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|Best ERA vs. league ERA|
|* -- Through Sept. 7|
2. Chris Carpenter: What a machine. Since June 8, Carpenter (20-4, 2.28) has ripped off 15 straight quality starts in which he has pitched at least seven innings and hasn't lost -- a streak matched by only one other pitcher (Gaylord Perry) since 1920. The Cardinals also have won 15 of Carpenter's starts in a row -- something they never did even behind Bob Gibson. Carpenter leads the league in wins, complete games (seven) and innings pitched (213) -- and he's second in ERA, strikeouts (191) and shutouts (four). So can a pitcher who's 20-4 with an ERA that low not win a Cy Young? Well, it has happened -- to David Cone (20-3, 2.22 in 1988), Randy Johnson (20-4, 2.28 in 1997) and Pedro Martinez (20-4, 2.26 in 2002).
3. Dontrelle Willis: Clemens and Carpenter would have to blow up in September for Willis to win this award, but what a year (20-8, 2.52) he has had. He could become the second pitcher his age (23) or younger ever to throw five shutouts and lead his league -- joining only Fernando Valenzuela (1981). But Willis' ERA is nearly a whole run higher than Clemens'. And opponents' batting average against Willis (.241) is almost identical to opponents' on-base percentage against Clemens (.243).
Might also get some votes: Pedro Martinez, Roy Oswalt, John Smoltz, Jake Peavy, Andy Pettitte.
|Led league in ERA by more than half a run|
|Pitcher||Year||Margin||Cy Young Finish|
|* -- Through Sept. 7|
2. Bartolo Colon: Colon (18-6, 3.24) has made a huge Cy Young run by going 7-0 in his last nine starts, 10-2 in his last 14 and 14-3 in his last 21. He leads the league in wins, and he's only one quality start behind Santana. So Colon is in position to end the Angels' 41-year Cy Young drought -- the third-longest in the sport (behind the Reds and Rangers). But he has been helped by his bullpen (which has blown zero saves for him) and his run support (5.69 runs per game). And the batting average against him (.248) sure resembles the on-base percentage against Santana (.249).
3. Mark Buehrle: Santana might make hitters look worse than Buehrle does. But Buehrle (15-7, 3.00) actually has nudged slightly ahead of Santana in both innings pitched (203 2/3) and ERA. And Buehrle has two more wins despite worse run support (4.15 runs per game vs. Santana's 4.81). So he could be a big finish away from joining Jack McDowell (1993), LaMarr Hoyt (1983) and Early Wynn (1959) in the South Side Cy Circle.
4. Jon Garland: It probably won't help Garland (17-8, 3.28) that he has the highest run support in this field (5.80 runs per game), that he has won just twice since July 22, that he's only 8-8 against AL teams outside the Central or that he has a lower strikeout ratio (4.49 per 9 IP) than Jamie Moyer, Brian Moehler or Chan Ho Park. But Garland is second in the league in wins, he's tied for third in complete games (three), and he has as many quality starts (19) as Buehrle or Colon. So if he's the only 20-game winner in the league, that might be enough.
5. Mariano Rivera: It's kind of amazing that Rivera (35 saves, four blown, 1.52 ERA) doesn't own a single Cy Young trophy, considering his never-ending string of brilliance. But that tells you how tough it is for relievers to win this award. No closer has won it without leading his league in saves since Guillermo Hernandez in 1984. And Rivera now has slid behind Bob Wickman, thanks to his worst stretch of work since April. (He has been scored on in six of his last 14 appearances, believe it or not.) But he's still having his best statistical year ever (.177 opponent average, .462 OPS, lowest ERA of his career, just one inherited runner allowed to score). So if the voters can't get worked up about any of these starters, Mariano The Great is a darned fine alternative.
Might also get some votes: Roy Halladay, Joe Nathan, Cliff Lee, Barry Zito.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.