Justin Verlander, Clayton Kershaw and Other Top Cy Young Candidates Take the Mound Tonight

By Tom Froemming

The top three pitchers in last year’s American League Cy Young voting and the top two in the National League will all be pitching tonight. Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and James Shields in the AL and Clayton Kershaw and Roy Halladay in the NL are all off to stellar starts after banner years in 2011.

Verlander, who was also last year’s AL MVP, has a 1.72 ERA and 0.80 WHIP for the Detroit Tigers. He has already faced playoff contenders in three of his four starts, and faces another challenge tonight against New York at Yankee Stadium.

Kershaw had his first start cut short due to illness, but has been sharp in 2012, as well. He’s only 1-0, but the Los Angeles Dodgers are 4-0 in games he has started. The lefty has a 1.61 ERA and has yet to give up a home run. Kershaw pitches against the Washington Nationals tonight at Dodger Stadium, where he was 12-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.89 WHIP over 16 starts last season.

Halladay seems to have kicked it into a higher gear, scary as that sounds, with the Philadelphia Phillies struggling to score runs this season. In his four starts, he’s pitched at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs each time out. It looks likely he’ll duplicate those numbers tonight, as he has averaged 7.2 innings pitched and has a 0.98 ERA in six starts against his opponent, the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Weaver went the distance last time out for the Los Angeles Angels, and has an impressive 28-2 strikeout-to-walk ration over 29.2 innings. Weaver faces the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field, where he has a 2.01 ERA and 0.92 WHIP in six starts over his career. So far in 2012, the Angels are 3-1 when Weaver starts and 3-12 otherwise.

To illustrate just how good this quintet has been early on, James Shields’ 2.76 ERA is the worst of the bunch. One of the most efficient pitchers in the game, Shields has thrown eight or more innings in each of his past three starts for the Tampa Bay Rays. He doesn’t have a complete game yet, which wouldn’t be odd for any other pitcher, but Shields finished out an amazing 11 games last season, exactly one-third of his starts. He’ll have his hands full with the Texas Rangers tonight.

Despite all the star power on display tonight, Daniel Bard may be the pitcher under the brightest spotlight. The Boston Red Sox drama has been intense this month. There have been bullpen blowups, injuries, trades, guys getting called out in the media and even lineup card errors, but possibly the most ink has been spent on what to do with their bullpen ace turned starting pitcher.

Bard’s last scheduled start was rained out, so he actually pitched out of the pen Monday. His last start was way back on Patriot’s Day, April 16, where he held the Rays to one run over 6.2 innings. Manager Bobby Valentine’s handling of Bard, and pretty much everything else, has been interesting to say the least. The Red Sox look for their fifth-straight win tonight against the White Sox in Chicago.

Angels (Weaver) at Indians (Masterson), 7:05 p.m. ET
Cubs (Maholm) at Phillies (Halladay), 7:05
Tigers (Verlander) at Yankees (Nova), 7:05
Athletics (McCarthy) at Orioles (Arrieta), 7:05
Mariners (Beavan) at Blue Jays (Romero), 7:07
Diamondbacks (Saunders) at Marlins (Zambrano), 7:10
Astros (Rodriguez) at Reds (Leake), 7:10
Pirates (Burnett) at Braves (Hanson), 7:35
Rays (Shields) at Rangers (Harrison), 8:05
Red Sox (Bard) at White Sox (Danks), 8:10
Royals (Teaford) at Twins (Pavano), 8:10
Brewers (Gallardo) at Cardinals (Westbrook), 8:15
Mets (Schwinden) at Rockies (Pomeranz), 8:40
Nationals (Detwiler) at Dodgers (Kershaw), 10:10
Padres (Luebke) at Giants (Hacker), 10:15

Pitching Primer, which previews the day’s pitching probables, is a regular feature on Rant Sports. It paint’s a picture of America’s Pastime’s potentially perfect matchups. If you’ve got a pedigree of predicting future aces, take pride in your penchant for pitching or have a poetic prose, please leave a comment. Pitching Primer is posted practically every morning by Tom Froemming, but he‘s no perfectionist. Plus, days off are primarily provided so the “p” on his keyboard can have a break.

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