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02/12/07 10:00 AM ET

Will anyone win 20 games in 2007?

Santana, Oswalt, Wang lead list of potential big winners

Something happened last season that had never happened in a full Major League season -- neither league had a 20-game winner.

There have been a few seasons without 20-game winners, including 1981, '94 and '95, but those seasons were curtailed by work stoppages.

There have even been several seasons where either the American League or the National League didn't have at least one 20-game winner. But until 2006, never had a full 162-game season been played where neither league produced a 20-game winner.

The Twins' Johan Santana and Chien-Ming Wang of the Yankees came close, with 19 wins apiece, but only seven pitchers recorded 17 or more wins and no NL pitcher won more than 16 games. Makes you wonder if the 20-game winner is an endangered species, or if the 2006 season was just one of those statistical anomalies that was bound to happen sooner or later.

Last year's shutout was a surprise. After all, there were four 20-game winners in 2005, three in '04, five in '03 and '02 and six in '01. Over the past 15 years, not counting the labor-interrupted seasons, the two leagues have combined to average around four 20-game winners per season.

Baseball may never see another season like 1969, when the two leagues produced 15 20-game winners. The number of 20-game winners has steadily declined over the past several decades as five-man rotations, specialized bullpens and more hitter-friendly ballparks have meant fewer workhorse starting pitchers, and thus fewer complete games and fewer wins. Six-inning starts are more prevalent nowadays, meaning more chances for bullpens to blow leads and fewer chances for successful starters to finish what they started.

Here are a few who might crack the plateau in 2007:

• Carlos Zambrano, Cubs: The hard-throwing right-hander would have won 20 last season with better support, however, Zambrano only won 16 games for a last-place team that managed to win only 66 games. Only 25, Zambrano is in prime position with a team that could be vastly improved in 2007.

• Roy Oswalt, Astros: Oswalt won 20 games in both 2004 and '05, yet dropped to 15 wins last season despite leading the NL with a 2.98 ERA. Poor run support and bullpen collapses cost Oswalt a third consecutive 20-win season, but his chances for 20 wins in 2007 are strong. The right-hander is only 29, has averaged 34 starts over the past three seasons and finished the 2006 season with a six-game winning streak.

• Santana, Twins: The ace left-hander, who went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA in 34 starts in '06, is primed for another big year for the defending AL Central champions. The Twins got off to a poor start in 2006 as did Santana, who went 1-3 with a 4.45 ERA in the first month of the season. Santana went 10-1 after the break to nail down the Cy Young Award, and he should be in the hunt for 20 wins in 2007.

• Wang, Yankees: The righty, who turns 27 in March, blossomed into an ace last season, and there's no reason to suspect he won't crank out 200-plus innings and make 30 or more starts again this year. With New York's offense, if Wang stays healthy, he could nail down No. 20 this time after coming up one shy in 2006.

• Justin Verlander, Tigers: Like Wang, Verlander blossomed in 2006, winning 17 games and helping the surprising Tigers win the AL pennant. Though his ERA climbed from 3.01 before the All-Star break to 4.54 ERA after, Verlander should be better prepared for the Major League workload this time, and with the Tigers' offense and a stout bullpen to back him up, the youngster could flirt with 20 wins in 2007.

• Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: The tall right-hander, 16-5 with a 3.19 ERA last year, won 22 games in 2003 but injuries curtailed his '04 and '05 seasons. Last season, Halladay was 12-2 with a 2.92 ERA before the break but only 4-3 with a 3.57 ERA after. He was winless in September despite a 2.25 ERA. Back at 100 percent this year and supported by what should be a strong Toronto team, Halladay certainly has a shot to reach 20 wins.

Other starting pitchers with the talent and the potential support to win 20 games include: Brandon Webb of the Diamondbacks; Brad Penny and Derek Lowe of the Dodgers; Barry Zito of the Giants; John Lackey and Ervin Santana of the Angels; Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett and Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox; Mike Mussina of the Yankees; John Smoltz of the Braves; Kenny Rogers and Jeremy Bonderman of the Tigers; Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook and C.C. Sabathia of the Indians; Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals; Dontrelle Willis of the Marlins; Tom Glavine of the Mets; Rich Harden and Dan Haren of the A's; Brett Myers and Freddy Garcia of the Phillies; Jake Peavy, Greg Maddux and Chris Young of the Padres; and Jon Garland and Mark Buehrle of the White Sox.

Jim Molony is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.