Breaking Down the National League Cy Young Race

Nathan DowlerContributor IIIAugust 26, 2011

Breaking Down the National League Cy Young Race

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    The National League is loaded with pitching, which leads to a very interesting Cy Young debate every year. In 2011, Roy Halladay got off to his typical fantastic start and seized the early lead. Fellow two-time award winner Tim Lincecum has used an incredible second half to get himself right back in the discussion.

    But the two aces have a new competitor this year in the form of phenom Clayton Kershaw, who is making his presence felt in an emphatic way. At this point, it appears to be the Phillies' trio of Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels, along with NL West rivals Lincecum and Kershaw, competing for the award in 2011. 

Cliff Lee

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    Cliff Lee, the offseason's top prize, has been everything Philadelphia hoped he would be and more.

    The 32-year-old Lee is aiming to join teammate Roy Halladay as the most recent pitchers to win a Cy Young in both the AL and NL. Lee won the award with the Cleveland Indians in 2008. In addition to his 14-7 record and 2.71 ERA, Lee has tossed an incredible five complete game shutouts this season.

    He is in the top five in the NL in innings pitched (186.0), strikeouts (191) and WHIP (1.06). Lee has been on a tear in the month of August, going 4-0 while allowing only two earned runs over 31 innings while improving his already fantastic peripherals. Despite all this, Lee likely has a bit of work ahead of him to get back to the top of the race.

Cole Hamels

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    Cole Hamels is arguably the least-heralded of the Phillies' trio of dominance, but that hasn't seemed to faze him this season.

    Hamels' Cy Young hopes took a hit with his recent trip to the DL, but he's expected to come back at full strength in his start on Monday. He leads the NL with a WHIP of 0.99 and is still 10th in innings pitched despite his DL stint.

    The 27-year-old lefty is 13-7 with a 2.62 ERA to go along with 155 strikeouts, all while pitching in Citizens Bank Park, notorious for being favorable to hitters. With a strong September, and if the three Phillies don't take votes away from each other, Cole Hamels has as good a chance as anyone to take home the hardware this fall. 

Tim Lincecum

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    Tim Lincecum, the 2008 and 2009 Cy Young Award winner, has been dominant since the All-Star break, posting a second-half ERA of 1.12 while allowing one earned run or fewer in eight of his last nine starts.

    The NL leader in ERA (2.46) is also third in strikeouts (189), second in ERA+ (149) and first in H/9 (6.8). Although his 70 walks raise an alarm, Lincecum's awesome BAA of .210 more or less makes up for it.

    His 12-10 record doesn't jump off the page, but when you take into consideration the fact that the Giants have scored zero runs in ten of his 26 starts, it becomes more understandable (and Cy Young voters haven't seemed to worry much about wins in recent years). However, Lincecum may still have a bit of work to do if he wants to catch the next two guys on this list.  

Roy Halladay

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    It's hard to say enough about Roy Halladay. The guy has completely lived up to the hype since he came over from Toronto, winning the Cy Young last year and putting himself in prime position again this year.

    'Doc' leads the National League in a fistful of categories, including innings pitched (189.2), ERA+ (151) and K/BB (7.91). Additionally, he is first in walks allowed, fourth in WHIP, second in ERA and fourth in strikeouts.

    Halladay is freakishly consistent and already has tossed seven complete games this season. Although he has actually improved on his 2010 campaign, Halladay is not the clear-cut favorite at this point, thanks to Lincecum's resurgent season and a certain 23-year-old sensation.

Clayton Kershaw

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    Here it is, my current pick for the 2011 National League Cy Young Award: young Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw.

    Kershaw's brilliant breakout campaign has been headlined by a National League-leading 207 strikeouts, and he appears poised to steal the strikeout crown from Lincecum, who has held it for the past three years.

    Kershaw is tied with Halladay for the league-lead in innings, is second in WHIP and third in ERA. He is second in H/9, fourth in K/BB and has managed a 16-5 record despite pitching for a team that oftentimes struggles to score runs.

    At this point, there are plenty of excellent candidates, and ultimately it may come down to who has the best September.