Nationals ace Max Scherzer has ridden one of the most dominant stretches of his 12-year Major League career to the front of the National League Cy Young Award race. While Scherzer has positioned himself to become just the fifth pitcher in history to win four Cy Young Awards, his lead over Dodgers lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu is narrow enough that this may be a two-horse race over the final 2 1/2 months of this baseball season.
Scherzer took over the top spot in the NL poll at a time when he’s on the injured list with back tightness. He has not pitched since July 6 and is eligible to return July 20. Whether his back allows him to return at that time is the biggest issue in the Nationals' quest for a playoff berth.
His injury has interrupted an amazing few weeks in which he has allowed a total of six earned runs in nine starts while pitching at least seven innings in every game.
Verlander has been no less impressive. His 0.81 WHIP is the best in the Majors, and it would be the fifth lowest since 1900 and the lowest since Pedro Martinez’s 0.74 in 2000.
This poll was conducted by asking MLB.com reporters to rank their top three choices in each league, with five points for a first-place vote, three points for second place and one for third.
Justin Verlander (27 first-place votes) -- He’s one of 22 pitchers in history to be named to eight All-Star teams, and 19 of those pitchers are in the Hall of Fame. Last week, Verlander became the 33rd pitcher to make multiple All-Star Game starts when he tossed a scoreless first inning for the AL team. His 267 player votes were the most among all MLB pitchers. He has led the AL in WHIP three other times and could be the 15th in modern history to do it four times.
Charlie Morton (nine first-place votes) -- He has been everything the Rays hoped he’d be when they lured him from the Astros with a contract that could be worth $45 million over three years despite Morton having turned 35 years old last November. Morton’s 3.7 fWAR is the third-highest in the Majors, trailing only Scherzer and Lance Lynn. His 2.79 FIP trails only Scherzer’s 2.01.
Mike Minor (two first-place votes) -- Minor has rebounded spectacularly from the injuries that sidelined him for the entire 2015-2016 seasons, when he seemed on the verge of having his career permanently derailed. This season, he’s one of three pitchers with multiple complete games and has one of the AL’s eight shutouts. He has pitched at least eight innings five times, which tops the Majors, and has allowed one run or fewer nine times.
Others receiving votes: Gerrit Cole, Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito
Max Scherzer (26 first-place votes) -- In June, Scherzer became the first pitcher since 1908 with at least 68 strikeouts and five or fewer walks in a calendar month. He was also one of four since 1920 to have a 1.00 ERA and 68 strikeouts in a month, joining Pedro Martinez (September/October 1999), Roger Clemens (August 1998) and Randy Johnson (June 1997).
Hyun-Jin Ryu (11 first-place votes) -- Ryu has been just about perfect for almost three months. In that time, he has a 1.60 ERA, 10 walks and 91 strikeouts in 101 1/3 innings over 15 starts. For the season, he leads the Majors with a 9.55 strikeout-to-walk ratio and 0.85 walks per nine innings. His 0.93 WHIP leads the NL. He’s 7-0 with a 0.85 ERA at Dodger Stadium.
Luis Castillo (one first-place vote) -- Castillo was the Reds' first starting pitcher to make the NL All-Star team since Johnny Cueto in 2014. He has had eight starts in which he threw at least five innings, allowed two hits or fewer and allowed two runs or fewer --a Reds franchise record. In his first three starts, he joined Randy Johnson and Rube Marquard as the only MLB pitchers to have three straight games of at least eight strikeouts and no more than two hits in each game since 1893.
Others receiving votes: Zack Greinke, Mike Soroka, Brandon Woodruff