At the midpoint of the 2014 MLB season, it can be said with the utmost confidence that the Seattle Mariners have the best starting pitcher in the AL on their roster, and he goes by King Felix. Felix Hernandez has been absolutely outstanding so far this season, and appears to have 2014 AL Cy Young written all over him.
There have been very few blemishes in his game since he first took the ball for the M’s on Opening Day, March 31 versus the Los Angeles Angels, right up until he walked off the mound this past Friday night after eight innings of two-run ball against baseball’s best team, the Oakland Athletics. Two formidable AL West foes faced, and two victories for Hernandez.
It is not just his skill and pitching that wins him such praise, but it is also Hernandez’ durability. Since becoming a permanent fixture in the Mariners’ rotation in 2006 as a 20-year-old, he has started no less than 30 games in a season for Seattle — knock on wood. Four All-Stars, one Cy Young and zero surgeries later, and here we are. Hernandez can now be called a five-time All-Star after getting his fourth consecutive nod in 2014. The strange thing is, what breaks up his chances of being a consecutive All-Star six seasons in a row from 2009-14, is his 2010 campaign.
Hernandez was so good that year. He overcame a mediocre (by his standards) first half ERA of 2.88, and not being named an All-Star, with a second-half ERA of 1.53 in 15 games started. That played a big part in the hardware he took home at the end of the season. How often can a starting pitcher be overlooked on All-Star ballots, but then go on to win a Cy Young award at seasons end? That’s exactly the hand Hernandez was dealt in July of 2010, and he played it remarkably well.
Friday night at Safeco Field against the best baseball team in America, Hernandez outperformed one of the better starting pitchers in America, the A’s Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija threw an eight-inning complete game, allowing only three earned runs. Hernandez matched his eight innings for the win, striking out nine and allowing two earned runs. July 11 marked only the second time since his April 21 outing that Hernandez had allowed a hitter to go deep against him.
Masahiro Tanaka has succumbed to the dreaded UCL tear. Mark Buehrle has cooled off slightly, and so has his team’s bats. Chris Sale missed a fair amount of time on the disabled list, and his team isn’t considered a contender. Scott Kazmir may be a solid option, but he lacks the K/9 flare Hernandez has. Jon Lester and Yu Darvish probably don’t have the support of a strong team behind them this year, either.
Through it all, King Felix has weathered the storm in 2014. If his second half is anywhere near as exuberant as his first half has been, Hernandez looks primed to place his second Cy Young award atop his mantle this fall.