Note: The All-Star break is upon us and The Stew is using the downtime to size up contenders for the year-end awards. We've already looked at Rookie of the Year and MVP candidates. Now let's turn our attention to AL and NL MVP hopefuls.
The top Cy Young candidates usually post great numbers while pitching full seasons for contending teams. Those criteria hurt pitchers in respective ways like Clayton Kershaw (back injury), Henderson Alvarez (plays for Marlins) and Stephen Strasburg (3.48 ERA, albeit with good peripheral stats). In that sense, the Cy also requires some luck to win it. Everything must come together, and that usually happens for only a select few.
NATIONAL LEAGUEThe Frontrunner: Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals
He started the All-Star game for the National League after posting a 1.83 ERA and a 5.5 wins above replacement (via Baseball Reference) in 138 innings. His performance against the American League at Target Field doesn't matter, but don't be surprised if the words Waino used to describe how he pitched to Derek Jeter affects his status among some of the wrong-headed Cy voters. Still, he's in great shape to land his first career Cy Young nod, after finishing second twice (in 2010 and 2013) and third (2009) once.
In the conversation: Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds
He's second in the league with 141 strikeouts, and is second among qualifiers with a 2.13 ERA — doubly impressive for someone who pitches home games at Great American Ball Park. Leads league with 143 2/3 innings, nearly 50 percent more than Clayton Kershaw.
The Question Mark: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
As we wrote earlier in the season, Kershaw missing several starts at the start of the season because of a back injury probably is going to cost him votes. He's on track for 26 or 27 starts, which will diminish the impact of his numbers no matter how well he pitches. So far, he's posted a 1.78 ERA and a 126-13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 14 starts covering 96 1/3 innings. He's also managed to compile a 4.4 bWAR, second-most to Waino in the NL.
The Dark Horse: Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers
Hurt by having Kershaw as a teammate and vote siphoner, but could lead the league in ERA before the season ends. Posted a 2.73 ERA with 127-22 strikeout-to-walk ratio so far.
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The Frontrunner: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners
The starter for the AL in the All-Star game, it just looks like King Felix's time to get crowned Cy Young for the second time in his career. Second to David Price with 154 strikeouts and Chris Sale with a 2.12 ERA, he also has the Mariners' improved record going for him (or not working against him). Even if they slip out of the race, Hernandez will be right there with the top vote-getters — as long as he keeps pitching like a king. Regardless, he's the guy you want on the mound.
In the conversation: Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays
Off to the best start of his career, posting a 2.64 ERA and 4.3 WAR through 19 starts. His 4.30 expected fielding independent pitching indicates that his awesome numbers won't last, but Buehrle always has outperformed expectations. If the Blue Jays stay in the race, there's a good chance he'll stay in the Cy race. Also in the conversation: David Price, Tampa Bay Rays. Only 18th in ERA, but could get on a role and be right among the top contenders (unless he's traded to an NL team and it gets complicated).
The Question Mark: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees
Might have been the frontrunner by going 12-4 with a 2.51 ERA until he was sidelined by an elbow injury. Tanaka might end up having Tommy John surgery, which would knock him out of contention for sure, but even if he doesn't, his chances are significantly diminished already. Regardless, the majors have added another dominant right-handed talent from Japan like that of Yu Darvish. Hopefully, he regains his health quickly. Also a question mark: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox. The second-best pitcher in the league, but only a remote contender for the same reason as Kershaw — a lack of innings because of an injury.
The Dark Horse: Scott Kazmir, Oakland Athletics
Finally putting it all together — talent, health, luck — Kazmir has been the best pitcher on the best team in the league, posting a 2.38 ERA and a .577 on-base plus slugging against. If he keeps it up and the A's win, he'll get a lot of support. And if Felix slips... Even Darker Horse: Garrett Richards, Los Angeles Angels.
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