As the final month of the baseball season begins, theScore’s MLB editors break down the leading candidates for the MVP and Cy Young awards in the American and National Leagues. Today, we’re ranking the early favorites for the 2018 AL Cy Young.

5. Edwin Diaz, Mariners

SV ERA FIP WHIP WAR
51 1.93 1.44 0.80 3.4

The race for the American League Cy Young is a complicated one, and has only gotten more crowded over the last month due to a few injuries, slumps, and surges changing the landscape of competitors.

Diaz has been a primary reason for the Seattle Mariners’ ridiculous record in one-run games (33-18) and he has a believable shot at Francisco Rodriguez’s single-season saves record of 62. One of the big changes to his game has been a newfound command. He’s issued only 16 walks in 65 1/3 innings (2.20 BB/9) and has allowed four home runs. Both represent drastic improvements over last season. He’s striking batters out at a more prolific rate as well.

While it’s difficult to drop Cleveland Indians right-hander Trevor Bauer from these rankings, his return appears in doubt and Diaz has a chance at history. Besides, these awards are often decided by a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately mindset, which seriously harms Bauer’s chances despite an amazing season.

4. Gerrit Cole, Astros

IP ERA FIP WHIP WAR
176 1/3 2.86 2.66 1.03 5.7

Had Cole put together a more efficient – or dominant – outing Sunday night, he may be closer to the top of these rankings. Instead, he labored through 5 2/3 innings with 113 pitches. He allowed two earned runs on six hits and three walks, pitching out of jams almost from the start.

His recent struggles, however, may be overstated despite the uneven performance Sunday. Cole’s 3.75 ERA in the season’s second half indicates that he’s stumbled, but it’s possible that he’s been the victim of horrendous luck. Hitters have posted a .353 BABIP against Cole while he’s authored an impressive 1.82 FIP – which bests his first-half numbers. Look past the surface, and Cole is easily a contender.

3. Blake Snell, Rays

IP ERA FIP WHIP WAR
151 2/3 2.02 3.10 1.01 3.6

FanGraphs doesn’t give Snell any breaks in their wins above replacement category, but voters probably won’t care. His ERA is second in the AL to Boston’s Chris Sale, and he’s tied for the major-league lead with 17 wins. Pitcher wins (rightfully) don’t carry the same weight as in years past, but he’s served as the upstart Tampa Bay Rays’ only consistently successful starter as they continue an improbable push for the postseason.

Snell’s August was bananas, which has helped him surge up these rankings. In 26 innings, he allowed only three earned runs (1.04 ERA) while striking out 34. He kicked off September by limiting the Indians to two runs (one earned) in 6 2/3 innings, earning his 17th victory in the process.

The lefty has seen improvements in every aspect of his game. While he’s possibly been bailed out by a combination of luck and solid defense, he belongs in this conversation.

2. Justin Verlander, Astros

IP ERA FIP WHIP WAR
181 2.78 3.08 0.95 5.1

August represented Verlander’s toughest stretch since joining the Houston Astros last September. However, his entire body of work this season – especially in terms of his durability – helps him maintain momentum heading into the home stretch. Verlander is still punching opponents out at a career-best rate (11.93 K/9), is walking fewer batters than ever before (1.59 per nine), and he’s on the verge of throwing 200-plus innings for the 11th time in 12 seasons. His ability to stay on the field, especially if he locks things down in September, could give him the edge if injuries continue to derail his competition.

1. Chris Sale, Red Sox

IP ERA FIP WHIP WAR
146 1.97 1.95 0.85 6.1

Since our last entry, Sale has managed to pitch only five innings thanks to a lingering shoulder injury. But what a five innings it was. He allowed one hit while striking out 12 and walking none. If he returns at full strength this coming weekend as expected and finishes the season strong, his missed time will easily be forgotten.

If, however, his injury isn’t fully healed and he isn’t as effective as before, a door will open for one of the hurlers hot on his heels. It’ll be a shame, as it would mark the second consecutive season where Sale comes up short despite a Cy-worthy campaign.

Honorable mention: Bauer (Indians), Corey Kluber (Indians), Blake Treinen (Athletics), Luis Severino (Yankees)

(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)
(WAR courtesy: FanGraphs)

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