First-third awards: 2011 NL Cy Young

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Following up yesterday’s look at the AL Cy Young race one-third of the way through the season, here’s the rundown on the NL.

First, the top 10 starters by ERA:

1. Jair Jurrjens (Braves): 7-1, 1.51 ERA, 38/11 K/BB in 65.2 IP
2. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 3-1, 1.64 ERA, 56/20 K/BB in 60.1 IP
3. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals): 7-2, 2.13 ERA, 47/15 K/BB in 80.1 IP
4. Tim Lincecum (Giants): 5-4, 2.22 ERA, 79/24 K/BB in 77 IP
5. Charlie Morton (Pirates): 5-2, 2.51 ERA, 37/29 K/BB in 68 IP
6. Roy Halladay (Phillies): 7-3, 2.56 ERA, 91/13 K/BB in 91.1 IP
7. Anibal Sanchez (Marlins): 5-1, 2.57 ERA, 74/23 K/BB in 73.2 IP
8. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 6-3, 2.62 ERA, 87/24 K/BB in 79 IP
9. Tommy Hanson (Braves): 5-4, 2.80 ERA, 65/21 K/BB in 64.1 IP
10. Shaun Marcum (Brewers): 6-2, 2.80 ERA, 67/17 K/BB in 70.2 IP

That’s everyone in the NL with a sub-3.00 ERA to date. Cole Hamels is 11th at 3.01.

Moving on to the Baseball Reference version of WAR:

1. Roy Halladay (Phillies): 3.6
2. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals): 2.9
3. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2.8
4. Jair Jurrjens (Braves): 2.6
5. Cole Hamels (Phillies): 2.4
6. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 2.3
7. Tim Lincecum (Giants): 2.2
8. Ian Kennedy (Diamondbacks): 2.1
9. Anibal Sanchez (Marlins): 2.1
10. Jonny Venters (Braves): 2.1

Yes, that’s a reliever sneaking in at the end there. Venters has been incredible, giving up just two runs while working 33 2/3 innings, almost all of them in close games. He’s picked up three wins, and he’s only blown one lead all year, that coming when he entered a game with a two men on and none out.

Moving on to Fangraphs’ WAR. Since it’s based on strikeouts, walks and homers allowed, and not those pesky hits, it produces substantially different results:

1. Roy Halladay (Phillies): 3.3
2. Cole Hamels (Phillies): 2.4
3. Matt Garza (Cubs): 2.3
4. Daniel Hudson (Diamondbacks): 2.2
5. Clayton Kershaw (Dodgers): 2.1
6. Cliff Lee (Phillies): 2.1
7. Tim Lincecum (Giants): 2.1
8. Kyle Lohse (Cardinals): 1.9
9. Jaime Garcia (Cardinals): 1.8
10. Josh Johnson (Marlins): 1.8

FIP thinks Venters has been terribly lucky when it comes to allowing hits, so he’s at just 0.9 WAR here, ranking him slightly behind strikeout-happy teammate Craig Kimbrel.

Hamels posted strong showing in both WARs. His ERA is higher, but he has an exceptional 78/15 K/BB ratio and he’s yet to allow an unearned run.

I also like to check out quality of opponent here. Let’s run through the average OPS for hitters faced for the top contenders:

Johnson: .744
Jurrjens: .742
Sanchez: .741
Halladay: .729
Lohse: .728
Lincecum: .726
Kershaw: .724

That doesn’t really settle things, though it does make Jurrjens look like a stronger candidate.

Regardless, I do agree with WAR here: Halladay is the choice to date. He’s not quite there in ERA, but he’s pitched 11 more innings than anyone else. The Phillies are 9-3 in his starts, and they’ve scored a total of three runs in the losses. Four times already this year, they’ve scored three runs or fewer and come away with a victory with Halladay on the mound.

After that, it a tougher call. Johnson is probably the NL’s second-best pitcher, but he’s thrown just 60 innings. Jurrjens, the ERA leader, is at 66. Lohse and Kershaw are both around 80 innings. Neither has allowed an unearned run all year (Lincecum has given up five, Jurrjens one, Johnson two).

It’s close enough that I want one more stat.  I’m going to look at the team’s record in games pitched by each, and the team’s record in those games while scoring three or fewer runs.

Hamels: 9-2, 4-2
Johnson: 6-3, 2-3
Jurrjens: 7-2, 2-2
Kershaw: 7-5, 1-4
Lincecum: 7-4, 3-3
Lohse: 7-4, 1-2
Sanchez: 7-4, 3-2

That looks pretty good for Hamels. The Phillies have won 82 percent of his starts despite scoring more than five runs in just two of those games. On the other hand, the Cardinals have lost a couple of Lohse’s starts in which they scored five runs. One of those was Lohse’s fault, the other the bullpen’s when Lohse came out after six.

Anyway, there’s not a whole lot of margin here. I’m favoring Jurrjens second and Hamels third, but we’re still early enough that any of these guys could be second next week.

NL Cy Young
1. Halladay
2. Jurrjens
3. Hamels

Astros clinch postseason berth with 11-3 win over Angels

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No surprise here: The Astros are headed back to the postseason to defend their title following a landslide 11-3 win over the Angels on Friday. This figures to be their third playoff run since 2015, though they have yet to wrap up the AL West with a division title.

First baseman Yuli Gurriel led the charge on Friday, smashing a grand slam in the first inning and tacking on a two-run homer in the second and RBI single in the fifth to help the Astros to a seven-run lead. The Angels eventually returned fire, first with Mike Trout‘s 418-foot homer in the sixth, then with an RBI hit from Francisco Arcia in the seventh, but they couldn’t close the gap in time to overtake the Astros.

On the mound, right-hander Gerrit Cole clinched his 15th win of the year after holding the Angels to seven innings of three-run, 12-strikeout ball. His sixth strikeout of the night — delivered on an 83.1-MPH knuckle curveball to Kaleb Cowart — also marked the 1,000th strikeout of his career to date. He was backed by flawless performances by lefty reliever Tony Sipp and rookie right-hander Dean Deetz, both of whom turned in scoreless innings as the offense barreled toward an 11-3 finish with Jake Marisnick‘s sac bunt and George Springer‘s three-run shot in the eighth.

Despite having qualified for the playoffs, the Astros still carry a magic number of 6 as they look to clinch a third straight division title. They’re currently up against the Athletics, who entered Friday’s contest against the Twins just four games back of first place in the AL West.