My ballot: American League Cy Young

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Later today the Baseball Writers Association of America will announce their choice for AL Cy Young, but first here’s how my ballot would look:
1. Zack Greinke, Kansas City
2. Felix Hernandez, Seattle
3. Roy Halladay, Toronto
4. Justin Verlander, Detroit
5. CC Sabathia, New York
Zack Greinke was the best pitcher in the American League this season, but because some people misguidedly still focus on win-loss records to evaluate such things you can blame his Royals teammates when it’s not a unanimous vote.
Greinke’s league-leading 2.16 ERA is the AL’s lowest since Pedro Martinez in 2000, and over the past 20 years only Martinez and Roger Clemens have a better mark. Greinke also ranked among the league’s top three in opponents’ batting average, OPS against, strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, complete games, and shutouts while throwing 229 innings, so the fact that he was “only” 16-8 with little offensive, defensive, or bullpen support from a team that was 49-89 when he didn’t get the decision is hardly important.
Consider that in his losses and no-decisions Greinke went 0-8 in 17 starts despite posting a 3.34 ERA that would have ranked fourth in the league ahead of CC Sabathia at 3.37 and Justin Verlander at 3.45. He lost twice when giving up one run and got stuck with no-decisions six times when he allowed two or fewer runs, including once when he tossed seven shutout innings. Give him better teammates and Greinke wins 20 games, but that doesn’t change how well he pitched.
In many seasons Felix Hernandez’s performance would have been worthy of the award, because 239 innings of a 2.49 ERA is damn impressive. However, he allowed 17 more runs than Greinke in just nine more innings, and also benefited from a vastly superior defense and pitcher-friendly ballpark. Roy Halladay also had a Cy Young-caliber season with a 2.79 ERA in 239 innings, and then there’s a pretty clear gap between the Greinke-Hernandez-Halladay trio and the next tier that includes Verlander and Sabathia.
Or at least there should be. In terms of runs saved compared to a replacement-level pitcher–that is, the caliber of arms readily available at Triple-A–Greinke was worth 88 runs, followed by Hernandez at 75 and Halladay at 74. Verlander was fourth at 61, with Sabathia and Jon Lester tied for fifth at 55. When the actual ballots are revealed later today there’s no doubt that Verlander and Sabathia will claim plenty of top-three votes, but that has far more to do with their 19 wins than their actual pitching.

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’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.