MLB Award Watch: Top Five National League Cy Young Award Candidates

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MLB 2013: Top 5 National League Cy Young Candidates

Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports

When looking at National League Cy Young Award candidates at this time last year, certainly R.A. Dickey of the New York Mets was not at the top of most preseason watch lists. Even though he had pitched well in each of the previous two seasons, he had never had more than 11 wins in a season and the fickle nature of his primary pitch, the knuckleball, was enough to prevent him from being mentioned among the senior circuit’s best pitchers.

But Dickey put together an excellent campaign in 2012, winning 20 games with a 2.73 ERA over a career-high 233.2 innings (33 starts). He also led the National League in strikeouts (230), complete games (five) and shutouts (three), but the Mets wound up trading him to the Toronto Blue Jays in December after contract negotiations went nowhere.

Even with Dickey moving to the other league, there are plenty of candidates to take home the National League Cy Young Award in 2013. Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers won the award in 2011 and finished second to Dickey last season, so he moves to the forefront among contenders for this year.

But when putting together this list, I attempted to uncover candidates that have never won a Cy Young Award in their career and in some cases could come out of nowhere to take home the honor, much as Dickey did in 2012.

Without further ado, here are my top five candidates to win the National League Cy Young Award in 2013.

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5. Kris Medlen, SP, Atlanta Braves

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Medlen pitched exclusively out of the bullpen until July 31 last season as he worked his way back into form after Tommy John surgery. He was dominant in 12 starts at the end of the season, going 9-0 with a 0.97 ERA with 84 strikeouts and just 10 walks over 83.2 innings. Medlen only has 30 career major league starts under his belt, but control (1.5 BB/9 rate last season) and ability to induce ground balls (53 percent last season) should make the transition to full-time starter a smooth one for him. Even with some expected regression from what he did late last season, Medlen is in line to be a legit Cy Young contender in 2013.

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4. Johnny Cueto, SP, Cincinnati Reds

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Cueto put together the best season of his career last season, with a 19-9 record and a 2.78 ERA while setting career-highs in starts (33) and innings (217). He quickly recovered from an oblique injury that forced him to leave a playoff start, so that is not a concern heading into the season. Cueto finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2012, so he should be among the contenders again in 2013 as he enters his prime at age 27.

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3. Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee Brewers

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

There’s no denying Gallardo’s ability to dominate hitters, as he has over 200 strikeouts in four straight seasons, but he has to improve his control (3.5 career BB/9 rate) and limit home runs (26 allowed last season) to become one of the elite starters in the National League. If he can improve in one or both areas this season, Gallardo should be able to go deeper into games while also improving his ERA and win total. At age 27 by the time the season starts, we are looking at a pitcher that could be entering his best seasons.

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2. Stephen Strasburg, SP, Washington Nationals

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The Nationals made a lot of headlines with their plan to shut Strasburg down last season in his first full season after Tommy John surgery, but he enters 2013 with no such innings restriction. He had an excellent 2012 campaign, going 15-6 with a 3.16 ERA and 197 strikeouts over 159.1 innings (28 starts), which could have been even better if not for allowing five or more earned runs in three of his final eight starts. Without the looming specter and distraction of being shut down early, 2013 may be the year Strasburg takes the final step toward being one of the best pitchers in baseball for many years to come.

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1. Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco Giants

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Cain had another fine season in 2012, with a 16-5 record and a 2.79 ERA over 32 starts (219.1 innings). He has now pitched at least 200 innings and made at least 32 starts in six consecutive seasons, with an ERA below 3.00 in three of the last four seasons, yet somehow he has never finished higher than sixth in the National League Cy Young Award voting. 2013 should be the year that changes, and Cain will not only enter the season as a top candidate for the award, but is likely to keep himself in the conversation right to the end.