MLB.com Columnist

Anthony Castrovince

Sizing up MLB's dark-horse award candidates

Hendricks, Duffy state Cy Young Award cases; Seager, Ortiz in MVP Award mix

Sizing up MLB's dark-horse award candidates

Now that Zach Britton finally took the bold step of giving up an earned run this week, we can probably pump the brakes on the "a reliever might win the Cy Young Award!" chatter.

But there are still plenty of interesting award-related storylines up for discussion as we storm into the final month of the season. Here are a handful:

That other Cub and the National League Cy Young Award
The best ERA and the best adjusted ERA+ on the Cubs belongs not to Jake Arrieta and not to Jon Lester, but to Kyle Hendricks, by a decent margin. Hendricks leads the Majors in both marks with a 2.19 ERA and a 184 ERA+, or 84 percent better than league average. Arrieta is at 2.62 and 154, while Lester is at 2.81 and 144.

And Hendricks has the workload, with 25 appearances and 152 innings. He's got the second-best WHIP in the NL (1.00), trailing only the Nationals' Max Scherzer. Hendricks also has the second-best OPS against (.590), trailing only Arrieta.

Aside from name recognition, there is no reason to consider Hendricks any less a candidate for the NL Cy Young Award than Arrieta and Lester. Who saw that coming?

Hendricks fans eight over six

Clayton Kershaw and the NL Cy Young Award
Kershaw will not win his fourth NL Cy Young Award in 2016, given the very obvious fact that he hasn't thrown a pitch for the Dodgers in two months. But it's still worth pointing out that he was finally just passed in Wins Above Replacement among NL pitchers by Scherzer on Thursday night, exactly 60 days after his most recent pitch. And there is increased optimism in recent days that Kershaw will be able to make it back to the L.A. rotation.

So maybe if Kershaw comes back effective, he can at least put himself in better position for what would be his sixth consecutive top-three finish in the voting.

Kershaw sits at 121 innings pitched. The fewest innings for a Cy Young Award-winning starter in a non-strike year? That would be the 198 1/3 innings tossed by -- you guessed it -- Kershaw in 2014.

Kershaw strikes out eight in win

Danny Duffy and the American League Cy Young Award
This is another case of workload working against a player. But talk about making up for lost time.

Duffy began the year in Kansas City's bullpen and didn't join the rotation until May 15. But he's been outstanding as a starter, compiling an 11-1 record, a 2.61 ERA, a 0.98 WHIP and 126 strikeouts against 24 walks in 120 2/3 innings. For the year, Duffy's 2.66 ERA, 165 ERA+ and 1.01 WHIP (in 138 2/3 innings) are all the best in the AL. And with no clear-cut favorite in a crowded AL field, it could be that Duffy's rate stats more than make up for his relatively low inning total.

Again, there is precedent via Kershaw's '14 campaign.

Duffy's strong start

Corey Seager and the NL MVP Award
There is a very, very good chance this award will go to a Cub (Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo). But if those guys split votes as a result of their crazy close stats, there's a lane for the young Seager to sneak through. He's been instrumental in the Dodgers' push for the postseason without Kershaw, making him a near-lock for the NL Rookie of the Year Award and a plausible NL MVP Award candidate.

The only players to win the Rookie of the Year Award and the MVP Award in the same season were Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001).

Seager's milestone two-run homer

Gary Sanchez and the AL Rookie of the Year Award
Detroit's Michael Fulmer (10-4, 2.58 ERA) and Cleveland's Tyler Naquin (34 extra-base hits, .942 OPS) remain the top candidates. But is Sanchez possibly sneaking into the top three with this late-season Ruthian homer binge? He's got nine of them in his first 49 at-bats. It's not bloody likely, but if Sanchez can keep up something resembling that pace the next few weeks and finish in 20-homer territory, he'd get some high-ballot love.

For the record, the latest a Rookie of the Year Award winner was promoted and stuck was July 30 (Willie McCovey, 1959). Sanchez appeared in two games last year and one on May 13 of this year, but he arrived for good on Aug. 3.

Sanchez's solo home run

David Ortiz and the AL MVP Award
Spoiler: Big Papi is not going to win the AL MVP Award. Defensive metrics are given careful consideration these days, and his own teammate, Mookie Betts, has the stronger all-around case.

But look around the AL field, taking particular note of the lack of viable pitcher candidates to crowd the top of ballots, toss in a little end-of-career sentiment, and there's legit reason to believe that if Ortiz finishes strong, he could wind up in the top five, in his age-40 season and in his final year. Which, historically speaking, would be pretty remarkable. Dave Winfield did play the 1992 season with the Blue Jays at age 40 and finished fifth in the AL MVP Award vote. But a position player finishing in the top five in his send-off season? That, like so much else associated with Big Papi, would be unique.

Before you ask, Barry Bonds was 40 when awarded his seventh and final NL MVP Award in 2004, but that was considered his age-39 season because he was born in late July. June 30 is the cutoff.

Papi hits 30th home run

Mike Trout and the AL MVP Award
Trout is going to get shut out of October again, and that is the primary reason to suspect he'll get shut out of the AL MVP Award again, too.

But for the fifth straight year, Trout is leading all of his league's position players in Baseball Reference's Wins Above Replacement. In the time since they began handing out the MVP Award as we know it in 1931, that has happened only three times -- Mickey Mantle (1955-59) and Willie Mays (1962-66) did it five straight seasons, and Albert Pujols did it six straight (2005-10). Might as well note that none of those players did it before their age-25 season, as Trout is on the verge of doing.

Trout, Pujols go back-to-back

Not that voters were relying on WAR, even in Pujols' prime, but in those spans, Pujols won three MVP Awards, Mantle won two and Mays, like Trout, won just one. So as much as we compare Trout to Mantle, Mays might be the more appropriate comp in this particular case. Like Trout, his teams reached the postseason just once in that five-year run.

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.