Phillies pitcher Aaron Nola listed among Cy Young candidates

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PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 22: Starting pitcher Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the third inning during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park on June 22, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 22: Starting pitcher Aaron Nola #27 of the Philadelphia Phillies throws a pitch in the third inning during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Citizens Bank Park on June 22, 2017 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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Each year, the same group of pitchers usually contend for the Cy Young. Could the Phillies’ own Aaron Nola be a dark horse candidate?

This decade, the National League Cy Young race has been dominated by the same group of pitchers. Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer has won the award five of the last seven years. Even when neither has won, they still were among the top vote-getters for the award. It took utterly dominant seasons from R.A. Dickey and Jake Arrieta to win the award.

While Kershaw and Scherzer are both likely to be favorites for the award again this season, there are plenty of other pitchers who could come out of nowhere and win the award, like Dickey did in 2012. Richard Justice of MLB.com listed 10 potential “dark horse” candidates for the award this year, and Aaron Nola of the Phillies was the first one on the list:

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"It seems to be a matter of when the 24-year-old right-hander wins a Cy Young Award, not if. Nola continued to move in that direction in 2017 with 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, the NL’s fifth-lowest FIP (3.27) and seventh-highest WAR (4.3). He allowed two earned runs or fewer in 15 of his last 18 starts. Nola will probably need the Phillies to take a big leap toward contention to be in the NL Cy Young Award mix, but given the amount of young talent, they’re in range of doing just that."

While Nola was in the midst of his run of dominance during the middle of the season last year, there was talk of him receiving Cy Young votes then. Ultimately, he did not wind up receiving any votes despite the strong numbers that Justice mentioned. With a full, healthy season in 2018, Nola may have what it takes to enter the conversation for the award.

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As Justice mentions, whether or not Nola receives votes could depend on how the rest of the team does. Dickey was the last player to win the NL Cy Young on a losing team, and he still had a 20-6 record. Nola could be hamstrung by the rest of his team, losing games even if he pitches well enough to earn a win. Thankfully, the Phils are making strides towards a potential winning season in 2018, which would add some weight to Nola’s case for a Cy Young.

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Of course, Nola would still have to unseat both Scherzer, Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, and Zack Greinke, among several other talented pitchers. If Nola can pitch the way he did the last three months of the 2017 season for a full year, he may have what it takes to claw his way into the voting.

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