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Cy Young rankings: Alcantara fading while injuries make new race in AL

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Welcome to the fifth and final edition of theScore's 2022 Cy Young Rankings, where we pick the top five pitchers from each league. Let's take stock of the race in the AL and NL as the home stretch is upon us.

American League

5. Shane Bieber, Guardians

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173 1/3 2.91 2.83 178/35 1.06 +30000

Perhaps the other Shane - McClanahan - still deserves this spot thanks to his unbelievable strikeout stuff that effectively makes him a reliever who throws as much as a starter. However, the Tampa Bay Rays lefty hasn't pitched since Aug. 24 due to a shoulder injury, and Bieber has been so reliable for a surprisingly good Guardians team. Despite regressing by whiffs (his strikeout rate is down 15% from his 2020 Cy Young season), his 2.83 FIP still ranks fifth among qualified AL starters. That's thanks to a minuscule 5.1% walk rate and impressive 0.78 HR/9. He's likely benefiting from a bad division, and he clearly isn't the elite ace he once was - Baseball Savant indicates some troubling hard-hit rates - but he's getting it done for a first-place club.

4. Justin Verlander, Astros

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152 1.84 2.71 154/26 0.86 +100

Once considered a shoo-in for the award - a long overdue third Cy Young for the future Hall of Famer - Verlander's late-season injury has really hurt those chances. First off, the Astros have a huge lead in the AL West and likely don't want to rush their ace back from injury when him being healthy in October is much more important. That means the 39-year-old righty has a very good chance of not even finishing the season as a qualified starter, as he currently needs 10 more innings. That also means he'd be deprived of the ERA title, which he currently holds. An awful lot depends on the final couple of weeks for Verlander.

3. Kevin Gausman, Blue Jays

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152 1/3 3.31 2.29 179/24 1.25 +30000

Gausman, for some reason, continues to be overlooked, despite leading MLB by FIP all season long. The 3.31 ERA is certainly a blemish, and he's being held accountable for a ho-hum 12-9 record, which is essentially the same win-loss mark as Shohei Ohtani and Carlos Rodon. But that's more because he's been outrageously unlucky, with a league-worst .371 BABIP. To put that in perspective, the only other qualified starter with a BABIP over .330 is Patrick Corbin, who currently has a 6.30 ERA. Gausman is doing everything possible to help his team win, and he's doing it with an AL-best 7.46 strikeout-per-walk rate and 55 FIP-minus. The only qualified AL starters (min. 162 IP) to post a FIP-minus better than that since 2000 are Zack Greinke and Pedro Martinez. So, where is the appreciation for Gausman?

2. Shohei Ohtani, Angels

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141 2.55 2.51 188/35 1.06 +6000

Ohtani has leaped into the top tier of the AL Cy Young discussion partially thanks to injuries to others but mostly due to his own unbelievable dominance on the bump. His 12.00 K/9 this year ranks first among all qualified starters. Over his past seven starts, he's authored a 1.94 ERA while shutting down some pretty tough lineups, including the Astros twice and the Blue Jays once. At 141 innings, he's worked the least of any AL starter on this list, so he'll have to continue to finish strong. At this point, doubting Ohtani is certainly foolish.

1. Dylan Cease, White Sox

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162 2.06 2.96 206/66 1.07 -129

Cease has somewhat suddenly jumped to the forefront of Cy Young discussion, but he's definitely been hanging around all year. If the right-hander completed a no-hitter against the Minnesota Twins earlier this month - instead of surrendering a two-out single in the ninth and having to settle for a complete-game shutout - this race might be over. Like Bieber, though, Cease has benefited from some weak opponents, recently dominating the Athletics and Diamondbacks. That's not his fault, and he shouldn't be penalized for it, but it's worth noting since he got knocked around by the Orioles and Astros prior to that. The remaining schedule for the White Sox includes the Rockies, Guardians, Tigers, Twins, and Padres - so it could be relatively smooth sailing for the 26-year-old righty.

National League

5. Aaron Nola, Phillies

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179 1/3 3.31 2.64 202/24 0.97 +20000

Nola has finally put it all together. He's quietly been one of the sport's best starters and a huge reason why the Phillies find themselves in a playoff spot. He's eating innings and still striking batters out at a very good 28.6% clip - right near his career average. However, his new weapon has been refusing to walk anyone, leading the Senior Circuit with a 3.4% walk rate and suppressing hard contact, ranking in the 90th percentile. Considering Nola has had to put the team on his back since Zack Wheeler went down in late August, he should be getting more consideration down the stretch.

4. Max Fried, Braves

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169 1/3 2.50 2.62 155/28 1.01 +700

In his most recent outing, Fried did something unheard of for the 28-year-old lefty: allowed two homers. He went 26 starts this season allowing one homer or fewer before the Mariners somehow figured out how to barrel up the most barrel-averse pitcher in the game, who ranks in the 95th percentile. Considering he doesn't strike opponents out - at least compared to his contemporaries - Fried relies on generating weak contact to survive, and he does so better than anyone. Because he generates so few whiffs, though, it narrows his margin for error. He doesn't have a single double-digit strikeout game this year, while Nola, for instance, has five. That being said, Nola also has four contests where he's allowed two or more homers despite being one of the better pitchers at suppressing hard contact as well, demonstrating that Fried is a bit of a unicorn.

3. Edwin Diaz, Mets

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55 1.47 1.05 105/17 0.91 +10000

Cue the trumpets. Diaz is tantalizingly close to setting the all-time record for K/9 in a single season. He's currently at 17.18, so he'll need a strong finish to beat the record held by Aroldis Chapman, who posted a 17.67 mark in 2014. Both James Karinchak and Devin Williams tied that mark in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but Diaz has already worked twice as many innings as them. Interestingly, Chapman didn't get any Cy Young consideration back then, though he wouldn't have won against Clayton Kershaw's Triple Crown season anyways. If the Mets closer does set a new K/9 mark, expect him to have a legitimate shot at the Cy Young, despite being a reliever. The last time a reliever won the award was Eric Gagne's record-setting 2003 campaign, during which he went a perfect 55-for-55 in save opportunities.

2. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins

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203 2/3 2.43 3.11 181/48 1.02 -225

Alcantara is currently the only pitcher in baseball to eclipse the 200-inning mark and might very well still be the only one by season's end. A recent streak of rough starts, however, has hurt his chances of winning the NL Cy Young, even though he was considered a lock mere weeks ago. The 27-year-old right-hander has allowed three or more earned runs in three of his last five starts and has a 3.68 ERA since mid-July, his last 11 games. Because of that, Alcantara is no longer in position to win the NL ERA title, which is currently held by Julio Urias and his 2.30 mark. This might be why teams aren't pushing their starters so hard; the rigors of a full, 200-inning season are exceptionally difficult to manage in the contemporary era.

1. Carlos Rodon, Giants

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162 2/3 2.93 2.33 212/48 1.05 +12500

If Alcantara is fading out of first, then Rodon is the likeliest to win. The lefty leads the NL in FIP and strikeout rate, and, save for a rough stretch all the way back in May, has been otherworldly. Rodon has notched at least 10 Ks in four of his last five starts and eight of his previous 15. He is prone to getting shelled every once in a while, surrendering five runs in three of his most recent 10 outings. However, since Aug. 31, the two-time All-Star owns a 2.31 ERA, 2.14 FIP, and 64/9 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Considering he's auditioning as a pending free agent, he'll be looking to finish off his campaign very strong as well, despite the Giants not being in a playoff position.

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