A pitcher winning 20 games in a season is always a special thing. Even in the days when some of the absolute greats won 30 games, winning 20 was still a very good achievement for the mostly mortals, a milestone worth pointing to in the career record.
These days, with starters only going every fifth day, the complete game an endangered species, and relief pitchers rushed into games so quickly that not even their mothers can keep track of their appearances, it’s tougher than ever to complete a season with 20 victories.
In 2013, nobody in the National League won 20 games. In 2009, nobody in the majors won 20 games, which was a sad development. Even worse, in 2006, not only did nobody in the majors win 20 games, the league-leading total in the National League was a pathetic 16 games (accomplished by six guys).
As the end of the 2014 regular season approaches, it seems unlikely that the American League will have a 20-game winner unless the Los Angeles Angels’ Jered Weaver gets enough chances and comes through – he has 17 victories right now. He’s a maybe, but during the last week of the season the Angels might find themselves torn between wanting to give Weaver the chance to win 20 and thinking they should rest him for the playoffs.
The excitement is in the National League. Since he already has 19 wins in the bank it will be a surprise if the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw doesn’t crack the 20 mark. He even missed a few starts at the beginning of the season, but the guy almost never loses. He is currently 19-3.
Kershaw has company near the top of the league wins list. St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright has 18 wins. Wainwright has one 20-win season on his resume and twice led the NL in victories with 19 wins each time. He is right up there with the most consistent starting pitchers in the game right now.
Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto also has 18 wins so far this season and he has had to struggle for them. The Reds have had tremendous trouble hitting all year and if they had only hit normally Cueto might be at 20 or beyond already. He has been superb, but the way his luck has run no doubt he won’t believe that he has 20 wins for real until the stat is flashing on the Great American Ball Park scoreboard behind him.
Another player with a pretty decent chance of reaching 20 w’s is Madison Bumgarner of the San Francisco Giants, who also has 18 with two weeks to go in the regular season.
With luck, some, or all of these guys, will make it to 20. The way starting pitching has been cheapened, with hot pitchers lifted because of pitch counts, with six innings considered a worthwhile start, and with it beginning to seem like a big deal any time a pitcher starts many more than 30 games in a season, achieving a 20-win season represents true excellence.
The odds are against any starter stockpiling 20 wins in a season these days, so any of the guys who pull off the accomplishment should value it highly and be admired greatly.