Who Will Claim The Cy Young?

The Cy Young Award is the holy grail for Major League pitchers, and symbolizes their dominance over the course of the regular season. However, it could be the pitcher who gets his team to the post-season that takes home the award this year. Minnesota's Johan Santana is in the driver's seat to take the award home, but there are four other candidates that are right behind him.

The race for the 2006 Cy Young Award appears to be headed for a photo-finish, with five pitchers conceivably having award winning seasons. The field is led by Minnesota Twins ace Johan Santana, and includes Toronto's Roy Halladay, Chicago's Jon Garland, Oakland's Barry Zito, and Chien-Ming Wang of the New York Yankees. While it appears that Santana should have the slight edge as of press date, the award could be decided on whether or not the pitcher's team makes it to the post-season.

In the past four years, the award has been won by pitchers who are on pace to win the hardware this year. Santana, Halladay, and Zito won the 2004, 2003, and 2002 Cy Young respectively, and during that time, only Halladay's Blue Jays did not make the playoffs. Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young last season, after leading the Los Angeles Angels to the playoffs.

Santana is currently in the driver's seat, as he has the track record to go along with the statistics this season. He currently leads the American League in earned run average (2.95), and strikeouts (207), while being tied atop the league in wins with 16. He has led the Twins incredible second half run, and has not lost in 21 starts at the Metrodome. The top lefty in the league, Santana could make it his second Cy in the last three years.

Roy Halladay is no stranger to being an ace, and this season he has really put the Blue Jays on his back. With the A.J. Burnett signing being kind of a bust, and the whole Shea Hillenbrand fiasco, Halladay has been a constant for the Blue Jays, who have made a great showing in the usually tough American League East. Halladay also has notched 16 wins this season, and along with his 3.29 ERA, the right-hander has also pitched four complete games.

Wang has been a god send for the Yankees, as they have gone through some tough times with their starting pitching this season. Randy Johnson has been inconsistent, and although Mike Mussina has been tough when healthy, Wang has really been the one guy the Yankees can look to for a win every fifth day. He has matured into the ace of the staff, and is also tied for the league lead with 16 wins. For a team that has started guys like Darrell Rasner, Sidney Ponson, and Jeff Karstens, Wang has been more than just a great starting pitcher.

Zito has won 15 games this season, and has really been the only consistent arm for the American League West division leading Athletics. Although Joe Blanton has 14 wins, his earned run average is 4.51, and he has not been as good as advertised this season. Zito seems to always pitch his best in big games, and he is not a pitcher other American League teams are going to want to face in the playoffs. With how anemic the A's offense has been this season, Zito will have to shoulder even more of a workload during the stretch run.

The final piece of the puzzle is Jon Garland, who has a spectacular record (16-4), but his earned run average is at a moderately high 4.47 mark. The key to Garland's season has been his pinpoint control, as he has walked only 35 batters over 173.0 innings of work. Garland has gone 34-14 during the last two season, and has only walked 82 batters in almost 400 innings of work.

So as the season comes to a close, the race for the Cy Young is in full effect. While the Yankees seem to have a vice grip on the American League East, the White Sox and Twins will be looking to Garland and Santana to help them into the playoffs. Halladay and the Blue Jays are pretty much out of it, but Halladay's numbers may be good enough to win him the award. Zito and the A's seem slated for the playoffs, so this could be another one of those years where there are multiple pitchers who deserve the honor, but only one will take the hardware home.

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