NL Cy Young stands as baseball's best race to the finish

Updated: September 21, 2009

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Giants right-hander Tim Lincecum is trying to win his second consecutive Cy Young Award.

The National League Cy Young Award race is tight, and 2008 NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum still is slightly in the lead. The Cardinals' Chris Carpenter is a very close second, with teammate Adam Wainwright a very close third. The Diamondbacks' Dan Haren is a distant fourth.

This is basically a pick 'em situation between Lincecum and Carpenter, but you can't count out Wainwright because all three pitchers still have two starts to go.

Wainwright leads the league in wins, is in the top three in ERA and leads the league in innings pitched. So he makes a very good case for the award. Wainwright has done a fabulous job all year with his durability and he's always been really strong.

However, the more amazing story to me is Carpenter.

Carpenter is the only pitcher in baseball history to pitch 600 innings and win at least 50 games over a three-year period, then miss two full years due to injury and then come back and pitch. Not only has he come back to pitch, he's come back to pitch at a Cy Young level. Reds manager Dusty Baker told me halfway through the season that he thought Carpenter might be the best pitcher in the league. I think that was a good point to make at the time, and he still might be the best pitcher in the league now.

Carpenter leads the league in ERA today, because Lincecum got hit hard (five runs in four innings) in a loss to the Dodgers on Sunday. Lincecum still leads the league in strikeouts and is tied for the league lead in complete games. He also has more innings pitched than Carpenter.

Each guy has his own fan base pulling for him. People who love a great comeback naturally are pulling for Carpenter. Another group is pulling for Wainwright because he has been good for several years in different roles. Remember, he got the final out of the World Series a few years ago as a closer. Lincecum's story is amazing given his size. Honestly, this is the most compelling Cy Young race you will ever see.

Lincecum will be hurt a little by the fact that he has only 14 wins. The fewest wins by a starting pitcher in a Cy Young season, that is a full-season, is 16 by Brandon Webb in 2006. (Rick Sutcliffe also had 16 in the NL in 1984 when he won it with the Cubs, but he had already won four times earlier that season with Cleveland before being dealt to Chicago). So there is precedent for it, but Lincecum is going to have to have a strong finish if he's going to win his second one in a row.

Dan Haren's numbers are sensational. This is an unusual year in the Cy Young in that we truly have four quality candidates, including Haren, but he has struggled relatively down the stretch. Ultimately, that will keep him from winning. He was the leader at the All-Star break, but he hasn't had quite as good a second half as he did first.

This race is going to go down to the final day of the season, perhaps between all three of these guys. I'm not sure I've seen a closer race than the one we have right now.

Past Baseball Tonight Clubhouses: Sept. 20 | Sept. 17 | Sept. 16 | Sept. 15 | Sept. 14

TOUCH 'EM ALL

Touch 'Em AllWho went deep? Keep track of all the home runs hit each day on "Baseball Tonight" and on the Baseball Tonight Clubhouse page.

For more, check out the Home Run Tracker page.

Home Run Tracker
NAME HR OPPSITUATION
Adrian Gonzalez, SD39McCutchenTop 1: 1-0, 1 Out. 1 on.
Jason Bay, BOS36DiNardoTop 3: 0-1, 1 Out. 2 on.
Derrek Lee, CHC34LooperTop 2: 0-0, 2 Outs. 1 on.
Mark DeRosa, STL22RodriguezTop 3: 2-0, 2 Outs. None on.
Mike Cameron, MIL21GorzelannyBot 4: 2-1, 1 Out. None on.
Garrett Jones, PIT20LeBlancBot 1: 2-0, 2 Outs. None on.
Mike Cameron, MIL20GorzelannyBot 2: 0-1, 1 Out. None on.
Mike Jacobs, KC18WakefieldBot 5: 0-0, 1 Out. 2 on.
Chipper Jones, ATL17MischTop 2: 0-0, 1 Out. 2 on.

The complete list of Monday's homers

ON DECK: TUESDAY'S BEST MATCHUPS

Phillies at Marlins, 4:10, 8:10 p.m. ET

The Marlins get two shots at the defending champs as Florida tries to remain relevant in the NL wild-card race. Josh Johnson, who starts the opener, is 1-0 with a 0.69 ERA in two starts this season against the Phillies. Anibal Sanchez, who starts the nightcap, is 0-3 over his past five starts.

