The National League’s pitching dominance is on display daily and is a big part of Sunday's storylines. Clayton Kershaw, Johnny Cueto, Jose Fernandez and Jason Hammel all take the mound, ranking in the top 11 in the majors in ERA.
The six best ERAs this season belong to NL pitchers, as do eight of the top 10. There are three NL pitchers whose marks are below 2.00. The lowest AL ERA is 2.18.
The leaderboard lists demonstrate the disparity. The top NL pitcher in ERA is Kershaw (1.57). The top AL pitcher is Steven Wright (2.18), who ranks seventh overall.
Regardless of league, it is rare to have three pitchers with an ERA below 2.00. The last time at least three players finished a season below 2.00 was 1972 - when Luis Tiant (1.91), Gaylord Perry (1.92), Steve Carlton (1.97) and Gary Nolan (1.99) did it, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
• There are five AL starters with an ERA at or below 3.00 and 15 such NL starters.
• Four players have had five or more 10-strikeout games this season. None is an AL pitcher.
But the NL has no DH
Wouldn’t it make sense for NL pitching to be better, with no designated hitter? Yes, but not to this degree.
The differences between the two leagues in hitting this year are fairly minimal. AL and NL batters are homering at the same rate (3 percent) and striking out at almost the same rate. The AL has a .258 batting average to the NL’s .251.
Last year, two of the top five in ERA were AL pitchers. At this juncture, the top is all NL.
The last time that five NL pitchers finished with the best ERAs in baseball was in 2005 with Roger Clemens (HOU), Andy Pettitte (HOU), Dontrelle Willis (FLA), Pedro Martínez (NYM) and Chris Carpenter (STL).
Either way, these NL pitchers are special
Just look at the some notables on the mound today…
Kershaw has a 20.1 K-BB ratio, walking seven batters on the season to 141 strikeouts. The next-most K by a pitcher with fewer than 10 walks is 66, by Yankees reliever Dellin Betances (eight walks).
The next-most by a starter with those conditions is 53, by the Indians’ Josh Tomlin (seven walks).
Cueto has gone at least six innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs in nine straight starts (Kershaw’s streak of 10 is the only longer active streak).
He is 11-1 this season. Should Cueto earn the win today, Elias tells us he’d be the first Giants pitcher to reach 12 wins before July 1 since John Burkett in 1993 and the first to reach 12 wins with 1 or fewer losses since Rube Marquard in 1912.
Fernández has been a strikeout machine and has the best strikeout percentage in the majors this season (37 percent). Before allowing one run Sunday against the Cubs, Fernández had seven scoreless innings pitched in three straight home starts.
It has been a impressive year for Hammel, who is sporting a 2.58 ERA this season. Hammel has contributed greatly to a Cubs’ rotation in which each starter has a sub-3.30 ERA. Per Elias, the last time a team had five starters make 25 starts and none with an ERA above 3.50 was in 1988, when the Mets had David Cone, Bob Ojeda, Ron Darling, Dwight Gooden and Sid Fernandez.