NL Cy almost certainly a feat of Clayton
Kennedy, Halladay, Lee are top competitors for Kershaw
If history is a harbinger of things to come, Clayton Kershaw best clear off some space in his trophy case for the 2011 National League Cy Young Award.
In his fourth big league season, the Dodgers left-hander finished the year with the league's lowest ERA (2.28) and highest strikeout total (248), and he tied for the league's best in wins, with 21. That feat, known as baseball's pitching Triple Crown, had been accomplished in the NL only seven previous times since 1956, the year the Cy Young Award was introduced.
In all seven of those cases, the Triple Crown winner was later given the Cy Young Award. It most recently happened in 2007, with then-Padres starter Jake Peavy the winner.
Indications are that Kershaw will follow suit, though the vote is not likely to be unanimous. Phillies starters Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, along with Arizona's Ian Kennedy, are among the other NL pitchers expected to get recognition high on the ballot.
The winner, determined through ballots cast at the end of the regular season by 32 members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, will be revealed on Thursday. Live coverage on MLB.com begins at 1:30 p.m. ET.
Kershaw went 21-5 and ended the season with eight straight victories. Only Kennedy -- who, like Kershaw, was a first-round pick in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft -- matched that win total.
Halladay and Lee finished second and third, respectively, in ERA, with Halladay posting a 2.35 mark and Lee ending his year at 2.40. Neither reached 20 wins, though the two were second and third, respectively, in strikeouts.
Halladay, who took home the NL Cy Young Award in 2010, paced the league with eight complete games and trailed only St. Louis' Chris Carpenter in innings pitched, with 233 2/3. The sabermetric-minded will also note that Halladay led Major League pitchers with an 8.2 WAR, which measures how many more wins a player gives his team compared with a replacement-level player.
Kershaw (6.8 WAR) and Lee (6.7 WAR) immediately follow Halladay on that list.
Lee finished the year with six shutouts, an even more unbelievable figure when you consider that no other pitcher in the league had more than two.
Still, it's expected that Kershaw will take home the hardware. That would make him the youngest NL Cy Young honoree since Dwight Gooden, who won the award in 1985 at the age of 20 with the Mets. Kershaw is 23.
Kershaw, who earned his first All-Star Game invite and Gold Glove Award, would be the first Dodgers pitcher to win the Cy Young since Eric Gagne, who capped his 55-save season in 2003 by garnering the honor. Orel Hershiser was the last Dodgers starter to win, in 1988, the year Kershaw was born.
Kershaw's 2.28 ERA also puts him in line to have the lowest ERA of any NL Cy Young Award winner since Pedro Martinez, then of the Expos, finished the 1997 season with a 1.90 mark.
Each BBWAA voter listed five pitchers -- ranked first through fifth -- on the ballot. In addition to the aforementioned four who are expected to garner recognition, Philadelphia's Cole Hamels, and San Francisco's Ryan Vogelsong and Tim Lincecum are likely to receive some votes.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.