True aces: Scherzer, Kershaw win Cy Young awards

9:33 PM, Nov 13, 2013   |    comments
Oct 19, 2013; Boston, MA, USA; Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Max Scherzer throws a pitch against the Boston Red Sox during the second inning in game six of the American League Championship Series playoff baseball game at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
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The Detroit Tigers didn't get a Cy Young award-caliber year from their No. 1 starter, but their No. 2 more than made up for that.

Right-hander Max Scherzer, the majors' only 20-game winner and the leader in winning percentage, was named today the recipient of the Cy Young Award in the American League.

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Two Japanese right-handers, Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers and Hisashi Iwakuma of the Seattle Mariners, finished 2-3 in the voting behind Scherzer, who collected 28 of the 30 first-place votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers'Association of America.

In the National League, Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw won his second Cy Young in near-unanimous fashion, earning 29 first-place votes to easily outpoll Adam Wainwright of the St. Louis Cardinals and Miami Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez.

Scherzer went 21-3 with a 2.90 ERA and didn't incur his second loss of the season until September, becoming the second Detroit pitcher to earn the Cy Young in three years.

"It's unbelievable. It just vindicates everything I've done,'' Scherzer said in an MLB Network interview. "I can't say thank you enough to all of my teammates for busting their butts every single day, (playing) defense and getting those extra runs for me, because I think that really helped my candidacy.''

In a season when 2011 MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander wasn't up to his usual standards, Scherzer became the Tigers' go-to pitcher, winning his first 13 decisions. He lost for the first time just before the All-Star Game, which he started, then reeled off another six wins in a row to reach September at 19-1.

His .875 winning percentage at the end of the season was the majors' highest since Cliff Lee went 22-3 (.880) for the Cleveland Indians in 2008.

Scherzer, 29, was dominant with an Old English D, leading the league in WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) at 0.97 and in opponents' on-base plus slugging percentage at .583. He ranked second in strikeouts per nine innings (10.1) and opponents' batting average (.198).

Combining a fastball in the mid-90s with a deceptive changeup 10 mph slower and a sharp slider, Scherzer finished second to Darvish with 240 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings.

And he's coming of age as a pitcher at the right time. Scherzer, who established career-bests in wins, ERA, strikeouts, innings pitched and WHIP, will be eligible for free agency after the 2014 season, prompting speculation the Tigers may look to trade him this offseason.

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As Scherzer racked up the victories, some critics pointed out he was the beneficiary of the third-highest run support in the AL, an average of 5.59 runs a game. Darvish, by comparison, ranked 20th among qualifiers at 4.28. Iwakuma was 18th at 4.33.

Scherzer didn't exactly argue the point, telling reporters after he improved to 13-0: "I don't put too much stock into the win-loss record. For me, at times it can be a fluky stat. I don't judge my season based on (record). I judge my season based on how I pitch.''

Just about every metric indicated he pitched awfully well. Scherzer also boosted his cause by going deep into games, pitching at least seven innings in 19 of his 32 starts. In 14 of those 19 he allowed two earned runs or less.

In his second season in the big leagues, Darvish made a strong case for the Cy Young with many key statistics similar to Scherzer's, plus a major league-high 277 strikeouts. Starting with a near-perfect game in his first start of the season, Darvish had five games with at least 14 strikeouts.

But a lack of run support and high pitch counts that sometimes forced early exits worked against Darvish, who lost four 1-0 games - two of them in the heat of the September playoff race - and finished 13-9 with a 2.83 ERA.

Besides strikeouts, Darvish led the AL in opponents batting average (.194) and ranked second in opponents OPS (.611).

Iwakuma went 14-6 with a 2.66 ERA in his first season as a full-time starter and finished in the top three in several statistical categories, including innings pitched, ERA and WHIP.

The question with Kershaw this offseason has never been whether he would win the Cy Young - he finished second in the voting last year, preventing a three-year sweep - but rather how big a contract he'll land from the deep-pocketed Dodgers.

The parties seemed close to an extension before last season began but never reached a deal, and if anything, Kershaw's price has climbed as he approaches his final season before he's eligible for free agency.

Kershaw is the first pitcher since Greg Maddux in 1993-95 to lead the majors in ERA three years in a row, and he doesn't turn 26 until March.

His performance this season was once again reminiscent of Dodgers legend Sandy Koufax, who didn't win the first of his three Cy Youngs until age 27.

Kershaw went 16-9 with a career-best 1.83 ERA while leading the league in strikeouts (232) and the majors in WHIP (0.92). He finished second to Wainwright in innings pitched, 241 2/3 to 236, and second to Fernandez in opponents batting average, .182 to .195.

A strong case can be made that Kershaw was the Dodgers' MVP in a season when they languished in last place through late June, then dramatically turned their fortunes around and at one point won 42 of 50 games.

Kershaw displayed no such inconsistency, despite a meager support of 3.79 runs a game that ranked 27th among league qualifiers. He didn't have any month with a higher ERA than 2.65, and in four of the months that figure was below 2.00.

Only thrice in 33 starts did Kershaw allow more than three earned runs in a game, which made it all the more shocking when the Cardinals battered him for seven runs in four innings in the clinching Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

"I didn't pitch the way I should have in the last game and we didn't get to win,'' Kershaw told the MLB Network. "For me, that's my motivation. I don't need to throw up any more stats or do anything like that. I want that ring.''

Fernandez, who pitched most of the season at age 20, went 12-6 and ranked second in ERA at 2.19. On Monday he was named the NL Rookie of the Year.

Wainwright, 19-9 with a 2.94 ERA, finished in the top three in the Cy Young voting for the third time in the last five years.

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