By Cliff Corcoran
July 26, 2010

The unthinkable has happened: Ubaldo Jimenez has fallen from his perch atop the list of National League Cy Young contenders. With that, the races for the top pitching honor in both leagues have tightened up. In both cases, year-long consistency is trumping partial-season dominance, but only because of the handsome, voter-pleasing win totals born from that consistency.

NOTE: All stats through Sunday, July 25; League leaders in bold, major league leaders in bold and italics. The number in parenthesis after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list.

1. Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (4)

Season Stats: 14-5, 1.94 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.78 K/BB, 4 CG

Last Five Starts: 4-0, 0.25 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 4.14 K/BB, 1 CG

Wainwright has allowed just one run in his last five starts (though Tony La Russa's typical overmanaging kept him from completing seven innings in three of them) and has not allowed an earned run in five of his last seven. After giving up two runs in seven innings in his first start of the year, Wainwright's ERA sat at 2.57; that was the only time all year it has been above 2.50. Wainwright reportedly picked up Tim Lincecum's changeup grip from the Giants ace at the All-Star game and has already started using it in games. In two starts since returning from the All-Star break, Wainwright has yet to allow a run in 12 innings while walking just one against nine strikeouts and pushing his ERA back below 2.00.

2. Josh Johnson, RHP, Marlins (2)

Season Stats: 10-3, 1.61 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 4.86 K/BB, 1 CG

Last Five Starts: 2-1, 1.05 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 14.33 K/BB

In his last 13 starts, Johnson has allowed as many as two runs in a game just once, posting a 0.79 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and 7.23 K/BB over that stretch. By comparison, after his first 13 starts this season, Ubaldo Jimenez had a 1.16 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 2.47 K/BB. In other words, as great as Jimenez was to start the season, Johnson's current stretch of dominance has been both better and longer. Since lasting just five innings in each of his first two starts this season, Johnson has run off a streak of 18 straight quality starts. Jimenez has made "just" 15 quality starts all season. Jimenez has the superior record due largely to superior run support, but there should be no doubt which pitcher is having the better season.

3. Roy Halladay, RHP, Phillies (3)

Season Stats: 11-8, 2.28 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.8 K/9, 7.00 K/BB, 7 CG, 3 SHO

Last Five Starts: 2-2, 2.25 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 12.67 K/BB, 2 CG

Halladay hasn't strung together more than four quality starts at any point this season, but when he's good, he's so good it's easy to forgive those occasional stinkers. For example, in one of his last four starts, Halladay gave up six runs in six innings at Wrigley Field. In the other three he allowed a total of one run in 26 innings, striking out 25 against three walks. Amazingly, he only earned the win in two of those three starts as it took the Phillies 11 innings to pull out a 1-0 win against Travis Wood and the Reds on July 10.

4. Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Rockies (1)

Season Stats:15-2, 2.75 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 2.18 K/BB, 3 CG, 2 SHO

Last Five Starts: 2-1, 7.24 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 1.32 K/BB

After opening the season with 14 straight quality starts and a 1.15 ERA, Jimenez has turned in just one more in his last six starts, posting a 7.64 ERA over that recent span while thrice seeing his runs allowed exceed his innings pitched. Jimenez has experienced some correction on balls in play of late. Through those first 14 starts, his opponents' BABIP was an abnormally low .245, but it has returned to a conventional .300 over those last six starts. That was to be expected. More troubling has been the fact that Jimenez has lost the strike zone. After walking 3.0 men per nine innings in his first 15 starts, he has walked 6.3 per nine in his last five. The root of the problem seems to be that Jimenez's mechanics have broken down. It's typical stuff -- his back side is collapsing and he's flying open -- but a month has gone by without a successful adjustment being made, and his last start, a two-inning disaster in Philadelphia that saw him walk six, was his worst yet. His white-hot start and the Rockies' offense are keeping him afloat in this race, but unless he can fix the problem soon, he'll have gone form sure-thing, to off-the-list with alarming speed.

5. Mat Latos, RHP, Padres (N/A)

Season Stats: 11-4, 2.48 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8.5 K/9, 3.53 K/BB, 1 SHO

Last Five Starts: 4-0, 0.80 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 3.89 K/BB

Given that the Padres have led the NL West since late April due almost entirely to their pitching, it's about time that a Padres pitcher made this list. Latos, who pitched one inning too many last year to retain his rookie status this season, has quickly emerged as the San Diego ace at the tender age of 22. In 14 starts since May 1, he has gone 10-2 with a 1.66 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, and more than a strikeout per inning, allowing as many as three runs in a start just once. He's been extremely hit-lucky, with opponents hitting just .225 on balls in play over that span, but he hasn't been terribly reliant on his pitching-friendly home ballpark. Just five of those last 14 starts have come at Petco, and in the nine road starts he has gone 7-1 with a 1.36 ERA. Latos is unlikely to get much higher on this list due not only to a likely change in his luck on balls in play but because the Padres are going to limit his innings, as with his recent phantom sneeze-induced disabled list stay, to make sure he remains a Cy Young contender for years to come.

