By Tom Verducci
September 09, 2011

It's funny how wins were totally devalued last year when it came to the Cy Young Award candidacy of 13-game winner Felix Hernandez but now are becoming the strongest pillar this year in support of the MVP candidacy of Justin Verlander. Whether the Detroit ace wins the MVP or not may come down to whether he wins three of his final four starts -- the last of which figures to be a tuneup start of perhaps five innings on the penultimate day of the regular season. (Verlander is on track to get the White Sox, Athletics, Orioles and Indians; don't bet against him.)

Why the magic of three more wins? That would leave him with the irresistible number of 25 wins, which sounds a lot sexier than 24.

Actually, 25 is very meaningful in baseball for this reason: It's almost unheard of in the era of the five-man rotation. Verlander would become only the fourth pitcher to reach 25 wins while pitching primarily out of a five-man rotation, joining Bob Welch (1990 Athletics), Ron Guidry (1978 Yankees) and Tom Seaver (1969 Mets).

Gil Hodges, Seaver's manager with the Mets then, and his pitching coach, Rube Walker, generally are credited with popularizing the five-man rotation in 1968. They believed it would help develop and protect a bevy of young arms such as Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan, Dick Selma, Jim McAndrew and Danny Frisella, all of whom were between 21 and 25 years old in 1968. The idea proved to be sound, considering that from that staff alone came three pitchers who rank among the top 36 pitchers all-time in starts: Ryan (2), Seaver (15) and Koosman (36).

It would be years before the five-man rotation was universally adopted. In 1980, for instance, when Steve Stone won 25 games for Baltimore, manager Earl Weaver used a four-man rotation for much of the season. Stone made about 40 percent of his starts on the fourth day.

Verlander has not made any starts this season with short rest. In fact, if you are counting on Verlander pitching ALDS Game 1 and then Game 4 should the Tigers face an elimination game then, keep this in mind: Verlander has made 200 major league starts, including the postseason, and never started on short rest.

So take a look at this list and appreciate how special this run is that Verlander is putting together. These are the last eight pitchers to win 25 games, and it includes the number of times they started on what today would be considered short rest (three days of rest or fewer):

Tom Ricketts is facing a career-defining decision as owner of the Chicago Cubs. The job of general manager of his team is amazingly valued in the baseball industry -- so much so that if Ricketts takes an aggressive approach, he could wind up with one of the best general managers in the business from among the A's Billy Beane, the Red Sox' Theo Epstein, the Yankees' Brian Cashman and the Rays' Andrew Friedman. Ricketts' other option is to take a more passive approach and believe he's signing up the next Beane, Epstein, Cashman or Friedman. Given the opportunity, he has no excuse not to go get the real thing, an All-Star GM.

Forget the extension for vice president of player personnel Oneri Fleita and a possible one for scouting director Tim Wilken. Those contracts aren't dealbreakers for an All-Star GM. Nobody is going to turn the job down because two guys have contracts -- two guys who could be reassigned and in any case report to the GM. Give Ricketts credit for making sure the organization doesn't suffer from a brain drain during an uncertain transition period.

Why is the Cubs' job so valuable? The saccharine narrative is that it's all about the chance to end the Curse of the Billy Goat and bring the franchise its first World Series championship since 1908. It's more practical than that. It's the chance to operate with huge resources in a winnable division -- with gobs of room for growth in pulling the Cubs up to date with the modern game. That's the real attraction. Think of a fixer-upper in a great location and with a huge budget.

The Cubs have the best resources in the division, and that's even with Wrigley Field underutilized as a revenue stream. Chicago should crib off the Red Sox's successful business plan in revitalizing Fenway Park.

Beane, once excited about a chance to work with money on the prospect of team moving to San Jose, must understand that Oakland is a dead end job. The club will have posted five straight losing seasons, plays in a football stadium and is no closer to getting an okay to relocate. Beane turns 50 next year, and like great GMs of his era -- Pat Gillick, John Schuerholtz, Sandy Alderson, Dave Dombrowski, etc. -- he needs the challenge of heading another organization for personal growth, if not legacy. Beane is signed through 2014, but owner Lew Wolff will not stand in the way if Beane decides to leave.

"I think it's something Billy might consider," said one friend. "I'll tell you this: if they ever get Billy to come in for an interview, it's his job. That's how good he is."

Epstein, Cashman and Friedman are younger, but might be intrigued by the challenge of life outside the AL East. Epstein has another year left on his contract, but would be a perfect fit for the Cubs because he needs only to execute the same playbook he used in Boston to establish a winning culture -- and he needs to build a team that wins only 90 games, not 95 as the AL East requires. What's unknown about Ricketts is whether he has the temerity as a new owner to call up Boston owner John Henry and announce, "I want to hire your GM." And would Henry even consider letting Epstein go or would Epstein, a Boston guy, leave home?

Cashman has known only the Yankees organization in his professional life, and is a valuable asset, like a Sherpa guide, because he knows the rough terrain there so well. But he, too, could be intrigued by a new challenge while still having money to spend. Friedman, like Beane, is stuck in a dead-end job due to a lousy ballpark situation without a fix on the horizon, as well as the ditch-digging perpetuity of having to compete against New York and Boston money.

Ricketts has other options, but this is no time to aim low. What he needs to do is read the history of how Henry's ownership group immediately set about changing the culture in Boston.

When Henry purchased the Red Sox in 2002, he wasn't as new to baseball as Ricketts when Ricketts purchased the Cubs last year -- Henry had owned the Marlins for three years and had a small piece of the Yankees as far back as 1991 -- but with Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino, Henry took an aggressive approach to finding a GM for his Red Sox. His first two choices were a pair of standing GMs: Beane, who accepted the job one day and changed his mind the next, and J.P. Ricciardi, who had only just begun his tenure in Toronto and wanted to honor the commitment. Henry eventually hired a first-time GM recommended by Beane -- Epstein -- but his aggressive plays for Beane and Ricciardi set the tone for how the Red Sox would be bold in their quest to bring a long-awaited world championship to the franchise.

One of the challenges for Tampa Bay, Toronto and Baltimore is playing in the AL East and having to play 36 games against the Yankees and Red Sox. Well, the inverse of the AL East Penalty is the NL Central Advantage. The Brewers are going to the postseason almost entirely because they can fatten up on 46 games against the Cubs, Pirates and Astros. With realignment talk floating around, Milwaukee shouldn't dare complain about the "inequity" of competing in a division with six teams.

Milwaukee is 31-9 against Chicago, Pittsburgh and Houston and barely above .500 (54-51) against all others. The Brewers have fewer wins against .500 or better teams (22) than 24 other clubs. The Padres, Nationals, Orioles and Cubs -- the Cubs! -- have more quality wins than Milwaukee, the Boise State of the major leagues.

The Brewers don't win on the road and they don't beat good teams, including the three other NL playoff teams. Against Philadelphia, Atlanta and Arizona, Milwaukee is 8-11 while hitting .235 and scoring 3.4 runs per game.

Do you know the last time Milwaukee won a series against a winning team other than the Cardinals? That would be before Memorial Day. The Brewers went the entire summer without winning a series against a good team other than St. Louis.

Do you remember their 23-3 run from late July to mid-August that salted away the division? The Brewers went 19-1 against losing teams, including 13-0 against the Cubs, Pirates and Astros

Get this: Milwaukee still has six more games with Pittsburgh and Chicago. None of them will be in October.

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