Ian Kennedy took the mound Tuesday night as a pitcher who was starting to get national attention as a Cy Young candidate. Still considered a dark horse, Kennedy’s chances of winning the award for the National League’s best pitcher were increasing after every successful start.
With the most wins in the NL and an ERA that was dipping below 3.00, Kennedy was standing on the doorstep of becoming the first 20-game winner in the NL facing a Dodgers team that has been less than competitive for the 2011 season. He seemed ready to move from a dark horse Cy Young contender to a legitimate one, right with Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw.
Fortunately for the Diamondbacks, they ended up with a win on the night and shrunk their division-clinching number to six. Unfortunately for Ian Kennedy, a rough first inning may have ended his Cy Young hopes, despite giving up only two hits through the next five innings before turning the game over to the bullpen.
Could it have been the pressure of needing to be nearly perfect to stay in Cy Young contention that led to Kennedy’s shaky first inning?
The first inning of the Dodgers game may end up being a good thing for Kennedy and the Diamondbacks. With those four runs, Kennedy’s ERA is now 2.99, over .5 more than the two leading candidates Kershaw and Halladay. Kennedy will not have the pressure of needing to pitch perfectly anymore since the Cy Young hopes are fading; he just needs to pitch like he has all season and usher the Diamondbacks into the postseason.
Regardless of the outcome, Kennedy is continuing the trend of the NL West having the best pitchers in the NL.
For all the national talk about how weak the division is, a pitcher in the NL West has won the Cy Young award four of the last five years, and Clayton Kershaw is probably the leading candidate to win it this year, making it five out of six years.
For Kennedy, success in the postseason will make the Cy Young race a distant memory.