Lester and Hendricks creating two-man Cy Young race?

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Jon Lester on Wednesday earned his 17th win, lowered his ERA to 2.40 and climbed to No. 1 in the Sun-Times Cubs rotation power rankings.

ST. LOUIS – Attention: Max Scherzer. And Madison Bumgarner, if you’re still within earshot.

The Cubs’ hottest two pitchers are starting to sneak away with your Cy Young Award, and they look like they plan to spend the next 2½ weeks fighting over it between themselves.

“Both those guys have been doing a phenomenal job,” Cubs catcher David Ross said after Jon Lester on Wednesday pitched eight dominant innings to back up Kyle Hendricks’ near no-hitter two nights earlier during the Cubs’ series win over the rival Cardinals this week.

“It’d be pretty cool to have two guys back-to-back years win a Cy Young on the same staff,” Ross said.

Almost forgot. Last year’s winner, Jake Arrieta, could also muscle his way into the Cub-heavy Cy Young picture with a strong enough finish in his final three starts.

For now, after Wednesday, Lester (17-4) might be the man to beat the way the presumptive Game 1 playoff starter has looked – especially since the end of July.

“He’s their best pitcher,” one longtime National League scout said of Lester. “He’s shown Cy Young material for a long time now.”

Never more than the last nine starts – a 7-0 stretch during which he has produced a 1.02 ERA. The Cubs’ only loss in those nine games was a 1-0 loss to the Dodgers decided by an unearned run two innings after he left the game.

“I think this whole run that he’s been on is maybe as good as I’ve seen him,” said Ross, who has been Lester’s personal catcher almost exclusively since 2013 when they both were with the Red Sox.

Ross compared the stretch to Lester’s 2013 postseason, when he went 4-1 with a 1.56 ERA in five starts for the World Series champs.

“The two-seam [fastball] is a lot better. The changeup’s a lot better. The days he doesn’t have his curve ball, the changeup is effective,” Ross said. “You didn’t see this guy that much last year. This is the guy that I’m used to seeing.”

Hendricks (15-7), who took a no-hit bid into the ninth in Monday’s victory, has major-league baseball’s best ERA (2.03), with Lester second at 2.40.

And Hendricks has his own impressive streak: 13-4 with a 1.59 ERA in his last 20 starts.

“It’s a credit to those guys and their hard work and preparation being where they’re at in that race,” Ross said, adding, “but I think we’re over personal goals and just trying to get the big group goal. That’s what we’re focused on.”

Sun-Times Cubs rotation power rankings

Start arranging the Cy Young candidates into a playoff rotation. The Cubs’ magic number is one, and the only drama left is how close to Game 1 Kyle Hendricks will be scheduled.

  1. Jon Lester (17-4, 2.40)               Looking like 155 million bucks right now
  2. Kyle Hendricks (15-7, 2.03)      A two-man, all-Chicago Cy Young race?
  3. Jake Arrieta (17-6, 2.91)            3 more shots at back-to-back 20 win seasons
  4. John Lackey (9-8, 3.35)             3 ER, 11 IP in 2 GS since DL stint (shoulder)
  5. Jason Hammel (14-9, 3.60)       Bedeviled by career-hi 23 HR w/ 3 GS left
  6. Mike Montgomery (0-0, 3.93)  Could he move up with clinching W Thursday?

NR: Trevor Cahill (0-0, 0.00), Adam Warren (0-0, 1.80, traded to Yankees); Brian Matusz (0-0, 18.00, back in minors). Note: All stats for part-time starters are for Cubs starts only.

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