Awards Watch: Hernandez, Wainwright grab Cy Young race leads

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The Cy Young races are heating up coming out of the All-Star break. Both leagues feature a new leader and a fast-gaining challenger (and perennial contender) making his first appearance in the top-five after missing a month due to injury in the first half.

Note: All stats are through the All-Star break. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parentheses after a player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

American League

1. Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (2)

Season Stats: 11-2, 2.12 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 6.16 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 177 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 4.33 K/BB, 8.0 IP/GS

Over his last 11 starts Hernandez has gone 7-1 with a 1.48 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 7.23 strikeout-to-walk ratio and just shy of 10 strikeouts per nine innings. In all 11 of those outings he pitched at least seven innings and allowed no more than two runs. No other American League pitcher has had 10 such starts on the entire season. Hernandez has 14 for the year, second in the majors to the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright.

2. Masahiro Tanaka, RHP, Yankees (1)

Season Stats: 12-4, 2.51 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 7.11 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 159 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-2, 4.37 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 6.4 K/9, 8.00 K/BB, 7.6 IP/GS, 1 CG

Tanaka had fallen behind Hernandez even before he was diagnosed with a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow that landed him on the disabled list. He has been advised to try to allow the ligament to heal without surgery through platelet-rich plasma injections, rest and rehabilitation, but Tommy John surgery remains a high likelihood. That would not only eliminate Tanaka from this year’s race, but also next year’s as well. As it is, even a month on the DL could kill his chances, but this list is based on performance to this point in the season, not a projection of future performance or availability.

3. Chris Sale, LHP, White Sox

Season Stats: 8-1, 2.08 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 6.38 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 2 CG, 193 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 1.52 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 4.80 K/BB, 7.9 IP/GS, 1 CG

Sale, who missed a month of the first half with a flexor strain in his pitching elbow, reached the All-Star break one inning shy of qualifying for the ERA title. If he qualified now, he’d lead the league in ERA, WHIP and ERA+, besting Hernandez in all three. However, Hernandez has thrown 144 1/3 innings to Sale’s 95, a whopping 52 percent more. So at least for now, Sale is no real threat to the leader.

Sale's 14 starts this season, however, have been as good as Hernandez’s last 14 (totaling 98 innings). In those starts, Hernandez posted a 1.93 ERA, 0.87 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 and 6.73 K/B while averaging 7.5 innings per start. Adjust for the pair’s disparate ballparks (Chicago’s favoring hitters, Seattle’s favoring pitchers) and that’s a neck-and neck comparison. Sale’s deficit in innings may prove insurmountable in this race, but with Tanaka down, Sale appears to be Hernandez’s principal rival.

4. Scott Kazmir, LHP, A’s (3)

Season Stats: 11-3, 2.38 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 1 CG, 158 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-0, 0.93 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 11.2 K/9, 4.00 K/BB, 6.4 IP/GS

Three weeks ago I wrote that Kazmir had just two blots on his otherwise sparkling season: a May 17 game in Cleveland, in which he was ejected in the second inning for arguing balls and strikes, and his “homecoming” in Queens on June 24, in which he was lit up by the Mets -- the team that drafted him and regrettably traded him away -- for seven runs in three innings. Those remain the only mistakes on his record heading into the second half, as his Last Three Weeks line above can attest. They’re also a large reason for his significant home/road split: Kazmir’s 3.15 road ERA drops to 2.10 in nine starts if you take those two aforementioned starts away. That 2.10 ERA is still well above his 1.57 in eight home starts, a mark aided by significant fortune on balls in play, but it’s further proof that Kazmir has been a remarkably consistent pitcher this season with those two rather colorful exceptions.

5. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox

Season Stats: 9-7, 2.65 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 4.62 K/BB, 6.8 IP/GS, 150 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 1-0, 0.39 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 12.50 K/BB, 7.7 IP/GS

Call it a contract drive if you want, but after posting a 1.01 ERA over his last six starts, Lester’s season rate stats are almost all career bests. Also a career-high for the free-agent-to-be: his 12 unearned runs, which keep him from ranking higher on this list. Despite the sparkling ERA above, he has actually allowed 3.49 runs per nine innings on the season.

Off the list: Dallas Keuchel, Yu Darvish

​National League

1. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (2)

Season Stats: 12-4, 1.83 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 4.26 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 201 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 0.91 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 2.83 K/BB, 7.4 IP/GS, 1 CG

Wainwright has had nine starts this season of seven or more innings in which he has not allowed a run. If he adds just two more in the second half, he’ll be one of only 10 pitchers in the last 100 years to have 11 such games in a single season. As it stands, he’s one of just five pitchers to have nine such games in a season this century. The other four: Pedro Martinez in 2000, Roy Halladay in 2010, Cliff Lee in 2011 and Clayton Kershaw last year; only Lee, who had 11 such games that season, surpassed Wainwright’s first-half total (Lee was also the only one of those four not to win his league’s Cy Young award in that year).

