Midseason AL Cy Young Award

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It was the easiest call of all of the awards when we looked back one-third of the way through the year, but things have tightened up a bit since, as Zack Greinke is no longer sporting a 1.10 ERA.

Here’s the top 10 in ERA:

1. Zack Greinke – 2.12 ERA in 127 1/3 IP
2. Edwin Jackson – 2.52 ERA in 121 2/3 IP
3. Felix Hernandez – 2.53 ERA in 124 2/3 IP
4. Roy Halladay – 2.85 ERA in 123 IP
5. Jarrod Washburn – 2.96 ERA in 112 1/3 IP
6. Nick Blackburn – 3.06 ERA in 123 1/3 IP
7. Dallas Braden – 3.12 ERA in 112 1/3 IP
8. Jered Weaver – 3.22 ERA in 120 1/3 IP
9. Josh Beckett – 3.35 ERA in 121 IP
10. Justin Verlander – 3.38 ERA in 122 1/3 IP

And the top 10 in VORP:

1. Zack Greinke – 45.5
2. Edwin Jackson – 39.9
3. Felix Hernandez – 39.3
4. Roy Halladay – 39.0
5. Cliff Lee – 34.3
6. Jered Weaver – 33.3
7. Jarrod Washburn – 32.8
8. Kevin Millwood – 31.7
9. Nick Blackburn – 29.9
10. Justin Verlander – 29.3

I think that VORP gives us a better list than ERA in this case,
particularly in the way that it separates the top four from the rest of
the pack.

Now let’s try to remove fielding from the equation with FIP:

1. Zack Greinke – 2.06
2. Justin Verlander – 2.69
3. Roy Halladay – 2.96
4. Felix Hernandez – 3.04
5. Jon Lester – 3.32
6. Cliff Lee – 3.34
7. Josh Beckett – 3.36
8. Dallas Braden – 3.44
9. Edwin Jackson – 3.52
10. Carl Pavano – 3.70

I don’t really trust FIP very much, but there’s a lot here that I
agree with. Verlander hasn’t been more valuable to the Tigers than
Jackson, but maybe he could have been under different circumstances.
Lester ran into a lot of tough luck early on, yet he’s pitching as well
as anyone in the league right now. Pavano… well, color me skeptical
about that one.

So, Greinke is still the clear No. 1, even though he has a 3.97 ERA
since the beginning of June. After that, it’s three pitchers for two
spots: Jackson, Hernandez and Halladay. Halladay has an advantage in
that he’s allowed just two unearned runs, compared to six apiece for
Jackson and King Felix. Halladay has also faced the tougher schedule:
his opposing batters have had a 761 OPS, compared to 756 for Jackson
and 749 for Hernandez. I think that gets him the second spot. The
remaining place on the ballot goes to Jackson. While FIP believes he’s
been helped a great deal by the players behind him, the Tigers aren’t
nearly as strong defensively as the Mariners or Blue Jays. He’s also
gotten less assistance from his bullpen.

AL Cy Young

1. Greinke
2. Halladay
3. Jackson

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
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After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.