Arrieta is this year’s version of 1988 Orel Hershiser. It’s little remembered today, but before his 59-inning scoreless streak was a thing, Hershiser entered September trailing Cincinnati’s Danny Jackson in ERA and innings. Arrieta has allowed only two more earned runs in September than Hershiser.
However, Greinke could reverse all that momentum with a strong start tonight. It would seal the NL ERA title in his favor, affirming him as a wire-to-wire elite pitcher in 2015 (not once this year did he leave a game with his ERA above 2.00).
And thanks to the Dodgers’ recent mini-swoon, there’s even a narrative that would work in his favor should he be the one to pitch the Dodgers over the top. It would underscore that Greinke has been the man all season.
No one can touch Arrieta’s past two months. But as an award for the entire year, it’s still Greinke’s to win.
That’s not to say Clayton Kershaw doesn’t remain a contender. He leads the NL in such varied categories as strikeouts, fielding-independent pitching and wins above replacement. With two potential starts remaining compared with Arrieta’s one, Kershaw will probably lead in innings as well.
Kershaw’s three-run, five-inning outing last week against Arizona damaged his candidacy, and my feeling is that only if he’s the one to authoritatively pitch the Dodgers to the title — following a hypothetical fourth-straight Dodger loss by topping Madison Bumgarner at AT&T Park on Tuesday — will he have a chance to top Arrieta among the voters. Right now, Kershaw is purely a sabermetric pick for the Cy Young — and that even within that camp, some could find reasons not to vote for him.
My guess is that Greinke decides his fate and that of the Dodgers tonight, in a most excellent way.