|Justin Verlander won't get any Cy Young votes|
this year (teammate Max Scherzer will win),
but he's still the better pitcher.
Gray is impressive, yes. But with 64 major league innings under his belt entering the playoffs, he has hardly established himself on a par with the A's Big Three of a decade ago. Zito went 102-63, 3.55 with a Cy Young in seven seasons with the A's and he was probably the least talented of the trio. (Mulder was 81-41, 3.92 in five seasons; Hudson 92-39, 3.30 in six seasons.)
The A's were not alone in this year's division series in placing an elimination game in the hands of a rookie with less than 70 innings in the majors. The Pirates, as did the A's, moved their Game Two rookie up ahead of their Game One veteran for Game Five; for Pittsburgh, it was Garrett Cole over A.J. Burnett, for Oakland it was Gray over Bartolo Colon. St. Louis deployed Michael Wacha in a must-have Game Four.
Wacha won his start; Cole and Gray lost theirs, but hardly embarrassed themselves in the process. They pitched well, but ran into legitimate, top-of-the-line aces in Adam Wainwright and Justin Verlander on the other side.
Earlier in the week, as I contemplated the notion of the Twins making a bid this offseason for Tampa Bay's top gun, David Price (this is likely to be the subject of Monday's print column), I spitballed a "top four-man rotation." Pick any four major league starters, money no concern, for your team. Who do you want?
My four — more or less off the top of my head — was (alphabetically): Felix Hernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Verlander and Wainwright. My four (and yours can be quite different without being provably wrong) have both an established multi-year level of top-grade performance and the likelihood of something left in the tank.
I don't think it's a coincidence that three of the surviving teams pitched one of those guys to clinch their division series: Kershaw, Wainwright, Verlander all got the call, and they surrendered a total of one earned run in 23 innings in their three games.
That's trump ace pitching.