The magic number to clinch the division is down to 15 with 21 games left on the Nationals’ schedule.
Last night’s 5-1 win over the Mets coupled with Atlanta’s loss to the Brewers boosted the Nationals’ lead in the division back up to 6 1/2 games, seven in the loss column.
Never mind that the Nats didn’t register a hit from the fourth inning on last night or that Gio Gonzalez walked five hitters in his first four innings, tying a season high for most walks in a game.
None of that matters a lick this morning. The Nationals gained a full game on their lone division competition and improved their major league-best road record in the process.
The Nationals’ bullpen delivered three scoreless innings to lock the game down, but Gonzalez got it all started and earned his 19th win of the season, the most in the majors.
Outside of the five walks, Gonzalez allowed just three hits, a single run and struck out six over six innings. It was far from his best performance of the season - Gonzalez lacked his good command and struggled to locate in the fourth and fifth innings, throwing a combined 42 pitches - but the left-hander will take it.
He now has allowed just one run over his last 22 innings with 23 strikeouts in that span, and has watched his ERA drop 35 points over his last four starts, down to 2.93.
All that has led some in the Nationals clubhouse to start tossing around the name “Cy Young” in connection to Gonzalez.
As of today, Gonzalez is certainly in the conversation for the National League’s top pitching honor. His 19 wins set him apart from every starter in the majors, he ranks fifth in the NL in ERA, fourth in strikeouts, first in strikeouts per nine innings and fourth in WAR (wins above replacement).
Gonzalez has allowed the fewest hits per inning of any of the legitimate Cy Young candidates and is certainly peaking at the right time.
But there are a few categories which will work against Gonzalez in his bid for the Cy Young award.
He’s thrown 181 1/3 innings to this point, fewer than the 198 thrown by the Mets’ R.A. Dickey, the 199 2/3 by the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw and the 192 2/3 by Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto.
Gonzalez’s strikeout number is high, but so are his walks; his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.81 is far lower than the ones put up by Dickey (4.33), Kershaw (4.02) and Cueto (3.69).
All those walks give Gonzalez a WHIP of 1.13, which ranks seventh in the NL. He has two complete games and one shutout on the season, but that’s dwarfed by Dickey’s five complete games and three shutouts.
Add it all up and Gonzalez is definitely in the mix. If he finishes strong and piles up the wins over his final few starts, he has a legitimate shot at the National League’s top pitching honor.
But it’s a crowded field this year, and Dickey appears to have a bit of an edge to this point. The knuckleballer has great numbers, has completely jump-started his career and is doing it all on a team which is 11 games under .500.
What’s your take? Do you think Gonzalez is worthy of the Cy Young this season, or does he have some work to do to catch up to Dickey and the other candidates?