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2019 Cy Young: Gerrit Cole or Justin Verlander? Is Jacob deGrom in line to win again?

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In a season defined by record-breaking offense, it was still the top-tier pitching that prevailed.

The best of these hurlers will be recognized Wednesday when the Baseball Writers Association of America names the American and National League winners of the Cy Young Award.

Half of the 2019 Cy Young ballot appeared in this year’s World Series, and all but one name pitched in the postseason.

Fresh off his first World Series victory, three-time Cy Young winner and Washington Nationals ace Max Scherzer is a finalist for the fourth consecutive year and the fifth time in his career. Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander combined for more than 40 wins and 600 strikeouts to lead the Houston Astros to their second pennant in three years.

Hyun-Jin Ryu posted the lowest ERA in baseball, helping the Los Angeles Dodgers to 106 wins and their seventh consecutive division title. The Tampa Bay Rays took a flier on 36-year-old free agent Charlie Morton, and he rewarded them by becoming the club’s second consecutive finalist.

Finally, there’s the New York Mets reigning Cy Young winner, Jacob deGrom, who led the NL in almost every pitching category but ERA.

The winners will be announced during a live special on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Stay tuned for full coverage of the announcement and the ensuing reactions. But keep reading as we size up the six contenders, and check out the picks from the Yahoo Sports crew.

American League

Gerrit Cole - RHP, Houston Astros

Based on his dramatic resurgence in Houston, it seems the top pick in the 2011 draft didn’t perform to his full potential in Pittsburgh. Cole has more than 600 strikeouts in two seasons with the Astros, including an MLB-best 326 this season. He posted an AL-best 2.50 ERA in 2019 with 21 double-digit strikeout games in the regular season. Cole finished on a nearly impossible tear after one hiccup against the White Sox in late May, he went 16-0 and recorded a 1.78 ERA in his final 22 starts. He kept it up in the postseason, where the Astros won four of his five starts.

Defining moment: “That was all I had.” Postseason performances don’t count toward Cy Young voting, but his Game 5 performance in the World Series was emblematic of his incredible season. Cole completed seven innings 15 times throughout the regular season and in all five of his postseason starts.

Justin Verlander - RHP, Houston Astros

There shouldn’t be anyone left doubting Verlander’s Hall of Fame credentials, especially after his 15th major league season turned out to be one of his best. The 36-year-old reached the 300-strikeout mark for the first time in his career while recording his second 20-win season. He struck out 14 batters during his third career no-hitter against the Blue Jays on Sept. 1 and Verlander led the league in wins (21), pitcher bWAR (7.8), walks and hits per nine (0.803), hits per nine (5.529) and win-probability added (5.6). It will likely be an interesting battle between the two Astros teammates to see who actually claims the hardware.

Defining moment: Needing 12 punchouts in his final start of the season to reach 3,000th career strikeouts and 300 for the season, Verlander got Kole Calhoun to chase a curveball in the dirt to hit the mark.

Charlie Morton - RHP, Tampa Bay Rays

The 2019 season was easily the best of Morton’s 12-year career. He recorded career highs in wins (16), ERA (3.05), ERA+ (146), innings pitched (194.2) and strikeouts (240). Due to the pair of aces in Houston, Morton isn’t likely to follow Blake Snell and become the second consecutive Tampa Bay pitcher to win the Cy Young. But where Cole and Verlander struggled, allowing 29 and 36 homers, respectively, Morton excelled. The record home run figures were a frequent topic of conversation in 2019. It became apparent that preventing home runs were more difficult than hitting them. Nobody was better at that than Morton, who yielded 0.694 long balls per nine innings.

Defining moment: The Rays were in the thick of a wild card race when the Yankees came to town. Morton held the division rivals to one hit with nine punchouts over six scoreless innings, and the Rays eventually secured the second AL wild-card spot.

National League

Jacob deGrom - RHP, New York Mets

DeGrom set impossibly high standards after his 2018 Cy Young season but he certainly made a strong enough case to attempt to reclaim the hardware. He was the National League leader in pitcher bWAR (7.3) and strikeouts (255), tied with St. Louis Cardinals righty Jack Flaherty for the league’s lowest WHIP (0.97) and finished second to Ryu in ERA (2.43). Last season, the Cy Young battle came down to deGrom’s dominant ERA (1.70) compared to Scherzer’s lead in most other categories. There’s less separation between deGrom and Ryu than there was deGrom and Scherzer last year, so that should help his case.

Defining moment: DeGrom didn’t allow a run over the final 24 innings of his season, a streak which included a bout against Ryu and the Dodgers. DeGrom yielded three hits and struck out eight over seven innings in the Mets’ victory.

Hyun-Jin Ryu - LHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

Ryu put together the best season on a staff that included Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler. In addition to being the major league leader in ERA (2.32) and BB/9 (1.183), Ryu led the NL in ERA+ (179). It was an incredible bounce-back performance for a pitcher that’s been limited by injuries to 213.2 innings since 2014. He allowed three runs or fewer in all but four of his 29 starts, including 12 scoreless outings. It was a good time for Ryu to bet on himself after he accepted the qualifying offer last season. He enters free agency as a coveted arm thanks to his 2019 performance.

Defining moment: Ryu set the tone early in his dominant season, then reached his boiling point with an early May start against the Braves. Ryu went the distance, allowing four hits and striking out six in the Dodgers’ victory.

Max Scherzer - RHP, Washington Nationals

Scherzer led the majors with a 2.45 FIP and a 7.364 strikeout to walk ratio and finished atop the NL for the second consecutive year with 12.7 K/9. But his chances at a fourth Cy Young took a pretty big hit when he suffered a back injury that limited him to just one start from July 6 to Aug 22. He also posted a 5.16 ERA over his final five starts in September.

Defining moment: Once again, the postseason doesn’t matter here, but Scherzer’s revival in the World Series showed that he is one of the most reliable and effective pitchers of the past decade.

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