June 7, 2021

10 Early Contenders for 2021 National League Cy Young Award, Ranked

Pitching in the National League this year has been very much a mix of the old and the new. There are plenty of familiar names who are up to their old tricks again. But there are also plenty of younger pitchers and unexpected names who have excelled just as much.

Needless to say, that’s bound to make for a compelling race for the Cy Young Award during the second half of the season. While we can’t guarantee the eventual winner will come from our list with so much season left to play and so many great pitchers, let’s take an early look at the 10 top contenders for National League Cy Young in 2021.

11. Zack Wheeler, Philadelphia Phillies

Zack Wheeler is more than living up to his big contract with the Phillies, putting together the best season of his career thus far. He’s pitching to a 2.51 ERA through 12 starts and has a WHIP of 0.94, which is well below his career average.

Wheeler also stands out because he’s going deep into games, pitching seven innings as regularly as most starters pitch five. This is the best we’ve ever seen Wheeler, and it could be enough to push him into the Cy Young conversation if he can keep it up.

10. Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals

Alex Reyes is the only reliever who’s worthy of being a part of the Cy Young discussion.

He’s been automatic as the St. Louis closer, converting 16 saves in 16 opportunities. He’s also allowed just three earned runs over 30 innings, giving him a 0.90 ERA.

Since he’s a reliever, Reyes winning the Cy Young is a long shot because he won’t throw as many innings as a starter. But he’s been too good this year not to mention.

9. Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins

This has been a true breakout season for Trevor Rogers, who posted a 6.11 ERA in seven starts last year but is now becoming the best of Miami’s young starters.

On a bad Marlins team, Rogers has been able to get the win in six of his 12 starts, meaning he could flirt with 20 victories on a team that will probably finish under .500. Through those 12 starts, the southpaw’s ERA sits at 1.97 with a strikeout rate that is among the best in the National League.

8. Corbin Burnes, Milwaukee Brewers

Outside of Milwaukee, few folks had heard of Corbin Burnes before this season. However, he delivered a 2.11 ERA during the shortened 2020 season and has been even better in 2021.

His lack of wins because of Milwaukee’s lackluster offense will hurt him. But Burnes has done his part for the Brew Crew, registering a 1.97 ERA and a microscopic 0.71 WHIP over his first 10 starts of the season.

7. Trevor Bauer, Los Angeles Dodgers

Last year’s Cy Young Award winner isn’t going to give up his trophy without a fight. His ERA has taken a little bit of a hit over his last few starts, but there’s plenty of time for Trevor Bauer to correct that.

Perhaps more importantly, he’s already at six wins and is among the league leaders in strikeouts. Given his recent track record, it’d be surprising if Bauer wasn’t at least in the Cy Young discussion at the end of the year.

6. Yu Darvish, San Diego Padres

Everything is working out handsomely for Yu Darvish with his new team. He was a legitimate Cy Young candidate last year and is once again among the best pitchers in the league.

He’s already 6-1 through his first 12 starts and could easily win 15-20 games with the Padres if he stays healthy. Darvish perhaps hasn’t been quite as dominant as last season, as his strikeout rate has dropped a little. But batters are hitting just .193 against him, which would be a new career-high for him if Darvish can keep it up.

5. Kevin Gausman, San Francisco Giants

Kevin Gausman is undoubtedly the most surprising name on our list.

Just two years ago, Gausman had a 5.72 ERA and was lucky to find a job. Cut to 2021 and he’s 7-0 and has the second-best ERA in the National League at 1.27. He also has the fourth-lowest WHIP in the National League.

It’s shocking to see Gausman pitch this well, but if he keeps racking up the wins and the Giants stick around, it’ll be hard to keep him out of the Cy Young discussion.

4. Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals

It looks like last year’s 3.74 ERA was just a temporary setback for the guy who already owns three Cy Young Awards. Max Scherzer has come back with a vengeance in 2021 with the lowest WHIP of his career at 0.82 and one of the lowest batting averages against in his distinguished career.

Perhaps most importantly, he leads the National League in strikeouts, which is a big part of why he finds himself in the middle of the Cy Young race year after year.

3. Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

Much like Burnes, a lack of wins given Milwaukee’s difficulty scoring runs could hold back Woodruff a little. But there’s no denying that he’s looked the part of a serious Cy Young candidate this year.

Through 12 starts, he’s rocking a 1.42 ERA, which is the third-best in the National League. He’s also among the top-three NL pitchers in WHIP and batting average against. He’s gone from being great over the last few seasons to being an elite pitcher in 2021.

1. Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

No, we didn’t mistake; there isn’t a No. 2 on our list because nobody is close to Jacob deGrom.

Think about the best of the best pitchers in the Hall of Fame and what they were like in their prime because that’s what deGrom is delivering in 2021. Keep in mind that he’s won two of the last three Cy Young Awards but has somehow been even better this year.

Over his first nine starts, the Mets' ace has a minuscule 0.62 ERA because he hasn’t allowed an earned run in five of those nine starts. He also leads the majors (among those with enough innings to qualify) in WHIP and batting average against, neither of which is particularly close.

To say that he’s been brilliant would be an understatement; deGrom is putting together one of the best seasons by a pitcher in MLB history. If he continues to anywhere close to the same level that he has during the first two months of the season, nobody is going to touch deGrom in the Cy Young race.

Photo: Getty Images