This time, there are no hidden gems in the smackdown for the National League Cy Young Award, which on Thursday afternoon will likely be bestowed upon someone who was still busy in mid-October.
And that, oddly enough, will be a new twist. The past three trophies have gone to pitchers on non-playoff teams, two of them considerably below .500, including 2008 winner Tim Lincecum (15-7, 2.48 ERA, 261 K) of the Giants.
The present field doesn't have any members of also-ran rotations as compelling as the 2008 model Lincecum, who went 18-5 for a San Francisco team that was 50-78 in everyone else's starts and had 59 more strikeouts than anyone else in the league. Not even this year's Lincecum, whose numbers weren't as eye-popping -- although he definitely deserves a place back in the campaign. So, in 2009, the NL Cy Young Award will once again live up to its unofficial interpretation as MVP recognition for pitchers. That also means that the ballot race had to be as intense as were the pennant races -- in some instances even more down-to-the-wire. And occupying the pole is the last guy to take honors on the way to the postseason, the Cardinals' Chris Carpenter (17-4, 2.24, 144). Carp's platform, however, is somewhat weakened by in-house competition -- Adam Wainwright (19-8, 2.63, 212) -- which could open the door to someone like Javier Vazquez (15-10, 2.87, 238) or Josh Johnson (15-5, 3.23, 191) or ... ... Could someone from the mile-high Colorado Rockies actually bag a Cy Young? A fixture in the postseason throughout his career, Jason Marquis (15-13, 4.04, 115) won 15 games with a solid ERA, but the guy to whom we refer is left-hander Jorge De La Rosa (16-9, 4.38, 193) whose season noticeably paralleled that of his late-starting Rockies. Much has been made of the stunning way Carpenter has compensated for lost time. After winning his first start, Carpenter tore his left oblique muscle early in the second and sat until May 20. After that, he went 16-4. Impressive. Well, on June 4, the Rockies were 21-32 and De La Rosa's personal record was 0-6. At the time, Colorado was also in the NL West basement, trailing the Dodgers by 14 1/2 games (or, for a more practical reference, 9 1/2 games out in the Wild Card race). After that, De La Rosa went 16-3 (see Carpenter). And while we ponder who will win the NL Cy Young Award, here is something to be thankful for: That a reliever will not. Or, rather, that none has been dominant enough to be in contention, sparing everyone that philosophical argument of whether one-inning pitchers should rate an award bearing the name of a hurler who pitched 749 complete games. THE FAVORITES Chris Carpenter, Cardinals (17-4, 2.24, 144): There is more to the resilient 34-year-old's comeback than just those five lost weeks early this season, of course. He lost 2007-08 (total of 21 innings) to Tommy John surgery and a shoulder issue. The last time Carpenter returned from a lost season (a torn labrum kept him shelved for 2003), he nabbed a Cy Young Award in 2005. So, talk about karma. You can also talk about his 12-1 record after the end of June, and that he became the first St. Louis pitcher to lead the league in ERA in 21 years (Joe Magrane, 1988). Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (19-8, 2.63, 212): Yes, it is extremely rare for mound mates to co-lead the pack, but the league's top winner (19) with an ERA not too far behind that of Carpenter absolutely belongs. The Cards won 23 of Wainwright's 34 starts -- in 26 of which he allowed two runs or fewer. And here's a bizarre item to keep in mind: Should Wainwright prevail, it would make back-to-back Cy Young Award winners born on Aug. 30, coupled with Cleveland's Cliff Lee last year. THE CONTENDER Tim Lincecum, Giants (15-7, 2.48 ERA, 261): The Freak couldn't have done much more to defend his Cy Young Award status. He wound up with a comparable strikeout total and 16 fewer walks and a lower ERA than a year ago, although his record took a hit from the Giants' inability to hit consistently. Lincecum had no-decisions in three starts in which he allowed one run or none. Following their early-September match, Pedro Martinez said Lincecum "reminds me a little bit of me, but he's twice as good as me at this time of my career." THE DARKHORSES Javier Vazquez, Braves (15-10, 2.87, 238): At 33 and in his 12th season, a right-hander who has always flown under the radar came up with a career year for the tenacious Braves. He finished a few punchouts behind Lincecum, with a superior strikeouts-to-walks ratio. For whatever reason (the ill-fated 2004 detour to the Bronx probably had a lot to do with it), Vazquez has never gotten his due: 200-plus innings 10 straight seasons, 200-plus Ks in five. Some Cy Young Award love would exert some justice. Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies (16-9, 4.38, 193): How revolutionary is it to have him in the mix? In their first 16 years of existence, Rockies pitchers have gotten a total of five points in Cy Young Award voting (Marvin Freeman in 1994 and Jeff Francis in 2007). After the aforementioned June 4, the 28-year-old native of Mexico was a consistent and timely winner. Eight of his last 11 wins followed Colorado losses, including a mid-September gem that prevented the Giants from sweeping their way to within 1 1/2 games of the Wild Card lead, and another late in the month (over St. Louis) that kept the charging Braves from doing the same. The Field: Matt Cain (14-8, 2.89, 171) Giants; Johnson, Marlins; Dan Haren (14-10, 3.14, 223) D-backs.