My Cy Young Award favorites are Clayton Kershaw in the National League and Justin Verlander in the American League. If you're telling yourself that's not exactly original thinking, you'd be right.OK, if you insist, I'll take Corey Kluber in the AL, Max Scherzer in the NL. Or Chris Sale in
My Cy Young Award favorites are Clayton Kershaw in the National League and Justin Verlander in the American League. If you're telling yourself that's not exactly original thinking, you'd be right.
OK, if you insist, I'll take Corey Kluber in the AL, Max Scherzer in the NL. Or Chris Sale in the AL, Stephen Strasburg in the NL.
Those are your six favorites with Opening Day just 53 days away. Yes, plenty of others would surprise no one by winning. Madison Bumgarner or Zack Greinke. Luis Severino or Dallas Keuchel.
• 10 dark horse MVP candidates for 2018
For this exercise, let's think a little further outside the box. Think R.A. Dickey in 2012 or Eric Gagne in 2003. Surely, there are up-and-coming youngsters on teams that could surprise or veterans looking to re-establish themselves with a mixture of good health and favorable circumstances.
Here are 10 to consider:
1. Aaron Nola, RHP, Phillies
It seems to be a matter of when the 24-year-old right-hander wins a Cy Young Award, not if. Nola continued to move in that direction in 2017 with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, the NL's fifth-lowest FIP (3.27) and seventh-highest WAR (4.3). He allowed two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his last 18 starts. Nola will probably need the Phillies to take a big leap toward contention to be in the NL Cy Young Award mix, but given the amount of young talent, they're in range of doing just that.
2. Trevor Bauer, RHP, Indians
The Indians have been rewarded for their patience as Bauer continues to harness some of the best pure stuff in the game. In 2017, he averaged 10 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a 3.3 strikeouts-to-walks ratio. Kluber won the AL Cy Young Award in 2017 and is the ace of Cleveland's staff, but Bauer is a big reason the Indians had the AL's best rotation in '17.
3. Lance McCullers, RHP, Astros
When McCullers was good last season, he was dominant. The Astros won 12 of his first 15 starts, and he made the AL All-Star team with a 2.69 ERA through the season's first three months. McCullers struggled with injuries and command issues some after that, but he had some very good performances in the postseason. In a nutshell, the 24-year-old right-hander is going through the usual growth that most young players go through. Now, McCullers is lined up behind Verlander, Keuchel and Gerrit Cole in one of baseball's best rotations. But if he can gain some consistency and stay healthy, he's potentially as good as any of them.
4. Zach Davies, RHP, Brewers
Davies' 3.91 ERA in 67 Major League starts reflects the talent of a guy capable of pitching atop a postseason-caliber rotation. As the Brewers continue their quest to add more pitching, Davies is a huge reason they're so confident about 2018 in the wake of a season in which he started 33 games and had a solid 3.90 ERA.
5. Jose Berrios, RHP, Twins
Berrios is a big reason the Twins are so optimistic about 2018 and beyond. His game is power: 94-mph fastball and hard curveball. Berrios took a gigantic step forward in his second season with a 1.229 WHIP and a 2.9 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
6. Michael Wacha, RHP, Cardinals
Manager Mike Matheny managed Wacha's workload nicely in 2017 as he worked his way back from neck and shoulder issues that looked like they might derail a promising career. Despite having pitched in 121 Major League games, Wacha is still only 26, and after a solid '17 season, the ceiling could not be higher. In '17, his fastball averaged 95 mph, a career high, in part because he threw it a career-low 53 percent of the time. With growing confidence in his cutter, change and curve, Wacha is becoming a complete pitcher.
7. Mike Leake, RHP, Mariners
A change-of-scenery late-season trade from St. Louis to Seattle worked beautifully as the right-hander had five dominant September starts (3-1, 2.53 ERA) and set himself up for a career jump-start in 2018. Leake will line up behind James Paxton and Felix Hernandez in Seattle's rotation, and if he's good, the Mariners have a nice chance to return to the postseason for the first time since 2001.
8. Matt Moore, LHP, Rangers
Rangers general manager Jon Daniels is taking a flyer on the 28-year-old who was once a coveted pitching prospect. In his past 76 starts for the Rays and Giants, Moore's ERA is 4.85, his WHIP 1.423. He threw more cutters and fewer fastballs last season, and it'll be interesting to see what Texas pitching coach Doug Brocail comes up with in terms of a game plan. Moore's stuff is plenty good enough if he can fix the command problems.
9. Dylan Bundy, RHP, Orioles
Bundy made his Major League debut at 19 in 2012, and then didn't get back again until '16 amid an array of arm issues. He has taken the ball 64 times the past two seasons with a 4.16 ERA, 1.267 WHIP and 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings. Bundy added a slider to his fastball-curveball repertoire in '17, and now finally seems poised to be the top-of-the-rotation starter he has long been projected to be.
10. German Marquez, RHP, Rockies
The Rockies have so many talented young pitchers that it's a matter of picking one to have a huge 2018. Marquez's fastball averaged 95 mph last season, and he threw it almost two-thirds of the time, mixing in an occasional curveball. His game plans will continue to evolve, but his arm is so good that it's easy to forecast special things.
Richard Justice has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2011. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @RichardJustice.