Early AL Cy Young Front Runners

Baseball is a team sport. It truly takes a village performing for a team to win the World Series. Most of the time, however, stand-out performances by individual players make up a title-winning roster. So winning an award isn’t necessarily the worst goal for a player to have in the grand scheme of things. And as the old saying goes, pitching gets you championships.

A pitcher wanting to take home hardware at the end of the season should be encouraged. The Cy Young award rewards the best pitcher in the AL and NL each year. Today we’re going to look at what pitchers are closest to achieving that goal in the AL.

John Means Business

One of the top baseball stories resides in Charm City, where John Means anchors an otherwise underwhelming rotation. As the clear-cut ace, Means has thrived. He’s not just the ace of the Orioles, but he’s pitching like the best pitcher in the AL so far this season. The highlight of his season has got to be the no-hitter versus the Mariners on May 5. Not only did he come one wild pitch away from a perfect game, but he struck out 12.

His awesome feat was also the first Orioles no-hitter by an individual pitcher since the Jim Palmer days. It was the year 1969. Palmer had a no-hitter and we went to the moon. Think about that! It’s been decades since the Orioles have had a staff ace-like Means. 

Fresh off the no-hitter, Means went six no-hit innings versus the Mets on Tuesday. He didn’t have all his stuff working but still managed to keep the opposing team from scoring. When you don’t bring your A-game and still manage to shut out an offense, that’s when you know you’re in the midst of a special season. His 1.21 ERA cements his status as the current front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award. 

Cole Could, Cole Really Could 

The biggest competition for Means comes from a division rival in the Bronx. The Yankees boast one of the best aces in all of baseball. It’s not as much of a story as Means because frankly, we all came in with huge expectations for Gerrit Cole. Cole’s been as good as advertised with an AL-leading five wins. He has the second-best ERA behind Means at a measly 1.37. He’s got the second most strikeouts at 78.

The Yankees are also a team with way loftier expectations than the Orioles. Anchoring a playoff-bound team with World Series aspirations could be what gets Cole the award over Means. 

Cole also boasts a better track record than Means. He’s been a staff ace longer and has pitched in a World Series. There’s a reason to believe that when it’s all said and done, the Yankees’ top hurler will have better stats, more wins, and a better overall impact. But since this is an article about who should win the AL Cy Young right now, the edge goes to Means. 

Bieber’s Still In It

Last year’s recipient, Shane Bieber, is still squarely in the race for the award this season. Make no mistake. He’s just a notch below Means and Cole. But he’s already done it, so if the race gets close down the stretch, he’ll be able to handle the stress. On the flip side, he won it on a way-shortened season.

I’m not a firm believer in putting asterisks next to 2020 titles or anything like that, but in an individual award like this, it makes more sense. He had to pitch way fewer innings and win way fewer games than previous Cy Young winners. Still, he did enough to be labeled the AL’s best in 2020. 

Bieber leads all AL pitchers in strikeouts with 85. Getting close to 100 this early in the year is pretty impressive. He’s also got a strong ERA of 2.95. The sub-three ERA is good for the eighth-best in the AL. By season’s end, that mark will have to get closer to the low two’s in all likelihood. It’s hard to win the award back-to-back. That’s another thing going against Bieber. But if anyone has the arsenal and stuff to do it, it’s him. 

Best Of The Rest

As one of Detroit’s bright spots this year, Matthew Boyd has the third-lowest ERA. His 1.94 mark is largely impressive. Unfortunately, he doesn’t even make the top ten in strikeouts. That combined with him playing for a rebuilding team in the AL Central makes him somewhat of a long shot for the award. But he’s hanging in there. 

Danny Duffy is largely the same story as Boyd and has an identical 1.94 ERA. But he is seventh in strikeouts, and the Royals have been more competitive than expected. His odds are a little higher but remain slim unless some of the top guys start slipping down the rankings. 

The Texas Rangers have themselves a stud in Kyle Gibson. He is third behind Cole and Means in the WAR rankings. This shows his value to his ball club and his 2.28 ERA isn’t shabby. But it needs to stay that low, and he needs the guys in front of him to stumble as well. It’s just not a likely scenario, but that shouldn’t take away from his great performance this season. 

Last but not least, we’ve gotta mention Tyler Glasnow of the Tampa Bay Rays. The ace got a great experience when his club won the AL pennant last season, and he’s continued to play some excellent ball for them. His ERA is the highest of any of the 3 guys before him, but he’s got the pedigree to remain on the radar. 

All-in-all, these guys are all having All-Star-worthy seasons so far. So being mentioned in the same group is a pretty spectacular thing. But at the end of the day, only one man will go home with the hardware. Right now, it’s just gotta be John Means. But there are guys right behind him, and any small stumble from Means could be detrimental. Hopefully, for Orioles fans, they have one thing to cheer for later this year.