MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

No clear favorite for AL Cy Young Award

Tight race will be decided over final two months of season

No clear favorite for AL Cy Young Award

There's no elegant way to put this, so let's just come out with it: The American League Cy Young Award race is a hot mess.

We don't have a clear knockout candidate or obvious A vs. B dilemma. Which means there are a bunch of equally deserving dudes. Which means a column like this, aiming to rank the potential recipients, is bound to upset one fan base or another.

Rogers: Tight NL Cy Young race centers on Nats duo

Thankfully, we've got the next eight weeks to provide more clarity here, but for now these are my top five:

1. Chris Sale, White Sox
14-5, 3.12 ERA, 21 starts, 147 IP, 143 K, 33 BB

Why, Chris? Why did you have to give up eight runs to the lowly Braves offense in your final start before the All-Star break? If we could remove that start from your ledger, we'd be able to -- ahem -- cut your ERA down to a league-best 2.73, and this little experiment would probably be a lot easier.

But look, I'm not going to hold the blowup against the Braves or, for that matter, the slicing and dicing of throwback jerseys affect my support of Sale's candidacy. He made a conscious effort to go deeper into games and has matched knuckleballer Steven Wright's league lead with four complete games this year. In a field this muddled, there is such a thing as using "legacy" as a tiebreaker, and this guy has four top-six finishes in the vote the past six years. This could and maybe should be the year he finally gets the top spot.

Sale strikes out 10

2. Cole Hamels, Rangers
12-4, 2.89 ERA, 23 starts, 146 1/3 IP, 144 K, 56 BB

Speaking of legacies, how about Hamels? The jump from the National League to the AL isn't supposed to be as easy as he's made it look the past year. Hamels never finished higher than fifth in the NL Cy Young Award vote, but he's got a really good shot at one in the Junior Circuit here in his age-32 season. He's got a sparkling 1.97 ERA on the road, and he's been terrific in the second half, with a 1.83 mark. Hamels could be trending toward the top spot, if he's not there already.

Hamels' solid start

3. Aaron Sanchez or J.A. Happ, Blue Jays
Sanchez: 11-2, 2.85 ERA, 145 1/3 IP, 121 K, 42 BB
Happ: 15-3, 3.09 ERA, 137 IP, 117 K, 41 BB

You like how I snuck six pitchers into a list of five? Oldest trick in the book.

We don't typically talk about Toronto's rotation being elite, but Sanchez, Happ and Marco Estrada have all been nails for them this year, and Sanchez and Happ have similar statistical cases for this award. You just wonder if the Blue Jays' new six-man setup in the rotation -- aimed at keeping Sanchez fresh -- will affect the candidacy of these two guys as an extension of its effect on their workloads.

But Sanchez is the AL's ERA leader, and, if you go back to last Aug. 1, when Happ joined the Pirates in a midseason trade, Happ has the fifth-best ERA (2.70) in baseball, trailing only Clayton Kershaw (1.68), Jake Arrieta (1.76), Madison Bumgarner (2.18) and Stephen Strasburg (2.51). You've got to give credit to both of these guys -- Sanchez for putting in the physical work to ensure he'd have staying power as a starter and Happ for making the mechanical adjustments that have allowed him to become one of the most effective lefties in the sport.

Sanchez escapes a jam

4. Corey Kluber, Indians
11-8, 3.22 ERA, 22 starts, 151 IP, 153 K, 34 BB

We should care very little about Kluber's pedestrian win-loss record and more about durability and dominance. Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, is third in the league in innings, fourth in strikeouts and second in WHIP (1.01), which means he's kept traffic to a minimum and blown through batting orders with regularity. He's also first in the AL in FanGraphs-calculated WAR (4.4) by a wide margin, and he's the most accomplished member of the AL's best starting staff. So the Klubot's got a really strong case.

Kluber's excellent start

5. Zach Britton, Orioles
34 saves, 0.58 ERA, 46 2/3 IP, 55 K, 13 BB

Honestly, part of me wanted to put Britton as No. 1 on this list. The rationale there would be that the starting group is so clustered with similarly deserving candidates that it might make sense to pivot to a guy who has arguably separated himself from the rest of the relief pack -- especially at a time when bullpens are so valued.

Alas, I chickened out, and I find it doubtful a reliever will win it (it hasn't happened since Eric Gagne in the NL in 2003 and Dennis Eckersley in the AL in 1992). But Britton has been basically untouchable this year.

Others of note: An alternate version of this column could put Wright, Rick Porcello or Chris Tillman not just in the top five but in the top spot and be statistically defensible. It's that kind of year, folks.

Britton fans three, earns save

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.