AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda vs. Zach Britton

Corey HanleyContributor IIIMay 13, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 12: Starting pitcher Zach Britton #53 of the Baltimore Orioles delivers to a Seattle Mariners batter during the fourth inning at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on May 12, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

The American League Rookie of the Year race has started to heat up.

Eric Hosmer was recently called up and has been on a tear for the Royals. Still, the superstar rookies aren't coming from the Central, but rather from the East and West.

In Baltimore, Zach Britton got off to a hot start for the Orioles, dominating the Rays through six innings in his debut en route to his first major league win. The left-handed pitcher came into 2011 as a highly touted pitcher due to his incredibly powerful sinker that was rated the best in the minors.

Even though he is a southpaw, Britton can crank up the heat, sometimes reaching the mid 90s and has incredible movement on his fastball. He has also been praised for how advanced his changeup is.

On the other side of the country, Michael Pineda has given a boost to the Seattle Mariners. He won a job in the starting rotation in spring training with his incredible high-90s fastball and pretty good secondary pitches. His steep pitching angles, stemming from the fact he is 6'7", are effective at deceiving hitters and drawing a lot of swings and misses.

Pineda has been edging Britton in most of the early projections for Rookie of the Year, but the two were very close, so it was a huge matchup for the league when Pineda's Mariners came to Baltimore on Tuesday for a three-game set with Britton's Orioles.

Pineda started Game 1 against Jake Arrieta, and Britton pitched in the finale against Jason Vargas.

This bout was very important in the war between these two pitchers because it was the first time they faced each others teams.

In Tuesday's game, Pineda was pretty good, but nothing special, allowing just three runs in six innings to pick up a quality start. He struck out six, but left the game with his team trailing. The Orioles went on to blow the lead a couple of times, but they ultimately took home a win on a walk-off hit by Matt Wieters in the 13th.

Thursday's game was an entirely different story, as Zach Britton took the mound, eying the sweep.

Britton could do no wrong in the game, allowing just three singles in nine shutout innings. He also picked up a no decision, but he put his team in a fantastic place to win. The outcome was similar, ending with a 12th inning walk-off win for the Orioles on a J.J. Hardy single, but the implications were different.

Both pitchers kept their records the same after the series, but Britton already had a small edge at 5-2, compared to Pineda's 4-2 record. The one win is good for Britton, but it is hardly enough to hand him an award. Pineda leads in the strikeout race by a large margin, 45 to 29.

The big number that has swung the Rookie of the Year race in favor of the young Baltimore lefty is his ERA. Pineda's outing bumped his ERA up to 2.84, a very good number that is extremely respectable. Britton's dominance dropped his ERA all the way down to 2.42, good for 12th in the majors.

The race is close and still early, but Britton did just what he needed this week to push it back into his favor. He also has a key win against the Texas Rangers, pitching 7 2/3 innings of shutout ball to earn a win.

The two pitchers have separated themselves from the rest of the pack, so it will be hard for the rest of the league to catch up. For now, Pineda just needs to try to close the gap to catch up to Britton before the terrific lefty runs away with the Rookie of the Year award.