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SportsColumnistsAnthony Rieber

A year after his first Cy Young Award, Mets ace Jacob deGrom once again in the mix

Going into Sunday's start against the Nationals, deGrom

Going into Sunday's start against the Nationals, deGrom is 7-7 with a 2.77 ERA in 23 starts. DeGrom has thrown the most innings among the Cy Young contenders (143) and has the second-most strikeouts (182). Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

At this point last season, all the Mets could focus on were individual accomplishments. So Jacob deGrom’s chase of the National League Cy Young Award became a focal point of the final two months of the season.

DeGrom went on to win the award in a nearly unanimous vote even though he only had a won-loss record of 10-9. But 29 of 30 voters recognized that deGrom was by far the best pitcher in the league. His ERA-plus was 221. That’s based on a league average of 100. The closest NL competitor in that metric was the Phillies' Aaron Nola at 175.

This year, deGrom is in a prime position to become the first Mets pitcher to win back-to-back Cy Young Awards. But with the Mets riding an incredible wave over the last two weeks and storming into the playoff race, deGrom would be happy if no one thinks or talks about his Cy Young quest this time around.

“Honestly, I haven’t paid much attention to it,” deGrom said earlier this week. “I’m just trying to kind of go out there and put us in a position to win. We’ve been playing good baseball. These guys have been putting up runs for us. Just try to go out there and stay out there as long as I can.”

This year’s Cy Young race is wide open. There are six legitimate candidates. Last season, you could pretty much boil it down to deGrom, Nola and the Nationals' Max Scherzer, who picked up the other first-place vote and finished second overall. Nola was third.

This year, deGrom is vying with Scherzer, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, Mike Soroka of the Braves and Luis Castillo of the Reds.

Going into Sunday’s start against Washington, deGrom is 7-7 with a 2.77 ERA in 23 starts. DeGrom has thrown the most innings among the contenders (143) and has the second-most strikeouts (182). He is tied with Kershaw for the highest ERA in the group.

Ryu has the best traditional stats, with an 11-2 record and 1.53 ERA in 21 starts. The lefthander is scheduled to finish a stint on the 10-day injured list on Sunday.

Scherzer, who has won three Cy Young Awards, is also on the injured list. He is expected back next week. Scherzer is 9-5 with a 2.41 ERA with 189 strikeouts in 134 1/3 innings.

Kershaw, also a three-time Cy Young Award winner, is 11-2 with a 2.77 ERA.

The two wild cards are Soroka (10-2, 2.45) and Castillo (11-4, 2.63), neither of whom has the resume of the other contenders.

Castillo is in his third season. Soroka is also a candidate for NL Rookie of the Year, though it would seem Pete Alonso of the Mets and his 38 home runs through Friday has a pretty good shot at that award (and the NL MVP, as well).

Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers in the only pitcher to win the Rookie of the Year and Cy Young Awards in the same season. He did it in the strike-shortened season of 1981.

Using traditional statistics, Ryu would seem to be the favorite if he stays healthy. But the advanced metrics don’t agree on who has been the best pitcher so far in 2019.

Ryu is the runaway leader in adjusted ERA plus at 273. Scherzer is next at 191, followed by Soroka (186), Castillo (175), Kershaw (150) and deGrom (149).

But when you look at WAR (baseball-reference.com version), Scherzer is seen as having the most value of any pitcher this season. He’s at 5.3, with Ryu at 5.0, followed by deGrom and Castillo at 4.6, with Colorado’s Jon Gray next at 4.2.

Gray, who is 10-8 with a 4.06 ERA, has a higher WAR than Soroka (4.0) or Kershaw (3.0). Gray pitches his home games at Coors Field and the metric compensates for that.

The bottom line is that deGrom is in the mix and a repeat of last year’s brilliance could earn him a second Cy Young.

Mets fans, though, would happily trade the hardware for a playoff spot. But the way things are going in Flushing, why not be greedy and hope for both?

CY OF THE TIMES

The leading candidates for the NL Cy Young award (stats going into Saturday):

Pitcher Team W-L ERA G IP K

Hyun-Jin Ryu Dodgers 11-2 1.53 21 135.2 117

Max Scherzer Nationals 9-5 2.41 20 134.1 189

Mike Soroka Braves 10-2 2.45 20 121 97

Luis Castillo Reds 11-4 2.63 23 137 164

Jacob deGrom Mets 7-7 2.77 23 143 182

Clayton Kershaw Dodgers 11-2 2.77 20 130 131

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