When you take stock of the seasons put forth by the six finalists for the 2015 Cy Young Awards, it's not surprising at all that the voting by the Baseball Writers' Association of America figures to be close.
These marvelous pitchers all have a lot in common, after all.
First, there were the dominant starts they turned in, the likes of which we haven't seen from so many pitchers in a single season in quite some time. Then there's the charisma and leadership skills that enabled each ace to put his team on his back for extended periods of time.
And then there are the beards some of them wore. Those, like a host of stingy statistics we saw by the end of 2015, could often defy explanation.
Everything except maybe those curious facial-hair decisions will be sorted out tonight at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network, when the National League and American League Cy Young Awards are given out, with the results of the voting by the BBWAA being revealed.
The NL race, which could be one of the closest in history, comes down to a choice between a three-headed monster of Cubs right-hander Jake Arrieta and Dodgers teammates Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
In the AL, Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel might rate as a slight favorite over David Price -- who started the season with the Tigers and ended it with the Blue Jays -- and A's righty Sonny Gray.
It's fitting that the NL discussion begins with Kershaw, even though he's no shoo-in this time around. Kershaw won this award in 2011, '13 and last year. His '14 NL Cy Young Award was unanimous and went along with the NL MVP Award.
And while he's got stiffer competition in 2015, he's still got a great case. The Dodgers lefty went 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA, led the Major Leagues with 301 strikeouts and 232 2/3 innings, and posted a 0.88 WHIP that in most seasons would guarantee him the award.
"This kid is tremendous," said Don Mattingly, who managed Kershaw this year before departing Los Angeles for the Marlins. "This guy's an animal [in] the way he works, represents us, the game of baseball, himself. I mean, he's really a credit to the game."
But the same can be said for Greinke, who by some metrics had an even better year than his rotation buddy. Greinke, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2009 while with the Royals, went 19-3 to post the highest winning percentage (.864) of any MLB starter in '15, and he posted the lowest ERA in the game at 1.66. Add that to 200 strikeouts in 222 2/3 innings, an MLB-best 0.84 WHIP and a nice little 45 2/3-inning scoreless streak and you've got a major Cy Young Award contender.
"I just think he's doing what he always does," Mattingly said. "He throws the fastball to both sides of the plate, he's got the changeup, the slider when he needs it. He knows how he wants to attack every guy. There's not a guy that walks up there that he doesn't know how he wants to pitch him."
And then there's Arrieta, which only makes this vote even more confusing. The late-blooming Cubs righty showed occasional signs of brilliance in 2014 and then managed to keep it together for an entire breakout season, making him a strong candidate for his first Cy Young Award.
Arrieta led the Majors with 22 wins, only lost six decisions, and posted a 1.77 ERA that was second only to Greinke. Arrieta's second-half ERA of 0.75 was the lowest in Major League history, and he added 236 strikeouts in 229 innings, a 0.87 WHIP and a no-hitter against the Dodgers to his resume.
As Cubs skipper and NL Manager of the Year Award winner Joe Maddon explained, Arrieta also set an example for the rest of his team's young rotation on how a pitcher can transform his career by instilling a tireless work ethic.
"It's one thing to say, 'Boy, I'd like to do that,' and another thing to actually do it,'' Maddon said. "It's difficult. The self-discipline component in that is incredible. There are a lot of guys who'd like to be better than they are, but are they willing to put the work in to be better? Do they have that kind of self-discipline? That's what it really comes down to. I'm sure he'd be willing to share his secrets with anybody, but you have to be willing to put in the time.''
Voters undoubtedly had to put in a lot of time to select the NL Cy Young Award winner, and it doesn't get much easier in the AL.
Keuchel has flashy accolades, with a 20-8 record, 2.48 ERA, 216 strikeouts, and an AL-high 232 innings and 1.02 WHIP. He also didn't lose a single game at home, with a 15-0 record and a 1.46 ERA at Minute Maid Park. That helped power a very young Houston club to a surprising postseason run that many observers of the game didn't expect to happen so soon.
"We've got a number of good starting pitchers, but none have been as exceptional as Dallas," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said in October. "The way he goes about it, his preparation, and for those that haven't seen him throughout the year, I think his notoriety has grown. He's only gotten better along the way. … He's our ace. He's our guy."
Price started out as Detroit's guy, but when the Tigers fell out of the race, they flipped the impending free agent to Toronto. Price took the reins for a power-packed Blue Jays team and starred down the stretch, helping Toronto to the AL East title and a playoff run that ended two victories shy of the World Series.
Price, who won the AL Cy Young Award in 2012 while with Tampa Bay, went 18-5 overall with an AL-best 2.45 ERA and struck out 225 batters in 220 1/3 innings. Even more impressive was the fact that he went 9-1 with a 2.30 ERA and 87 strikeouts in 74 1/3 innings with the Blue Jays following a July 30 trade and that he helped galvanize Toronto's clubhouse with his veteran savvy and positive attitude.
"I didn't realize he was the fun-loving, outgoing guy that he is," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "From day one, it was like he had been here for years. He really fit in with the guys. He's a character. He's really one of the characters of the game once you get to know him. That's big. I mean, it's never easy being traded, you go to a new spot, but, like I said, it was like he had been here for years, and he fit right in."
As for Gray, the A's right-hander helped brighten what was otherwise a down year in Oakland. He went 14-7 with a 2.73 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 208 innings while posting a 1.08 WHIP. Given that his club finished last in the AL West, it was another solid steppingstone in an increasingly impressive young career.
"The stuff that he's managed to do, with our record and us losing a lot of games this year, has been tough," A's catcher Josh Phegley said. "He goes out there and puts together a performance every time he's on the mound, so he's right up there."
Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.