On the flip side, Wainwright has failed to complete seven innings or allowed more than two runs in just three of his 19 starts, which made it all the more remarkable that he gave up three runs in the first inning of the All-Star Game on Tuesday. The Cardinals hope he got that out of his system; prior to the Midsummer Classic, Wainwright hadn’t allowed that many runs in a start since May.

2. Johnny Cueto, RHP, Reds (1)

Season Stats: 10-6, 2.13 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 4.03 K/BB, 7.2 IP/GS, 3 CG, 2 SHO, 175 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-1, 3.25 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.75 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS

All but two of Cueto's 20 starts this season have been quality, but he's been trending in the wrong direction. Seven of his top nine Game Scores this season were from among his first nine starts, while his seven worst have all come from the last 11. That’s not to say that Cueto hasn’t continued to pitch like an ace. In fact, he hit the break having turned in seven straight quality starts and his ERA in his last 10 outings is 2.44. He’s no longer keeping pace with Wainwright, however, and falls out of the top spot on this list for the first time this season as we head into the second half.

3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP, Dodgers

Season Stats: 11-2, 1.78 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 11.8 K/9, 9.69 K/BB, 6.9 IP/GS, 3 CG, 1 SHO, 200 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-0, 0.38 ERA, 0.58 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, 8.00 K/BB, 8.0 IP/GS, 1 CG

Much like Sale in the AL, Kershaw, who missed all of April with a back injury, is two outs shy of qualifying for the ERA title. If he qualified, Kershaw would lead the majors in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts per nine innings and the NL in strikeout-to-walk ratio and fewest walks per nine innings. Despite all of that, Kershaw ranks third here because Cueto and Wainwright have thrown 49 and 43 percent more innings than he has, respectively.

What’s particularly compelling about Kershaw's and Sale’s candidacies is that only one starting pitcher has ever won a Cy Young award in a non-strike year for a season in which he threw fewer than 200 innings: the Cubs' Rick Sutcliffe, who won the NL award in 1984 after being traded from the AL's Cleveland Indians in mid-June. Sutcliffe threw 244 2/3 innings on the season, but just 150 1/3 of them in the NL. Kershaw, if he maintains his 6.9 innings per start on the season and starts every fifth Dodgers game the rest of the way, beginning with his next scheduled start on Sunday, would throw just 186 innings this season. Sale, who will next start on Monday, would throw just 183 1/3. Wainwright, by comparison, is on pace for 233 innings on the season, still 25 percent more than Kershaw’s projected total. That makes Kershaw a long shot for this award, no matter how well he pitches, as he’d likely have to be at least 25 percent better than any other pitcher in the league to win his third Cy Young in the past four seasons.

4. Julio Teheran, RHP, Braves (3)

Season Stats: 9-6, 2.71 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 3.87 K/BB,6.8 K/9, 2 SHO, 135 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 3-1, 4.07 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 8.1 K/9, 3.14 K/BB, 6.1 IP/GS

Teheran had just two non-quality starts in his first 18 games this season, but finished the first half with two more and has now posted a 4.34 ERA over his last seven starts. An overcorrection on balls in play seems to have something to do with his change of fortune. In his first 13 starts he had a 1.89 ERA and his opponents hit .221 on balls in play. In his last seven starts he had that 4.34 ERA and his opponents have a .344 BABIP. His peripherals have been stronger in the more recent sample, however, so expect things to even out and for Teheran to continue to be a presence in this race.

5. Zack Greinke, RHP, Dodgers

Season Stats: 11-5, 2.73 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 5.77 K/BB, 6.2 IP/GS, 130 ERA+

Last Three Weeks: 2-1, 2.05 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 13.00 K/BB, 7.3 IP/GS

Greinke ascends to this list almost by default. Rotation-mate Josh Beckett hit the disabled list early last week, the Cubs traded Jason Hammel to the other league, Chicago's JakeArrieta hasn't reached 80 innings yet and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner went 1-3 with a 7.03 ERA in his last four starts before the break. That’s not to say that Greinke hasn’t pitched well: His results have been good and his peripherals have been outstanding, but his 3.42 ERA since the start of June wasn’t going to get him here without outside help. That said, the three starts captured in the Last Three Weeks numbers above represent his best three-start run since the end of April, and he struck out two of the three men he faced in the All-Star Game for good measure.

Off the list: Jason Hammel, Madison Bumgarner