Padres ace Jake Peavy, who leads the National League in victories, strikeouts and ERA, has built an impressive case for what would be his first NL Cy Young Award, and first by a Padre since Mark Davis in 1989. Hoffman finished second to Arizona's Brandon Webb last year.
Peavy's campaign vaulted into the national picture when he struck out 16 Diamondbacks in a game on April 25. He was selected to start the NL All-Star Game after going 9-2 during the first half of the season. The right-hander won seven in a row from July 27-Sept. 1, and had 23-inning scoreless streak during that span.
Webb figures to be on the short list of candidates again, along with Brad Penny of the Dodgers, in a campaign that could swing one way or the other during the final three weeks of the regular season.
Last year, three relievers finished in the top eight in the voting, including Hoffman, Billy Wagner of the Mets and Takasi Saito of the Dodgers. Saito is having another impressive season this year, as the right-hander is 1-0 with a 1.26 ERA and has converted 37 of 40 save opportunities in 57 games.
A reliever faces an uphill battle to win the Cy Young Award, as only five times in the last 40 years has a non-starter claimed the NL Cy Young Award. Most recently, Eric Gagne won it as the Dodgers' closer in 2003. Other relievers who have won the NL Cy Young Award include Davis in 1989, Steve Bedrosian (Philadelphia, 1987), Bruce Sutter (Chicago, 1979) and Mike Marshall (Los Angeles, 1974).
The 32 voters on the NL Cy Young Award committee are required to file their ballots, listing the top three candidates in order, before the playoffs begin.
Here's a rundown of the candidates for the 2007 NL Cy Young Award:
Peavy, Padres: The right-hander is the NL's pitching triple crown leader with the most victories (16), best ERA (2.43) and most strikeouts (213) in the league. Peavy is also among the league leaders in no fewer than nine statistical categories, and is the staff ace on a team that is leading the Wild Card race.
Webb, Diamondbacks: Webb trails Peavy in most statistical categories, but not by an overwhelming margin. The defending Cy Young Award winner is the ace of the NL West leaders and leads the league in complete games, shutouts and innings. Webb's five consecutive starts (42 innings) without allowing an earned run late in the season helped Arizona move to the top of the division, but his 12 earned runs allowed in his last three starts (18 innings) doesn't help his case.
Penny, Dodgers: A key reason the Dodgers have hung around after losing Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf to injury, Penny's glittering record (15-4) and ERA (2.81) make this right-hander a serious candidate. In 17 of 30 starts, Penny has given up one earned run or less. If the Dodgers miss the playoffs, Penny will probably need to pass Peavy and Webb in several categories to walk away with the trophy.
Tim Hudson/John Smoltz, Braves: Both are having outstanding years and have put up similar numbers, but with the Braves falling off the pace, either would need a sensational finish or a collapse by the leaders to have any chance at catching them.
Carlos Zambrano, Cubs: Zambrano hasn't been as consistent as some of the other candidates, and ultimately he may prove to be the second-best Cy Young candidate on the Cubs' staff behind Ted Lilly. But Zambrano is among the league leaders in wins and innings, and after a poor start, the right-hander really got going, and his resurgence helped the Cubs climb into the playoff picture. A big finish, especially if it gets the Cubs in the playoffs, would likely be needed to get Zambrano into the top three.
Jeff Francis, Colorado; Tom Glavine, New York; Tom Gorzelanny, Pittsburgh; Cole Hamels, Philadelphia; Aaron Harang, Cincinnati; Roy Oswalt, Houston; Saito, Los Angeles.
Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.