Sunday, May 13, 2012

Cueto on a mission to become first CYA winner in franchise history

Baseball has been very, very good to Cueto

Forget about his stingy 1.12 ERA this season or the fact that he hasn't lost a decision since last August. Forget that he sported a tidy 2.31 ERA in 24 starts last season. Forget that his 2012 WHIP is under one (0.972) and forget that his K/BB ratio is an efficient 3.88. Yes, Johnny Cueto is not only the Reds' best starting pitcher right now, but you could make a legitimate case that he's the best starter in the National League as well. And you could sum up the primary reason behind this in just one word -- consistency.

It's safe to assume that this is the pitcher the club was hoping for when they signed him as a 16-year old free agent out of the D.R. in '04. Entering play on Friday, Cueto led the league in ERC% (2.01) and DIP% (2.99), ranked second among qualified pitchers in ERA, innings pitched (48.1) and quality starts (6), was tied for fourth in wins (4), and was tenth in WHIP.

However, no stat may be more telling of the right-hander's recent dominance than this one: His cumulative ERA of 2.03 since the beginning of the 2011 season is the best by a SP in all of baseball. That's right. That's better than the likes of Detroit's Justin Verlander, Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw, New York's C.C. Sabathia and all other big-name, big-paycheck pitchers in the game.

But just as anything else in life, we come to expect certain things and ultimately take them for granted. We expect the sun to rise in the morning, we expect the stars to trickle out at night, and we expect Cueto to stifle offenses each and every time he takes the mound. His manager, Dusty Baker, feels the same way.

"We expect that now," Baker said. "Johnny knows how to pitch. Once you learn the formula how to succeed, things keep rolling. We expect it. He expects it. Everybody expects it."

Right you are, Dusty. Cueto has been so dependable since returning from the disabled list last May that you almost become shell-shocked whenever he does have a bad outing -- which nowadays is next to never. There's three things in the Queen City that we have come to expect out of life: death, taxes, and Johnny Cueto shutting down opposing hitters every fifth day.

Here's an interesting fact for you. Would you believe me if I told you that the Reds have never had a Cy Young Award winner since the award's creation in 1956? It's true! However, that long draught could come to an end this year if Cueto keeps throwing the baseball the way he has. And judging by his recent track record I've got to believe he will.

So, as Cueto continues on his quest to become top arm in the National League remember this; be careful not to take what you're witnessing from him for granted. It's been a long time since the Reds have had an elite starting pitcher such as Cueto and it may be a long time until we see another one of his caliber again.

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