With 54 games left in the regular season, the National League Cy Young Award race is really starting to heat up.
Presumably, starters would have about 10 chances left to bolster their resumes going into the final stretch of the season.
That's plenty of time for a pitcher to fall out of, or come into contention for the 2012 NL Cy Young Award.
With that said, in no particular order, here's a look at the top 5 candidates for this year's award.
2012 Stats: 14-6, 2.58 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 124 K, 35 BB
Johnny Cueto has been one of the most dependable starters in the National League all season. Making his case for the 2012 Cy Young Award, Cueto has several things working in his favor.
Cueto is currently second in the NL in wins (14) and first in WAR (4.6). For a while this season, Cueto was leading in ERA too. He's currently third in ERA (2.58).
The only thing hurting Cueto's Cy Young chances are his strikeout totals. Cueto has never been much of a strikeout pitcher. With just 124 strikeouts, Cueto is 17th in the National League.
Cueto has four tough losses and not a single cheap win, so realistically we're looking at a pitcher who could easily be 15, 16 or 17 or 18-5 which would certainly put him in front of the race.
Looking forward, Cueto gets a start Sunday against a bad Cubs team and figures to start against the Cubs again, Phillies, Diamonbacks, Astros, Marlins, Dodgers, Brewers, and Cardinals.
Cueto should have a good shot at 20 wins. A .500 win percentage the rest of the way gets him to 18 or 19 wins. However, a pitcher of Johnny Cueto's caliber doesn't go .500 over a nine game stretch against teams with a combined win percentage of .461
Look for Cueto to win 20 games with a sub 2.50 ERA, roughly 180 strikeouts and a legitimate shot at his first NL Cy Young Award.
2012 Stats: 12-5, 2.97 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 160 K, 34 BB
Stephen Strasburg is arguably the most promising young pitcher in the game and at 24 years old, he has a great look at his first Cy Young Award in 2012.
Strasburg is currently eighth in the NL in ERA (2.97), ninth in WHIP (1.13), 11th in WAR (2.7), tied for sixth in wins (12) and first in strikeouts (160)
The only thing standing in Strasburg's way is his looming innings limit.
Thus far, Strasburg has pitched 127.1 innings. According to General Manager Mike Rizzo, the team will shut Strasburg down at 160 innings. Should that be the case, Strasburg would likely reach that limit sometime in his next five starts.
If Rizzo stays true to his word, Strasburg would have a maximum of 17 wins and, at the most, about 190 strikeouts.
I'm not sold either way, but Rizzo seems to be sold on shutting down Strasburg.
Should Strasburg finish the year, he's in line for 10 more starts against the Diamondbacks, Giants, Braves, Marlins (2), Cardinals (2), Mets, Dodgers and Brewers.
Strasburg's remaining opponents have a winning percentage of .513. Four of said starts are also within the NL East so his road to the Cy Young will not be easy.
He does have a chance at 20 wins (without an innings limit), and he'll eclipse 200 strikeouts but this and his candidacy for the Cy Young hinges completely on that innings limit.
2012 Stats: 15-3, 2.72 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 166 K, 36 BB
R.A. Dickey took the league by storm in the first half of the season going 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA. Since returning from the All-Star break, Dickey is 3-2 with a 3.61 ERA.
Despite the slight regression, Dickey is still first in the NL in strikeouts (166), WHIP (1.00), fourth in ERA (2.72) and fourth in WAR (3.4)
If Dickey can be half the pitcher he was in the first half he'll run away with the award.
Dickey's remaining 10 starts come against the Reds, Rockies, Astros, Marlins (3), Cardinals, Nationals, Phillies and Braves who together, have a .491 winning percentage.
Should Dickey return to his first half form, or something reminiscent of it, he's looking at 20-plus win, 200-plus strikeouts and a top five ERA.
Aside from a few mediocre starts following the break, the biggest thing standing in the way of R.A. Dickey and the 2012 Cy Young Award is his team. Although he averages over five runs of support a game, the Mets have gone 6-17 since the break.
Whether you like it or not, making the postseason has become a big part of award voting.
If the season ends today, Dickey runs away with the award.
