Pittsburgh Pirates' A.J. Burnett: Dark Horse Cy Young Candidate?

Manny Randhawa@@MannyBal9Correspondent IIIJune 29, 2012

PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 10:  A.J. Burnett #34 of the Pittsburgh Pirates reacts to the fans after pitching into the eighth inning against the Kansas City Royals during interleague play on June 10, 2012 at PNC Park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Pirates defeated the Royals 3-2.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Eight straight wins. A 9-2 win-loss record. A 2.29 ERA over his last 10 starts. No, we're not talking about R.A. Dickey or Matt Cain; we're talking about A.J. Burnett.

The Pirates' ace hasn't lost a decision since May 2, and after he turned in yet another stellar outing against the Philadelphia Phillies on Thursday, he improved his June record to 4-0 with a 2.52 ERA.

So while Mets knuckleballer Dickey and Giants hurler Cain are the talk of the league when the topic is potential Cy Young winners, don't count out Burnett, who, if it weren't for one bad start eight weeks ago, could very well be in the discussion already.

In fact, if you remove his terrible May 2nd outing, in which he gave up 12 earned runs in a dismal showing against the Cardinals at PNC Park, Burnett's ERA would be 2.05. That would be the second-best earned run average in baseball.

Combine that with the fact that Burnett is only two wins shy of the major league lead, and you have yourself an intriguing dark horse candidate for the Cy Young crown.

Also consider that Burnett is on a roll, having won eight straight starts, the first Pirates starter to achieve six or more consecutive victories since Doug Drabek 22 seasons ago. If Burnett keeps this up, he could enter the All-Star Break with 10 or even 11 victories, putting him on pace for a chance at a 20-win season and, if he continues to lower his ERA, a shot at a Cy Young.

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The competition will be stiff, to be sure.

Burnett's teammates, however, would surely be content with their ace giving them a chance to win each time he takes the mound.

The Pirates, with a 40-35 record, are in second place in the NL Central. They hope to achieve their first winning record and first playoff berth since 1992.

However the Pirates finish, A.J. Burnett is one to watch in the NL Cy Young race this season.