By Bruce Levine–
(CBS) The three pitchers who were finalists for the National League Cy Young award were all notable in different ways.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Best Rain Friday Night
Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer is the ultimate in power pitching, with his big arm, big strikeout totals and ability to eat innings. Cubs left-hander Jon Lester is the consummate pitcher, with great control and smarts, a fastball hard enough to get by a hitter and a good breaking ball. Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks is the everyman in the final three. He gets batters out with late movement and pinpoint command, while his fastball works like other some others’ change-ups in rarely breaking 90 mph.
Lester and Hendricks helped spearhead the the best rotation in the baseball, which in turn led to the Cubs breaking their championship drought that dated back to 1908.
“If I had a vote, (Hendricks) would be my choice,” Lester said in late September as the regular season neared its close. “I get to see him every day. I see what he does, how he goes about it, how he prepares, how he goes out and executes. He is my guy. He is the guy I would vote for right now, tomorrow, the next day, whatever.”
On Wednesday, the official votes were announced by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America. Scherzer took home the NL Cy Young, with 25 of the 30 first-place votes and 192 points. Lester was second with 102 points and one first-place vote, while Hendricks garnered 85 points and two first-place votes. Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw drew the final two first-place votes.
The voting was completed on the final day of the regular season. Scherzer went 20-7 with a 2.96 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. He also led NL pitchers in WAR.
Lester, 32, brought a championship pedigree to the Cubs when he signed with them in December 2014. Since then, he has personified the preparation and commitment it takes between starts to be successful every fifth day on the mound.
In 2016, Lester went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA, which was second in baseball to Hendricks, and a 1.02 WHIP.READ MORE: Getting Hosed: A Look At The Universe Of Chicago Water, And Its Sometimes-Sordid History, This Earth Day
“I had pitched for 15 years in the major leagues before becoming teammates with Jon,” said Ryan Dempster, who was on the 2013 champion Red Sox Lester and is now works for the Cubs. “I believed I had a good work ethic in between starts. After I watched Jon and his detailed regiment between starts, I picked up things to use that helped me be better prepared the next time out on the mound. A lot of guys really were in awe of the professional style and concentration. Jon is a pro’s pro.”
Hendricks was the breakout star and talk of baseball in 2016. He won the ERA title with a 2.13 mark and became the finished product that pitching coach Chris Bosio was envisioning after three seasons of hard work. After all, it was Bosio who in November 2015 predicted what may lie ahead for Hendricks.
“Watch Kyle Hendricks next year,” Bosio said. “He will be one of the better pitchers in the game soon. Kyle has a sense and feel for the game. He also has the baseball IQ that allows him to out-think the guy in the batter’s box.”
Hendricks finished 16-8 and also had a 0.98 WHIP that reflected his dominance. His 190 innings were fewer than the totals of Scherzer (228 1/3) and Lester (202 2/3), but that was in large part due to the design of manager Joe Maddon’s quick hook and the Cubs’ excellent bullpen that he liked to rely on. Hendricks was last week named the Players Choice Outstanding Pitcher of the National League in a vote by his peers.
That both Lester and Hendricks pitched outstanding baseball in the postseason only enhances the aura around their accomplishments in 2016. Lester went 3-1 with a 2.02 ERA in six postseason appearances, of which the Cubs won five. Hendricks was 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA, and the Cubs won three of his five starts, including Game 6 of the National League Championship Series when he twirled 7 1/3 shutout innings of two-hit ball.
The Lester signing was the precursor to the Cubs shoring up the credibility gap that existed in Chicago. His signing was a message to other great players to jump on board after retooling the entire system was beginning to bear fruit. Lester was the poster child for others like Ben Zobrist, John Lackey and Jason Heyward signing on for the final push to a championship.
Hendricks started Game 7 of the World Series, throwing 4 2/3 innings of one-run ball. Lester followed with three strong innings of relief. It was only fitting that both had outstanding contributions to the final piece of business in the franchise’s most significant game over the past 108 years.
And it’s only fitting that both will be Cubs icons forever.MORE NEWS: Shuttered By Pandemic Last Summer, Guthrie's Tavern In Wrigleyville Has New Owner And Will Be Reopening
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.