Stephen Strasburg, Washington Nationals
Strasburg rebounded nicely from his worst start of the season Aug. 28 versus the Miami Marlins. Facing the St. Louis Cardinals in his most recent outing (Sept. 2), the Nats' phenom pitched six scoreless innings.
The Cards have scored the most runs in the NL, have the highest team batting average and rank second in team OPS. Yet Strasburg held that powerful lineup to two hits while striking out nine batters (and walking only one).
Yet the September shutdown that has been looming is now very close. Strasburg is scheduled for two more starts this season—Friday, Sept. 7 against Miami and Wednesday, Sept. 12 versus the New York Mets. This thing is really happening. The Nationals really are going to shut their best pitcher down before the end of the season.
Strasburg is currently tied for second in the NL with 195 strikeouts. His rate of 11.2 strikeouts per nine innings is the best in the majors. With a 2.94 ERA, 1.12 WHIP (walks and hits per nine innings) and .225 opponents' batting average, Strasburg ranks among the top 10 starting pitchers in the league.
But will he still be considered a contender for the NL Cy Young Award once he's shutdown? It would be difficult to make that case.
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Knocking a guy down based on one game doesn't seem fair, but when the competition between NL Cy Young Award contenders is so close, a single performance matters.
Last week, Matt Cain was No. 4 in our rankings. But he gave up five runs and six hits to the Chicago Cubs, a team that has scored the second-fewest runs in the NL, along with the league's second-lowest team batting average and OPS. So that's going to knock him down a notch.
Whatever plagued Cain in that game appears to have affected the rest of the Giants' starting rotation. Barry Zito, Ryan Vogelsong and Madison Bumgarner each gave up four runs or more in San Francisco's subsequent three games.
In my view, Cain has been a top contender for Cy Young Award honors all season. He ranks among the top 10 NL pitchers in strikeouts (170), ERA (2.98), WHIP (1.03) and opponents' batting average (.226). But unless he has a strong September, it's hard to see him winning the trophy now. Perhaps the Strasburg shutdown will help his cause.
Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Miley deserved to be rated as at least an honorable mention based on his own merits. But poor performances during the past week from Bumgarner, Vogelsong, Jordan Zimmermann and Kyle Lohse gave him a push.
With a 2.90 ERA, Miley ranks fifth among NL starting pitchers. He's also tied for fifth in WHIP with a 1.12 mark.
Miley's .245 opponents' batting average might not look as impressive compared to the other top pitchers in the league, but Miley's game is to pound the strike zone and let batters put the ball into play. His rate of 1.6 walks per nine innings ranks sixth in the NL.
The D-Backs' rookie left-hander—and leading contender for NL Rookie of the Year—is also highly regarded by WAR. FanGraphs rates him as the sixth-best pitcher in the NL at 4.1 wins above replacement. Baseball-Reference places him fourth with a 4.0 WAR.