Not Tim Lincecum(notes), not Chris Carpenter(notes), and not a passel of starters who could ride the same National League Cy Young Award bus, men such as Dan Haren(notes), Matt Cain(notes), Javier Vazquez(notes), Josh Johnson(notes) and Wandy Rodriguez(notes), if not drive it.
Some seasons the final days of September amount to a Cy coronation. Johan Santana(notes) was a unanimous winner twice in the past five years. Jake Peavy(notes) in '07. Randy Johnson(notes) was automatic on each side of the turn of the century, and Pedro Martinez(notes), Roger Clemens(notes) and Greg Maddux(notes) had similar turns.
Not today. Today, the best pitcher in the National League is Adam Wainwright, who leads the league in wins and innings pitched, and is a couple clicks from the ERA lead. Today, Wainwright has a 1.87 ERA since mid-July, a 12-start run into which he's bundled eight more wins and a 5.23 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Today, he's a wisp better than Lincecum, a sliver better than Carpenter, a three-horse race in which the only entry who is not trying to complete his set of bookends (Lincecum '08, Carpenter '05) is the towering, 28-year-old Wainwright.
Today, however, isn't Oct. 4, by which time this Cy Young Award could be determined by, among others, the Cubs.
For no matter what your preference in the Cy numbers (Lincecum leads the league and/or Cy field in ERA, strikeouts and batting average against; Carpenter is second in wins, ERA and WHIP; Wainwright leads in wins and innings), most are close enough to be indistinguishable.
That leaves three starts apiece, beginning in St. Louis this weekend, when Carpenter starts against the Cubs on Saturday. Wainwright goes Sunday night against the Cubs (he's 3-0 against them so far) on national television, so a chance to move the voters. And then next Friday, assuming his back holds up, Lincecum gets the Cubs at AT&T Park, the same night Carpenter is scheduled to go in Colorado. Wainwright projects to the following day in Colorado. Lincecum pitches next on Sunday in Los Angeles.
Asked Friday morning for his view, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak emailed, “First, all three pitchers are deserving and all three have had exceptional years.”
As for his guys, he wrote, “First, with Carpenter, he truly defines big-game pitcher. If you needed one win I think most would agree you would want him on the mound. He can be efficiently dominating, resourceful, and a power pitcher when needed. You think of him as someone who has evolved through life experiences and has become simply great.
“Wainwright has composure and grit, lacks the efficiency of Carp, but is tenacious. He's mentally prepared and has the tools to go along with it.”
Lincecum, too, is those things – dominating, efficient, powerful. He doesn't just have Pedro's stature, he would seem to have his heart, too, something he's proven a pitch at a time since he arrived two Mays ago. His 14 wins – four fewer than last season – are partly a result of the Giants, who generally don't hit. Seven times Lincecum has allowed two or fewer earned runs and taken a no-decision or loss. Yet the run-support argument actually goes to Carpenter, who gets 4.48 runs per 27 outs to Lincecum's 4.72 and Wainwright's 5.61.
And they've all had their bonk moments lately.
Six days after one-hitting the Brewers in Milwaukee, Carpenter let in seven runs Sunday against the Braves when the Cardinals were trying to avoid being swept and losing three months' worth of momentum. They lost, 9-2.
At a time the Giants badly needed him on the mound, Lincecum came down with a sore back and did not pitch for 10 days in September. He returned Monday to throttle the Rockies.
And Wainwright went into Pittsburgh two weeks ago on a Friday night, allowed six runs in five innings and – hello, run support – won. Since then he's given up two runs in 14 innings.
The flaws are almost invisible to the naked eye. These pitchers are Cy worthy. In fact, you'd give any of the three of them the ball, any day of the week.
Today, I'll take Wainwright.
Dan Haren, Diamondbacks: As usual, great WHIP (0.95 best among major league starters), great ERA, poor run support. Only Clayton Kershaw(notes) (.202) and Lincecum (.207) had a better batting average against (.214).
Javier Vazquez, Braves: Back in the NL, Vazquez pared more than a run-and-a-half off his ERA and trailed only Lincecum in strikeouts.
Matt Cain, Giants: He has unbelievable stuff and his four complete games speak to just how far he's come. He's struggled a bit down the stretch, however, and back-to-back losses to the Dodgers and Rockies have moved him out of serious contender status.
Josh Johnson, Marlins: It's fair to say he's back from Tommy John surgery. NL quality starts: Haren 24, Lincecum 24, Johnson 23.
|1||Tim Lincecum||Giants||100-plus more whiffs and innings give him narrow edge.|
|2||Chris Carpenter||Cardinals||Last few starts could still give him a mantel piece.|
Giants have a right to raise Cain.
|1||Chris Carpenter||Cardinals||Don't write this one in stone.|
Because he is right there, too.
|3||Adam Wainwright||Cardinals||Gives Cardinals two aces to match Lincecum and Cain.|
|1||Adam Wainwright||Cardinals||He's done just enough over just long enough a time to be just a little better.|
He's pitched better in second half but has only four wins to show for it.
|3||Chris Carpenter||Cardinals||July '07 – Tommy John surgery; Nov. '08 – elbow surgery; April '09 – torn oblique; Sept. '09 – 16-4, 2.45.|
|1||Chris Carpenter||Cardinals||Most dominant Cards season since Tudor, circa '85.|
|2||Tim Lincecum||Giants||More K's, fewer HRs allowed than teammate Cain.|
|3||Adam Wainwright||Cardinals||Add resilience to his growing list of attributes.|
- Adam Wainwright
- Tim Lincecum