Being on the Mets doesn't help his chances and unless he wins 20 games and goes over 200 strikeouts, I don't see Dickey winning the Cy Young in 2012.
2012 Stats: 14-6, 3.32 ERA, 1.14 WHIP,154 K, 54 BB
While Stephen Strasburg is enjoying success in the nation's capitol, Gio Gonzalez is enjoying a nice season of his own.
Through 23 starts, Gonzalez finds himself tied for second in the NL in wins (14), third in strikeouts (154) and top 15 in WHIP, ERA and WAR.
Gonzalez has been everything the Nationals hoped he would be when they brought him over from Oakland in the offseason.
Though he's struggled in his six starts since returning from the All-Star break, (2-3, 4.34 ERA and 1.22 WHIP) Gonzalez is still a legitimate threat in the Cy Young Award race.
Two or three good starts in a row and Gonzalez will have an ERA under three with around 170 strikeouts and a WHIP of about 1.11.
Those ERA and WHIP figures would put him in the top 10 and his strikeout totals are already approaching the top of the NL leaderboard.
Gonzalez has 10 starts left coming against the Giants, Mets (2), Phillies (3), Cardinals, Cubs, Braves and Brewers.
Inter-division starts are never easy but luckily for Gonzalez he happens to get five starts against two of the worst teams in the NL East, he also gets one against a terrible Cubs team, and another against a bad Brewers team.
All in all, the teams Gonzalez is facing have a combined .495 winning percentage, and 20 wins is completely in reach.
Gonzalez should also end up with over 200 strikeouts to accompany a top 10 ERA an WHIP.
2012 Stats: 14-3, 3.19 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 109 K, 40 BB
Believe it or not, AJ Burnett is a legitimate contender for the 2012 NL Cy Young Award.
After a dismal campaign with the Yankees, the 35-year old right-hander has turned it around this year and helped the Pirates to their current second place position in the NL Central.
Burnett is currently tied for second in the NL in wins (14), and top 15 in both WHIP and ERA. He's had a sensational season thus far and has been a huge part of the Pirates' success.
After 20 starts, Burnett has 10 remaining against the (2) Padres, Dodgers, Cardinals, (2) Cubs, (2) Milwaukee, Mets and Reds.
The good news for Burnett, is that the teams he's coming up against combine for a winning percentage of .493.
Even better news for Burnett is that he's making six of his final 10 starts in Pittsburgh where he's a comfortable 7-0 with an ERA of 2.00.
If the Pirates are going to continue to win games and contend for the NL Central title, Burnett is going to be expected to continue his impressive season.
The strikeout numbers aren't going to bowl you over, but Burnett could very well come away with a 20 win season, an ERA south of three and 160 strikeouts.
If the Pirates manage to win the NL Central, you may be looking at the 2012 NL Cy Young Award winner.
2012 Stats: 10-5, 2.27 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 105 K, 48 BB
In the event that Stephen Strasburg is shut down at 160 innings, I've decided to add an alternate to the list.
Ryan Vogelsong doesn't have the wins or strikeouts that the other pitchers on this list do, but he's been consistently dominant over the course of the 2012 season and hasn't showed any signs of slowing down.
In 21 starts, Vogelsong has allowed more than three runs only twice, allowing four on both occasions. Even more impressive is that he's allowed three or more runs only six times this season.
Considering that Vogelsong has allowed four or fewer runs in just 29 percent of his starts, his 10 wins seems like an astonishingly low total. Vogelsong is the victim of five tough losses on the season and could easily have 15 wins.
It's not unheard of for a pitcher to win the Cy Young Award with low win totals. Look no further than 2010 AL Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez who won the award with a record of 13-12.
With 10 starts remaining, Vogelsong will likely take on the Nationals, Padres (2), Braves, Astros, Diamondbacks (3), Rockies, and Dodgers. The seven teams combine for a .480 winning percentage, giving him the second easiest road to the award behind Johnny Cueto.
By seasons's end, Vogelsong figures to have an ERA near 2.00, 15 or more wins and 150 or more strikeouts.
He should draw strong consideration from voters.