Eyeing the Cy Young and pennant races

The past two weeks, I've looked at the MVP races in each league, even though it's too early to tell for sure. As always, the definitive MVP candidate won't emerge until the season is over. Now, let's take an initial look at the Cy Young race. These observations are general -- I'll make a more definitive Cy Young pick later.

I believe that starters should be given preference in Cy Young voting.

Starters do the lion's share of the work. They pitch the most innings, and the only way a closer can do his job is if the starter has done his. Plus, the closer usually needs the setup guy to do his job too.

I give more weight to wins than to ERA or any other pitching statistic. ERA is like a batting average -- it's more of an individual thing. Pitchers get paid to win games, not to have a sub-3.00 ERA. Hitters get paid to produce runs -- both scoring and RBI -- not to bat .300.

If Atlanta Braves starter Russ Ortiz continues to win, he should take home the National League Cy Young. On Sunday, Ortiz became the first MLB pitcher to 18 wins this season. I don't believe Braves closer John Smoltz or Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne should win the award unless Ortiz falters down the stretch.

Think about it: Every time Smoltz enters the game, he has the lead! Same with Gagne. And while Gagne hasn't blown a save, every time he's entered a tied game, he's lost.

The Cy Young race in the American League is too close to call. No candidate has separated himself from the pack yet. Candidates include Esteban Loaiza of the Chicago White Sox, Roy Halladay of the Toronto Blue Jays and Tim Hudson of the Oakland Athletics.

Changing Faces in Pennant Races
The division and wild-card races have changed dramatically in the past week. That's the great thing about baseball -- you never know exactly what's going to happen. So much can change in any given week. That's true for the MVP and Cy Young races too.

The Boston Red Sox appeared to be reeling last week when they lost four of five to the Seattle Mariners and the Oakland Athletics. But then they swept a four-game weekend series over the Mariners. The San Francisco Giants had lost six straight, including a four-game sweep at the hands of the Montreal Expos. Then they swept the NL's best team, the Atlanta Braves, in a three-game series last week.

A week ago, it looked like Seattle was in control in the AL West, and division-rival Oakland seemed the wild-card favorite. Now the teams are tied for first in the West. And with Seattle struggling, the Red Sox have new life in the wild-card race. But that could change as early as, well, next week.

The AL Central is a three-team race between the Chicago White Sox, the surprise Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins, the defending division champion. They are currently separated by a mere one-and-a-half games.

And I'm not yet conceding the AL East to the New York Yankees, who lead the Red Sox by five games. The Red Sox and Yankees play six more times, including a three-game series this weekend at Fenway Park. The following weekend, the teams play three games at Yankee Stadium. So the Red Sox still have time to close the gap.

We're in for some great races in the AL. It will be exciting down the stretch, and it'll be fun to watch.

In the National League, the only races of consequence are the NL Central and the wild card. The Giants and Braves are too good to go on a double-digit losing streak, which is basically what they'd have to do. The Braves lead the NL East by 14 games and the Giants lead the NL West by 11.

In the NL Central, a single game separates the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. These three clubs are among the eight NL teams within two-and-a-half games of the wild-card lead. Anyone who doesn't like the wild card doesn't like excitement, because the wild card creates excitement down the stretch, giving more teams a chance at the playoffs. This year's NL scenario is a perfect example.

I've said before that I give the Marlins the slight edge in the NL wild-card race, and that's still the case -- although the race is still wide open. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are the best team in the NL Central, but that doesn't mean much unless they play like the best team.

Chat Reminder: I'll answer your questions in an ESPN.com chat Friday at 10:45 a.m. ET.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back World Series and MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76.