Off the list:Chris Carpenter (5)

1. David Price, LHP, Rays (1)

Season Stats:13-5, 2.90 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.12 K/BB, 2 CG

Last Five Starts: 3-2, 4.03 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 2.50 K/BB

Price has been a model of consistency this season. He has allowed more than three earned runs just twice in 19 starts and completed at least five innings every time he has taken the ball. He's also earned a decision in all but one of his starts, which, combined with his average 5.58 runs of support, has given him the league-lead in wins. The Rays offense has only had to bail him out one time all year. In fact, the reverse is often true: Prior to his post All-Star break stinker against the Yankees, the Rays had scored a total of seven runs in Price's four losses. Price hasn't had any overwhelmingly dominant stretches this season, but to this point, slow and steady continues to win this race.

2. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox (4)

Season Stats: 11-5, 2.92 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.98 K/BB, 2 CG

Last Five Starts: 3-2, 2.63 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 9.8 K/9, 5.13 K/BB, 1 CG

When Lester took a perfect game into the sixth inning against the Mariners Saturday night, he looked ready to leap to the top of this list, but his struggles after Boston's Eric Patterson dropped the second out of that inning in center field kept Price in the top spot for one more week. Suddenly Lester is 0-2 with a 4.02 ERA in his last two starts, which has put a drag on his race up the charts, which had been fueled by his 11-1, 1.90 ERA performance over his previous 15 appearances. As evidenced by the fact that Patterson was starting in center field Saturday night, the Red Sox' woes (6-11 since July 4 with just 4.11 runs scored per game on the month) seem to be catching up with Lester, who has received three total runs of support in those last two losses while surrendering an unearned run in each after allowing just one unearned run in his previous 18 starts.

3. CC Sabathia, LHP, Yankees (N/A)

Season Stats:13-3, 3.18 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 7.4 K/9, 2.43 K/BB, 2 CG

Last Five Starts: 4-0, 2.25 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 2.14 K/BB

In eight starts from June 3 to July 11, Sabathia went 8-0 with a 1.81 ERA, launching himself into the Cy Young picture. The Yankees haven't lost one of his starts since May 29, and Sabathia is 9-0 in his 10 starts since then and is just now getting to the point of the season where he has been dominant in recent years. In 2008, he went 11-2 with a 1.65 ERA, seven complete games, and three shutouts after being acquired by the Brewers in early July, and in 2009, he went 8-0 with a 1.62 ERA in his 10 straight starts from August 8 to September 26. The likelihood of another run of second-half dominance, which would surely result in Sabathia's first 20-win season, makes CC a major contender for the award he previously won in 2007.

4. Cliff Lee, LHP, Rangers (3)

Season Stats: 9-4, 2.56 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, 14.43 K/BB, 6 CG

Last Five Starts: 3-1, 2.91 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 8.33 K/BB, 2 CG

Lee has completed nine innings in six of his last nine starts (though only five counted as complete games), has failed to complete eight innings just four times in 16 starts this season and has yet to exit a game before recording the first out of the seventh inning. Since May 28, he has gone 7-2 with a 2.22 ERA in 11 starts and failed to complete the eighth just once. Since June 7, he has walked three men in 77 1/3 innings. It's bad news for the other men on this list that he wasn't traded to the other league. Curiously, in his last three starts for the Mariners before being traded on July 9, Lee received 23 runs of support and went 3-0, while in his first three starts for the Rangers he has received a total of six runs off support and gone 1-1. Still, one has to imaging that moving from a team that has scored just 3.33 runs per game this season to one that has scored more than five runs per game is only going to help his candidacy in the long run.

5. Carl Pavano, RHP, Twins (N/A)

Season Stats: 12-6, 3.26 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 5.1 K/9, 4.26 K/BB, 5 CG, 2 SHO

Last Five Starts: 3-0, 3.05 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 5.2 K/9, 5.50 K/BB, 2 CG, 1 SHO

Indians fans aren't going to be any more upset about seeing Lee and Sabathia on this list than they were when those two faced each other in the World Series last year, but Yankee fans (and players and executives, for that matter) who scroll down to find Pavano here just might lose their lunch. From June 30, 2005 to August 20, 2008, the bulk of his four-year, $39.95 million contract with the Yankees, Pavano made exactly two major league starts, prompting his teammates to publicly question his commitment to returning from an almost comical string of injuries. Indeed, Pavano's return in late 2008 seemed all too perfectly timed to land him a new contract. In a little more than a year and a half since leaving the Yankees, Pavano has made 53 of 54 scheduled starts. This year, Pavano is third in the AL in innings (less than a full frame behind notorious workhorse Sabathia), quality starts, and wins, second in WHIP, complete games, and walks per nine innings (1.2), and first in shutouts. Since June 9, he has gone 7-0 with a 2.40 ERA in nine starts with four complete games and two shutouts while walking just eight men in 71 1/3 innings. He's been extremely fortunate on balls in play over that span (.203 BABIP), which suggests that someone else will be in this spot three weeks from now (Felix Hernandez, perhaps?), but for now, it's hard to argue against Pavano.

Off the list:Andy Pettitte (2), Jered Weaver (5)

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