At the end of last season Yankees fans were wondering what, exactly, the team was going to do with Mike Mussina.
He was a clear liability. Mussina was 11 - 10 with a 5.15 ERA ans was clearly not the pitcher he once was. In fact, Mussina went into spring training with the real possibility of losing his spot in the rotation to three rookies and probably would have if the Yankees had not decided to keep Joba Chamberlain in the bullpen.
To make matter worse, Mussina started to season 1-3 with a 5.75 ERA.
Now we are in the dog days of August and the Bronx Bombers are plagued by every injury in the book, 3/5 of their starting rotation has been out for the majority of the year and their fire-baller has just been put on the DL. The Yankees needed Mike Mussina to turn into Greg Maddox and he has, going 14-4 with a 2.85 ERA in his last 20 starts.
With his velocity down, Moose has learned to and improved his skills in moving the ball and being deceptive. He's keeping hitters on their toes and eventualy, sending them to their bench. Mosse has 96 strikeouts so far; amazing for a guy who rarely goes above 86 mph.
Thursday night's performance was another big game for Mussina holding the best offense in the league scoreless through 7 to help salvage a split series with the Texas Rangers. The big game pitching of Mussina improved his record to 15 and 7 with a 3.27 era, tying Cliff Lee for most wins in the American League.
Fox Sports projects Mussina to finish the season at 21-10 in 34 starts with 135 strikeouts. This would be the first time Mussina would reach the illusive 20 win season.
The Moose has some stiff competition for the Cy down the stretch run. His most formidable opponent and front runner for the award is the Indians' Cliff Lee.
Lee: 15-2 2.58 ERA 2CG 1 SHO 153.2 IP 127K
Moose: 15-7 3.27 ERA 0CG 0 SHO 140.1 IP 96K
Then there are the Angels:
Joe Saunders: 14-5 3.03 ERA 1 CG 0 SHO 145.2 IP 70K
Ervin "Don't Call Me Johan" Santana: 13-5 3.45 ERA 2 CG 1 SHO 156.1 IP 150K
The knock against these guys will be that they play in a weak division and get to beat up on the Mariners and A's. They also have a much better bullpen then the Yankees or Indians. Saunders has struck out 26 less batters while doubling Mussina's walks (20 BB to 41 BB). Santana also has more than doubled Mussina's walks but it's allowed considering he has 150 strikeouts.
The Blue Jays:
Halladay: 13-8 2.77 ERA 7 CG 2 SHO 175.1 IP 149 K
Burnett: 14-9 3.03 1 CG 0 SHO 145.2 70K
Burnett has doubled Mussina's walk numbers(68 BB) with 26 less strikeouts. He's the Canadian Joe Saunders, except he's not making it to October. Halladay is perennial contender on an uncontender of a team. He's not going to have the spotlight or pressure that some other pitchers have down the stretch. His complete games and shutouts are impressive, but he's already pitched at least 25 inning more than anyone else. Can he keep it up?
Statistically, there is going to be a log jam. There will be 21, 20 and 19 game winners with similar numbers. As always, you can make numbers do what you want with them. You can dismiss the Blue Jays because of the lack of playoff implications, which you could also do with Lee, except for the fact that only losing twice through the first week in August is simply sick.
However, if Mussina can reach the magical 20 wins and Lee drops 3 or 4 games allowing them each to have twenty wins. (Lets say Mussina 20-9 and Lee 20-6) then that allows other factors to creep in.
Mussina will be pitching in the midst of a playoff race, no other pitcher in contention will be, barring a complete collapse by the Angels. Mosse will get a lot of consideration and sympathy due to the fact that he stepped up when Wang went down. He is also going big starts against the Angels, Red Sox and Rays. A big win against a division rival in late September may go a long way to sway voters.
Putting the Cy Young aside, Moose is in the midst of an incredible year. He certainly isn't a cinch for Comeback Player of the Year since Josh Hamilton is having a monster season.
Mussina may not beat out Hamilton or Lee for any awards, but he ha a lot to pitch for. Namely, a playoff birth. He's also in reach of twenty wins, a number which has bedeviled him throughout his career. He is also pitching for a new contract. If he had another miserable year this time out there is no way the Yankees would have considered giving him a new deal. But he's been the anchor, and it's very feasible to see a two year deal with a club option for a third in the off season.
After all, pitchers are pitching longer (Johnson, Maddox) and Mussina has stayed n good shape and has never had signifigant injury (unlike every other Yankee). Think about this, the Yankees signed Moose coming off a 1999 season with the Orioles where he was 11-15 with a 3.79 ERA. Are you telling me the Yankees aren't going to sign a 20 game winner to compliment CC Sabathia?
A new contract would mean that Moose would hit 300 wins. He is sitting at 265 right now. A conservative estimate has him winning 3 more this year (268 wins). That's 32 wins or 11 wins over the next three seasons. Even if he only gets a two year deal, some team looking to fill seats will pick him up. So a good performance down the stretch does not just mean playoffs or a Cy Young but Cooperstown. What a motivation.