MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Tight NL Cy Young race centers on Nats duo

Scherzer, Stras the favorites due to Dodgers' Kershaw being sidelined

Tight NL Cy Young race centers on Nats duo

Clayton Kershaw won his third National League Cy Young Award two years ago, in unanimous fashion. He was rolling toward another no-brainer selection until his back shut him down.

Now there's not a clear-cut front-runner, although like the NL Most Valuable Player Award race, the discussion centers on two teammates. This debate is about two Nationals, not two Cubs.

Castrovince: No clear favorite for AL Cy Young

The Stephen Strasburg /Max Scherzer argument harkens back to 2001 and '02, when Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling led the D-backs to one championship and then a 98-win season.

That accounted for two of the three times since 1969 that teammates finished first and second in Cy Young Award voting. The other was in 1974, when Dodgers closer Mike Marshall pitched 208 1/3 innings over 106 relief appearances to get the nod over 20-game winner Andy Messersmith.

The remaining eight weeks will determine this year's vote just as much as everything that's happened up until now. At least 10 pitchers can still win it. That includes Jake Arrieta, last year's winner.

But Arrieta would have to dominate in his last 10 starts to give himself a chance. Ditto guys like Kyle Hendricks, Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Johnny Cueto and Julio Teheran. Here's how my ballot would look if I filled it out today:

1. Scherzer, Nationals
He's arguably been the second-best pitcher in the Major Leagues the past four years, behind only Kershaw. Scherzer won an American League Cy Young Award for the Tigers in 2013, and he is 44-23 with a 2.94 ERA and 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in the three seasons since.

Scherzer is 12-6 with a 2.87 ERA in 156 2/3 innings. He leads the Major Leagues with 198 strikeouts, including a record-tying 20 against the Tigers on May 11. Manager Dusty Baker will have a tough choice to make when it's time to set up his postseason rotation, but I'd bet he keeps Scherzer in front of Strasburg, the way it was on Opening Day.

Must C: Scherzer strikes out 20

2. Strasburg, Nationals
Going by record alone, the 15-2 Strasburg would get the call over Scherzer. He could wind up as the NL's only 20-game winner, which would help his cause. But both workload and secondary stats like WHIP -- Strasburg's is 1.01; Scherzer, 0.93 -- have Strasburg a half-step behind his teammate.

Strasburg was 13-0 with a 2.51 ERA in his first 17 starts, but he has gone 2-2 with a 4.18 ERA in his past four, including Saturday's loss to the Giants. That's the type of slight swing that could wind up deciding a very tight race.

Strasburg strikes out eight

3. Kershaw, Dodgers
He's missed his past seven starts and seems likely to miss at least another four of five. But Kershaw did throw on Saturday, providing some hope he'll be able to contribute in September. Whether he does or doesn't, he belongs on the ballot somewhere, as he was having arguably his best season -- 11-2, 1.79 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 145 strikeouts against only nine walks.

Kershaw shuts down Harper

4. Madison Bumgarner, Giants
It's hard to believe that the guy who has owned October has never finished in the top three in the NL Cy Young Award voting. This could be the year.

Bumgarner leads the Major Leagues with 163 2/3 innings pitched. He's 10-7 with a 2.20 ERA, and his 181 strikeouts rank behind only Scherzer and the Marlins' Jose Fernandez. Other pitchers used the All-Star break to get some extra rest. Bumgarner started the first game after the break, on regular rest. He's a beast.

Bumgarner fans seven in eight

5. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
Hendricks would get the call here if I went with a fifth starter, but closers need love, too. While Jeurys Familia leads the NL with 39 saves, Jansen is outpitching him. He does have five blown saves, but he's got a 1.29 ERA and, more impressively, an 0.63 WHIP. Jansen's 67/7 strikeout-to-walk ratio speaks to his dominance.

Jansen strikes out the side

Phil Rogers is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.