Zack Greinke captures AL Cy Young with 25 of 28 first-place votes

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Zack Greinke took home his first Cy Young award this afternoon, receiving 25 of 28 first-place votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America. He was second on the other three ballots.
Of the three first-place votes not given to Greinke, two went to Felix Hernandez and one went to Justin Verlander. Greinke should have been a unanimous selection, because he was clearly the best pitcher in the league, but Hernandez was at least great enough that a pair of voters putting him atop their ballot isn’t completely absurd.
However, one of the 28 professional writers picked to vote for the league’s best pitcher choosing Verlander is silly and not surprisingly it was Steve Kornacki of Booth Newspapers in Michigan. Verlander is an excellent pitcher who had an outstanding year, and surely Kornacki would tout his AL-leading 240 innings and 19 wins. Of course, if given anything resembling a decent supporting cast Greinke would have surpassed 19 wins and he logged just 11 fewer than innings than Verlander … while allowing 35 fewer runs.
Greinke had a 2.16 ERA in 229 innings. Verlander had a 3.45 ERA in 240 innings. Unless you’re misguidedly still focusing on win-loss records as the sole means to evaluate pitchers or you’re simply a huge Tigers fan (or a reporter paid to cover the Tigers), there’s really no way to justify giving Verlander a first-place vote. He wasn’t better than Hernandez or Roy Halladay, let alone Greinke. Whatever the case, the real story should obviously be Greinke rather than some writer in Detroit deciding to give Verlander an undeserved vote.
Kansas City’s ace had an amazing season for a terrible team, posting the lowest ERA of any American League starter since Pedro Martinez in 2000 and the best mark of the past 20 years from someone other than Pedro or Roger Clemens. He started the season by going 6-0 with a 0.40 ERA, finished it by going 5-0 with a 1.29 ERA, and in between put well-chronicled off-field issues as well as some on-field struggles behind him to establish himself as the league’s best pitcher at the age of 25.

Cardinals take 1-0 NLDS lead over the Cubs behind John Lackey’s brilliant outing

John Lackey
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
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John Lackey flirted with a no-hitter but settled for 7 1/3 terrific, shutout innings to beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the NLDS on Friday. The right-hander held the opposition to two hits and a walk while striking out five. Lefty reliever Kevin Siegrist struck out two to finish the eighth without issue. Closer Trevor Rosenthal worked around a one-out walk and a two-out single in the ninth to seal the 4-0 win, recording all three outs on called strike threes.

Lackey brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning, but lost it quickly when Addison Russell hit a ground ball single up the middle to lead off the frame. Russell would steal second base but was stranded.

Opposing starter Jon Lester wasn’t too shabby himself, relenting three runs on five hits while walking one and striking out nine in 7 1/3 innings. The first run came around in the first inning on Matt Holliday‘s RBI single, which followed a one-out double by Stephen Piscotty. Tommy Pham pinch-hit in the pitcher’s spot in the eighth inning and launched a solo home run off of Lester to double the Cardinals’ lead. Lester walked Matt Carpenter before exiting. Pedro Strop came in and promptly served up a two-run home run to Stephen Piscotty.

The closest the Cubs came to scoring was when Dexter Fowler sent a deep fly ball to right field with a man on base and two outs in the sixth inning, but Randal Grichuk caught it with a foot or two to spare in front of the fence on the warning track.

The two clubs will play Game 2 of the NLDS on Saturday at 5:30 PM EDT. Kyle Hendricks will start for the Cubs and oppose Cardinals lefty Jaime Garcia.

Astros err in letting Scott Kazmir start sixth

Scott Kazmir
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Scott Kazmir went winless with a 6.52 ERA in six September starts. He allowed 41 hits, eight of them homers, in 29 innings, posting an 18/11 K/BB ratio. When the Astros got five innings of two-run ball from him Friday against the Royals, they should have thanked their good fortune and moved right along to the pen.

And they knew this. They must have. Josh Fields got up in the pen after Kazmir issued a one-out walk in the fifth. The left-hander got out of the frame, making himself eligible for the victory in what was then a 4-2 game, but it was still very surprising to see him come back out for the sixth, particularly with the switch-hitting Ben Zobrist (.926 OPS against lefties) and right-handed Lorenzo Cain due up.

Kazmir retired Zobrist, but he gave up a double to Cain. He was then pulled, even with the left-handed Eric Hosmer coming up. Manager A.J. Hinch had committed my biggest baseball pet peeve: he sent his starter back to the mound with the idea of pulling him after his first mistake.

It worked out terribly. Oliver Perez gave up a pair of soft hits to Hosmer and Kendrys Morales before walking Mike Moustakas. Fields then entered and walked the unwalkable Salvador Perez to tie the game at 4. The Astros gave up another run in the seventh and lost the game 5-4.

Maybe that’s the way it would have worked out anyway. Kazmir did give up just the one baserunner. It might not have even harmed the Astros if Perez had better luck.

Still, the thinking that went into the decision was disturbing. It’s always better to bring that reliever in with no one on base when you can. That’s especially the case with this Astros pen, which lacks a double-play specialist, much less a Wade Davis. But anyone in that pen would have been a better choice than sending Kazmir out to face Zobrist and Cain for a third time. Hinch needs to be more aggressive going forward.

Cardinals’ giveaway incorrectly claims ownership of 2001 division title

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The Cardinals have won so many division titles, it’s tough to keep track of them all. At least, it would be tough if it weren’t for Baseball Reference.

40,000 rally towels were given away to fans at Busch Stadium ahead of Friday’s NLDS Game 1 against the Cubs. The towel listed all of the years the Cardinals won the NL Central… and 2001. That year, they tied with the Astros for the best record in the National League at 93-69. However, because the Astros won the season series 9-7, they were awarded first place and the Cardinals took the Wild Card.