As the calendar threatens to turn from August to September and essentially the last month of the Major League Baseball season, we're entering award season.
Or at least award speculation season.
Observers get to speculate on who will win what, while players have about 40 games to put the finishing touches on their cases for the individual awards.
For the modern pitcher, that means eight to 10 starts depending on off days and durability.
In the National League, the race for the Cy Young Award has many qualified entrants. Guys like Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright, Matt Cain, Dan Haren, and a few others have a good shot at the gold if they can put together a strong stretch run.
But they'll all need the two leaders to stumble as the leaves turn.
Each hurler has his flaws, but their superlative seasons to date keep them head and shoulders above the competition despite the warts:
Tim Lincecum—26 GS, 185.1 IP, 12-4, 214 K, 2.43 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, .559 OPSA, .210 BAA, 10.39 K/9, 4.20 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO
Chris Carpenter—21 GS, 145.2 IP, 14-3, 111 K, 2.16 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, .593 OPSA, .223 BAA, 6.86 K/9, 4.83 K/BB, 2 CG, 0 SHO
Did I say the two former Cy Young winners had warts? Tough to tell from those brilliant lines, but it's true.
As for the Freak, he is closing August in decidedly normal fashion.
The tiny Giant hasn't been terrible, but he hasn't been his dominating self in his last couple starts. In Cincinnati on Tuesday, the Reds touched him for five runs in six innings and coaxed more walks out of the Franchise than strikeouts (three to two).
That is something you won't see too frequently from Tim Lincecum.
Sunday against the Rockies in Colorado, the righty just wasn't comfortable. His motion was so out of whack, he abandoned his windup in the early innings and threw exclusively from the stretch for the bulk of his seven-inning twirl, whether men were on base or not.
Even so, the reigning NL Cy Young had a no-hitter through five frames and ended the assignment having surrendered only three hits and whiffed five. Unfortunately, the five free passes he issued ended up branding him with the scarlet "L."
Unless Lincecum can rediscover that filthy command that allowed him to be most effectively wild, he'll continue to open the door for a thunderous charge from one of his adversaries.
Like the Redbirds' stallion.
Carpenter's blemish is even more suspect than Lincecum's recent slide.
Many people will tell you the time he missed in April and May actually enhances his case. After all, the man has crapped out in only two of 21 starts (ironically, one of them came courtesy of the anemic Giant offense), so why expect anything less in the five or so trips to the bump he missed?
That's fine and dandy, but what about the fellow racers who need no hypothetical crutch?
Tim Lincecum and most of the other Cy Young candidates DID make those five trips, and they were excellent...or good enough that their cases still rival Carpenter's.
While it's fair to assume the St. Louis Cardinal would've been just as fantastic had he remained healthy, it's equally fair to argue the extra innings might've been trouble. Either way, the durability to take the pearl each time it's your turn has to count for something. Certainly missing starts can swing the matter in the absentee's favor.
Even in the harsh light of an absolute statistical comparison, I'd argue Tiny Tim has the inside track.
His only considerable deficits are in earned run average and strikeouts per walk, while he trails by a negligible amount in WHIP and in a negligible category (wins).
On the other hand, the San Francisco gem almost doubles his counterpart from the Lou in whiffs, has thrown far more innings, has a considerable lead in OPSA, holds opponents to a lower average, has more complete games as well as shutouts, and whomps Carpenter in strikeouts per nine innings.
If Lincecum can right the ship for September, he should repeat as the Senior Circuit's top pitcher.
That's a big "if."
Particularly with 40 games left and postseason fates to be decided—the first such atmosphere for the Franchise. So a lot can still happen.
But don't be surprised if it's a photo finish and the picture shows Tim Lincecum at the finish line with Chris Carpenter.