By Joe Trezza
WASHINGTON — In the portfolio of pitching excellence that’s been Sandy Alcantara’s season, the gem he spun Sunday at Nationals Park might be the masterpiece. Or at least the centerpiece in the Marlins ace’s blossoming Cy Young case.
In near-total control all the way through Miami’s 3-1 win over the Nationals, Alcantara showcased why he’s a frontrunner for that award while notching his fifth complete game — more than any single team in the Majors this season. Alcantara struck out seven and needed only 103 pitches to go the distance in a clinical effort that had his teammates talking hardware afterwards.
“He’s got it all, man, and it’s pretty special,” Marlins catcher Jacob Stallings said. “Nobody is doing what he’s doing, and I hope he gets rewarded for it.”
In many ways, Alcantara’s durable, efficient dominance Sunday was a microcosm of his NL Cy Young case, which he should have three more starts to pad before season’s end. Let’s break it down by taking a closer look.
The case for Alcantara
Alcantara’s statistical case already feels pretty ironclad given his extraordinary durability. There are simply few pitchers in the modern game that pitch as much as Alcantara, or as deep into games as he does.
With nine more innings Sunday, Alcantara now leads the Majors with 212 2/3 this season. That’s 25 1/3 more — “that’s like three really good games,” Stallings said — than the next closest pitcher (Miles Mikolas, 187 1/3 innings). And it’s almost 40 more innings than D-backs righty Zac Gallen (164) and almost 50 more than Dodgers lefty Julio Urías (158 2/3 innings), two of Alcantara’s main competitors for the award.
“It is impressive because it’s so different now,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Didn’t Sandy Koufax have 28 complete games one year or something? This is probably the equivalent of that.”
Unsurprisingly, Alcantara leads the Majors in innings per start (7.01). He’s also thrown 122 pitches that registered 95-plus mph after the seventh inning, 98 more than any other starter in the sport. He’s completed at least 8 innings in 12 starts this season, twice as many as anyone else and the most by a pitcher since Chris Sale in 2016.
Volume is one thing. What Alcantara has done in those innings is another. His five complete games are also the most by any pitcher since 2017. He ranks second among NL pitchers in ERA (2.37), fourth in strikeouts (188), sixth in opponent batting average (.215) and sixth in WHIP (1.01).
Entering Sunday, Alcantara’s 7 WAR was already greater than half of the previous 20 Cy Young Award winners. No other MLB pitcher was within 1.3 WAR.
“They know,” Alcantara said, when asked about his Cy Young chances. “I think I’ve been doing a great job of trying not to think about it. I just want to be able to produce out there today and compete. They know what I’ve been doing.”
The case against Alcantara
The rough four-start stretch Alcantara endured from Aug. 21 to Sept. 8 — during which he squeezed in a 10-strikeout complete game win over the Dodgers — cost him the NL ERA lead to Urías (2.27 to 2.43). It’ll be tough for Alcantara to bridge that gap now on his own, unless Urías experiences a few clunkers of his own down the stretch.
Elsewhere, more traditional voters might quibble with Alcantara’s 13 wins, which would match the fifth-fewest for a Cy Young winner in a full season since 2000. If more analytically-inclined voters shy away from Alcantara, on the other hand, it’ll probably be because they’re focusing on his rate stats.
Though Alcantara has a good chance of cracking the 200-strikeout mark, he remains 32 strikeouts behind NL leader Carlos Rodón and 31 behind reigning Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes, despite 33 2/3 more innings. A similar dynamic played out last year, if you remember, when Burnes edged out Zack Wheeler in the voting on the strength of rate stats like strikeout rate and strikeout-to-walk rate, despite logging 46 fewer innings.
“He’s been a little criticized lately for giving up a few more runs than normal, but a lot of those runs are in the seventh, or eighth inning when most guys would be out of the game by then,” Stallings said. “So, you’re penalizing the guy for still competing in the game. He’s incredible.”
The Giants’ Rodón (a 2.84 ERA) and the Brewers’ Burnes (a 2.97 ERA) have been plenty effective on top of their ability to miss bats, while the Dodgers’ Urías (17-7) and Tony Gonsolin’s (17-1) gaudy win-loss records stand out on baseball’s best team. Max Fried (13-6, a 2.52 ERA) and Kyle Wright (18-5, 3.18) are sure to garner credit for their contributions to the playoff-bound Braves, and it isn’t hard to see Gallen (12-3, 2.52) emerging as an analytical darling in the desert.
In short, it’s a crowded field. As far as the Marlins are concerned, though, it should be no contest.
“He just makes it look easy,” Stallings said, awestruck. “He didn’t even look tired at the end of the game. That’s just kind of what he does.”