Eyes on the Cy: Pitchers Who Could Challenge Phillies’ Big Three

Posted by Kevin Durso

Courtesy of Phoenix New Times

Yesterday, you read about the Phillies’ three aces – defending Cy Young Winner Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels – and why each could win the Cy Young Award. Today, in the second of this two-part series, I’m taking a look at the other National League pitchers who are perennial candidates, and how their seasons stand up to the Phillies’ big three. I’ll also examine the seasons of some of the National League’s leading pitchers this season, and their chances at beating out the Phillies’ aces.

Ian Kennedy (Arizona Diamondbacks)

When Ian Kennedy pitched a three-hit shutout against the Phillies, many thought this was some lucky start. Since then, he has posted enough wins to tie the Phillies’ ace for the National League lead in wins, and hold the NL’s highest winning percentage. Kennedy has won seven straight
starts, and holds a 15-3 record, with a 3.12 ERA, and 142 strikeouts. He’s quietly putting together an excellent season.

Since wins and record mean a lot in the voting, Kennedy actually has a great chance of winning. His record is better than Halladay’s, and with more wins than the other Phillies’ aces, he is very much in the running. If I had to pick now, Halladay would win the award, but not unanimously, and Kennedy would finish second. But, as long as Kennedy continues to dominate this season, his record could be impressive enough to take the award from Halladay.

Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers)

Clayton Kershaw was a rising young star with the Dodgers as they challenged the Phillies in the 2008 and 2009 National League pennant races. Kershaw is still a success, but his biggest weakness might be the fact that he is not playing for a contender. Kershaw is 14-5, with a 2.72 ERA, and
193 strikeouts. But, with the Dodgers sitting in the lower half of the NL West, and with Kershaw not playing a role in a Postseason run, he may fall short.

Kershaw’s case isn’t as strong as Kennedy’s. He’s an incredible strikeout pitcher, leading the National League, and his win total is right up there with others. He could be one to watch, especially if his record just continues to improve.

Jair Jurrjens (Atlanta Braves)

Jurrjens is currently on the DL, but his numbers prior to that trip were very solid. Jurrjens is 12-4 with a 2.63 ERA and 85 strikeouts. At the time, he was challenging Halladay and Hamels back and forth for the NL lead in wins. His winning percentage is excellent, and it seemed like every start he made was another win for the Braves. As he came closer to that DL stay, his record did start to slip.

Jurrjens case isn’t one to worry about. Injuries have been known to end runs at the major awards because remaining healthy is just as key as being successful, especially for pitchers. With only so many starts a season, pitchers need to get as many starts in as they can, and even more importantly need to make them quality starts. Jurrjens has made plenty of quality starts, but maybe not enough to rank himself next to Halladay, Lee, Hamels, Kennedy, and Kershaw.

Tommy Hanson (Atlanta Braves)

Overall, Hanson has put together an All-Star season, with an 11-7 record, a 3.60 ERA, and 142 strikeouts. But, much like his teammate Jurrjens, Hanson has battled injury, and is currently on the DL. Hanson’s record just doesn’t stand up to others, so even while he is among the talks of baseball’s best this season, his numbers just don’t stand up to the five mentioned above.

Tim Hudson (Atlanta Braves)

Hudson is another one of those darkhorse candidates who could be there at the end of the year, but ultimately will fall short because of the numbers. His record is solid at 12-7, and he has kept the runs off the board, posting a 3.13 ERA with 115 strikeouts. The problem with all three Braves’ pitchers just mentioned is that they are all good in their own way at separate times. The Phillies seem to find ways to make all three of their aces good at the same time, so the one that is the best in a given month is pitching brilliantly every time out, like Lee in June. The Braves seem to find a way to shift the ace roll. Hudson, Hanson, and Jurrjens could all be aces, but there is never one who fills the role completely. One month, it’s Hudson we’re talking about. The next: it’s Jurrjens. The next: Hanson. There’s never constant talk about all three, and for that, all three of their cases fall short.

Tim Lincecum (San Francisco Giants)

Lincecum has two wins against the Phillies this season, neither of which has been all that impressive from a qualitative standpoint. Still, he’s in talks because he just has to be, as one of the big-name pitchers in baseball. But, his numbers are not quite what you’d expect. He has just 11-9, with a 2.58 ERA and 175 strikeouts. The numbers are good, but again, it’s all about the record. And as long as Halladay is 15-4, and Kennedy is 15-3, and even guys like Hamels (13-7) and Lee (12-7), Lincecum doesn’t stand a chance.

Ryan Vogelsong (San Francisco Giants)

One of the surprises this season, Vogelsong, a former Phils’ farm product, is shining with the defending World Champs. He’s posted a 10-2 record, with a 2.47 ERA, and 102 strikeouts. The problem with Vogelsong is that he has come from out of nowhere. He hasn’t pitched in the
Majors in five years. His season is the kind that replicates Vance Worley’s. Worley is 8-1 with a 2.85 ERA. He won’t even be considered for the Cy Young Award, but they are solid numbers to make a case for Rookie of the Year. Vogelsong’s numbers are good, but they just seem to be part of a year where you can’t tell if he’s for real or not. Will he pitch like that next year? That remains to be seen, but it would be unfair to judge such a good season on anything that hasn’t been proven.