MIAMI -- Had he submitted one last dominant outing Tuesday, R.A. Dickey could have pushed the National League Cy Young award out of anyone else's reach. Instead, Dickey gave up three runs in six innings, not necessarily damaging his credentials but leaving the door open for others to catch him. He revealed afterward that he has been pitching since April with a torn right abdominal muscle.
Through 161 games, four Cy Young contenders have emerged ahead of the pack. They may not all find themselves on every ballot (more on that later), but they are the four who have generated the most buzz. They all deserve their due consideration:
R.A. Dickey, Mets
Resume: 20-6, 2.73 ERA, 230 strikeouts. Done for the season.
His incredible narrative aside, Dickey has been the Cy Young favorite for most of September on his statistical merits alone. He spent much of the month as the only NL pitcher to rank in the top three in ERA, wins and strikeouts, building a legitimate case to become the Mets' first Cy winner since Dwight Gooden in 1985.
But he is still at risk. While Dickey ranks second in the league in ERA, second in wins and first in strikeouts, he is not yet an obvious winner. The strongest argument for Dickey revolves around his league-leading innings pitched and strikeout totals.
Fans can support Dickey's Cy Young campaign by tweeting #RA4CY and visiting the Mets' fan forum, where they can voice their opinions.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Resume: 13-9, 2.58 ERA, 221 strikeouts with one start remaining.
Diligent voters will watch carefully when Kershaw makes his final start of the season Wednesday in Los Angeles. A hip injury transformed Kershaw into a Cy Young afterthought until last Friday, when he struck out 10 over eight scoreless innings. Now, he is streaking.
The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner, Kershaw leads the circuit in ERA and is the only candidate with a chance to amass more strikeouts than Dickey. He could finish as the NL's unanimous leader in Wins Above Replacement, a catch-all statistic designed to determine a player's overall worth, while also leading Dickey in strikeout rate and opponents' batting average.
The one blemish on Kershaw's resume, his 13-9 record, is of far less importance to voters than it was a decade ago. That means a strong start could push Kershaw over the edge.
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
Resume: 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 207 strikeouts. Done for the regular season.
Upon clinching the NL East title on Monday, the Nationals decided to skip Gonzalez's final start, bolstering their chances at a deep playoff run while simultaneously exacerbating the main flaw of his candidacy. The primary argument against Gonzalez revolves around innings pitched -- specifically, the fact that he doesn't have enough of them.
The pro-Gonzalez crowd cites his league-leading strikeout rate and his top-ranked FIP, a sabermetric measure designed to remove team defense from the equation. Gonzalez also leads the league with 21 wins.
But the lefty does not rank even close to the top of the leaderboard in innings and strikeouts, historically two of the most important categories in Cy races. And his ERA cannot compare to that of Dickey or Kershaw. Simply put, while Gonzalez has constructed a standout season and developed into an ace-type pitcher, his Cy Young candidacy has taken on water.
Craig Kimbrel, Braves
Resume: 42 saves, 1.02 ERA, 113 strikeouts. One game remaining.
In his sophomore season, Kimbrel submitted one of the finest relief campaigns of any NL pitcher in years -- arguably the best since Los Angeles' Eric Gagne won the Cy Young in 2003. But sabermetric thinking has gained significantly more traction among voters since then, and Kimbrel lacks in the one category that most modern voters consider crucial: innings pitched.
Kimbrel will finish this season with less than a third as many innings as Dickey, Kershaw and Gonzalez, severely limiting his value. Though many voters will still reward him for his 1.02 ERA, 0.65 WHIP and 42 saves in 45 chances, it's also possible that some could leave him off altogether. The Cy Young ballot is only five spots long.