Twins at White Sox, 8:11 p.m. ET

The Twins are still gnawing at the Tigers' heels in the AL Central. Minnesota, 2½ back of Detroit, sends Jeff Manship to the mound for his fourth start of the year. One of his previous starts came earlier this month against the White Sox and he beat them, tossing five effective innings in a 4-3 win.

Yankees at Angels, 10:05 p.m. ET

Chad Gaudin has not been involved in a decision since Aug. 12, which also happened to be his first outing with the Yankees. His run of appearances without being involved in the decision stands at seven. Ervin Santana has not gotten much support lately; the Angels have scored more than three runs for him once in his past seven starts.

For the rest of Tuesday's schedule, click here.


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BBTN ON THE AIR: TUESDAY

TIME WHO'S ON?
10 p.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Fernando Vina
12 a.m. ET
ESPN
Host: Karl Ravech
Analysts: John Kruk, Peter Gammons, Fernando Vina

BBTN MINUTE: PUJOLS GETTING SUPPORT

SIMON SAYS

Simon Says ESPN researcher Mark Simon digs deep, looking for the night's best baseball numbers.

Tonight, he looks at Nick Blackburn, who pitched seven shutout innings, scattering eight hits in a 7-0 win against the White Sox. If only Blackburn could always pitch against the White Sox …

Nick Blackburn (2009)
vs. White Sox vs. others
W-L 4-1 7-10
ERA 2.12 4.62
WHIP 1.12 1.47
IP-HR 34-1 157 2/3-23

WEB GEMS

MONDAY'S BEST AND WORST

BEST
Chase HeadleyChase Headley was busy. He came to the plate six times in an 11-6, 11-inning win against the Pirates. Five of those trips resulted in hits, the last of which was a double that brought home the first run of what ended up being a five-run 11th for San Diego. Headley, who also homered, drove home two runs and scored twice as part of his 5-for-6 night.
WORST
Patrick Misch• By the time the Mets came to bat in the fourth inning against the Braves, they were already in big trouble. Starter Patrick Misch gave up seven hits, eight runs and three homers in 1 1/3 innings as Atlanta jumped out to an 11-1 lead through three innings en route to an 11-3 win.

NUMBERS TO KNOW

Zack Greinke Zack Greinke is enjoying the best season of his career and is one of the leading candidates for the AL Cy Young. He's 14-8 with 224 strikeouts and a baseball-best 2.14 ERA; the wins and strikeouts both represent career highs.

Greinke's success has come not only from his fastball, but from his slider, which has been one of the best in baseball this season. He generates swing-and-misses almost half of the time when he throws it. Half of his strikeouts have come thanks to the pitch.

Greinke and the Royals take on the AL wild card-leading Boston Red Sox in the second game of their four-game series on Tuesday night. Greinke has not faced the Red Sox this season, but two of his strengths will be tested when he faces Boston. Greinke doesn't walk batters (his 1.9 BB/9 IP is third in the AL) nor does he allow homers (his 0.5 HR/9 is first in the AL). The Red Sox are third in the AL in walks and home runs this season.

Zack Greinke's slider (2009)
MLB rank
Strikeouts 124 1
Miss pct. 46.1 3
Chase pct. 46.2 1

-- ESPN Stats & Information

FANTASY: PREVIEW OF TUESDAY'S GAMES

Adam Madison examines the 15 games on Tuesday's slate.

Fantasy Madison ranks the pitchers scheduled to take the mound and supplies loads of other information that could help shape your roster for Tuesday. Daily Notes

HUNT FOR OCTOBER

Here's the latest in the wild-card races:

NL WILD CARD
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Rockies 85-65 -- 90.0%
Giants 81-69 4.0 4.7%
Marlins 80-70 5.0 1.3%
AL CENTRAL
TEAM W-L GB POFF
Tigers 79-70 -- 72.4%
Twins 77-73 2.5 27.3%
White Sox 73-78 7.0 0.3%

For more on all the playoff races, see the Hunt for October