For years, names such as Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens grabbed accolade after accolade for their dominance on the mound. The two combined for 12 Cy Young Awards, five coming in the National League.
The NL has had nine different winners since Johnson's streak of four-consecutive NL Cy Young's came to an end, which is more than the league has had in the last three decades.
With the increasing amounts of Cy Young quality pitchers in both leagues, the winner of the award has not been as obvious in years past.
The NL Cy Young race will have more than 10 pitchers capable of winning the award. Let's take a look at what the NL has to offer this season.
Top 5 Candidates
Clayton Kershaw is the most obvious candidate for the prestigious award. The 25-year-old has finished in the top-two in three consecutive seasons, winning the award in 2011 and 2013. Kershaw is the most dominant left-handed pitcher in the game, probably since Johnson.
He will end up throwing 200-plus innings, striking out over 200 hitters and managing to keep his ERA below 2.30. Kershaw should be the early favorite for the NL Cy Young because he can do it all.
Jose Fernandez broke into the MLB starlight last season, being one of the few bright spots for the Miami Marlins. Fernandez struck out hitters with a nasty breaking ball to go along with an already explosive fastball. The Marlins have their own 'video game' pitcher.
He can be as dominant as any pitcher in baseball. The scary part is that Fernandez is only 21. Don't be surprised if he challenges for the NL Cy Young Award. The 21-year-old had a 2.19 ERA, only surrendering 42 earned runs in 28 starts with Miami.
Zack Greinke is no amateur when it comes to the Cy Young Award. The Los Angeles Dodgers' No. 2 starter won the AL Cy Young in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals. He went 15-4 last season sporting a 2.63 ERA, which was his lowest since his Cy Young campaign.
Moving to LA has given Greinke a resurgence, especially being the Dodgers No. 2 man in the rotation. With a big ballpark, Greinke is able to be more confident with his pitchers just like he did in Kansas City. The veteran right-hander will have a ton of success this season. He will challenge his teammate for the award.
Stephen Strasburg is a name that was projected to become the NL Cy Young for the next 'x' amount of seasons before he was injured. The 25-year-old right-hander struggled with control in the strike zone during the 2013 season, following his 'shutdown' in 2012. He sported an ERA of 3.00 in 30 starts but also surrendered 16 long balls while plunking 14 batters.
2014 is a new start for the prized prospect. Strasburg's fastball and complimentary pitches separate him from the rest of the right-handed pitchers in the NL. If he can fix his control issues from a season ago, then the right-hander's name will easily be in consideration for the Cy Young Award.
Adam Wainwright has yet to win the award, but he has finished in the top-three three times (second in 2010 & 2013, third in 2009). Twice Wainwright has led the NL in games started (2009 & 2013). Twice he has led the NL in innings pitched (2009 & 2013). Twice he has led the NL in victories (2009 & 2013). But of course, in both seasons, he did not win the Cy Young.
Wainwright has been one of the NL's most consistent starters since transitioning from the bullpen. He has thrown 200-plus innings in four seasons since 2007. It would have been five but Wainwright threw 198 innings in 2012. Wainwright's consistency will not only keep the St. Louis Cardinals in playoff contention, but it will also keep him in the Cy Young race all season long.
Players to Watch
Patrick Corbin bursted onto the scene in 2013, winning 14 games for the Arizona Diamondbacks. The 24-year-old left-hander was one of the most dominant pitchers in the NL from April till the end of August, going 13-3 in 25 starts. Corbin posted a 2.45 ERA over that span, which included two complete games and 150 strikeouts.
The left-hander struggled in the final month of the season, going 1-5 with a 8.00 ERA. Before that time, Corbin was in the conversation for the Cy Young Award. He will continue to be in the conversation this season if he can make adjustments from his second-half disaster in 2013. Expect Corbin to be a force in the NL West.
Kris Medlen has won 25 games for the Atlanta Braves over the last two seasons, posting a combined 2.34 ERA. Medlen will be an anchor in the Braves rotation in 2014 if he can figure out issues with his control, which led to surrendering 18 home runs during the 2013 season. Medlen only walked 46 hitters in his 31 starts for the Braves, which was better than six of the 10 pitchers on this list.
Until last season Cole Hamels was the Philadelphia Phillies anchor in the rotation. In 2013, Hamels struggled with his control and lost a lot of games early thanks to being predictable on the mound. Hamels throws a lot of strikes, which makes him a predictable player on the mound. He was leaving pitches up in the zone, which led to surrendering 21 home runs. He also had a hard time with control early in the season.
Hamels finished the 2013 season by going 4-1 with a 2.73 ERA in his last 11 starts after going 4-13 with a 4.09 ERA in his first 22 starts. The Phillies need Hamels to be a confident and dominant starter in 2014 if they are going to be a competitive team.
Madison Bumgarner was one of the bright spots for the San Francisco Giants last season. Bumgarner finished fifth in the NL with a 2.77 ERA after 31 starts for the Giants. Look for the young left-hander to be successful in 2014 after making a big stride during the 2013 season.
Cliff Lee is the oldest member of this list. The 35-year-old veteran has pitched 12 seasons in the MLB. Lee is a player to watch out for because of one, actually eight, reasons. In eight of his last nine seasons, Lee has thrown more than 200 innings.
If the Phillies can score some runs for Lee, then his win total will be right up there with the Kershaw's and Wainwright's of the NL. Lee finished sixth in the voting last season, despite struggling at times. Lee will be a force in the NL East this season. Expect Lee to be competitive in the Cy Young competition this season.
There you have it. Ten pitchers who will impact the National League during the 2014 season. Ten pitchers who will be important to their team's success. Ten pitchers who will compete for the NL Cy Young this season.