Earlier today, the baseball world got some difficult news to swallow when the St. Louis Cardinals’ ace Adam Wainwright was experiencing some serious pain in his right throwing arm, and that more than likely, the 29 year old will undergo Tommy John surgery, ending his 2011 season before it begins. The subject of numerous highlight reels thanks to that nasty curveball, not being able to watch Wainwright throw is a loss to baseball fans everywhere—not just those in St. Louis.

His injury sets the stage for another interesting debate. With the runner up shelved, can anyone stop the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner from re-capturing his title?

Without Wainwright, there is a significant gap between Halladay and the rest of the league. The Cardinals’ ace finished second in last season’s voting, capturing all but four of the second place votes after Halladay took home the award unanimously.

To sum last season up in a nut shell—Halladay was so good that it wasn’t even close, and now with the only other 20 game winner of last season out for the year, we wonder if the Philadelphia Phillies’ ace can cruise to the honor yet again as the anchor of a rotation that resembled an All-Star team.

Halladay, who finished with more than 100 total points in the overall voting than any player, was looking down from a different plateau last season. The rest of the field was a little closer. Wainwright finished with 122 total points, followed by Colorado Rockies’ break-out ace Ubaldo Jimenez (90), Atlanta Braves’ ace Tim Hudson (39), Florida Marlins’ ace Josh Johnson (34) and Halladay’s fellow teammate, Roy Oswalt (nine).

We can only wonder what the rest of the voting would have looked like without Wainwright last season, who posted a record of 20-11 with an ERA of 2.42 with the Cardinals. The wealth of second place votes would have been spread around, but would any other pitcher even come close to Halladay? All we can do now is question each of Halladay’s top threats as Wainwright looks on from the dugout.

For most of the first half of the season, Ubaldo Jimenez seemed like a lock to win the National League Cy Young. Before the All-Star break, he posted an incredible record of 15-1 with an ERA of just 2.20 for the Rockies. We baseball fans believed he would cruise to 20 wins without a problem, but not so fast. He struggled after the All-Star break, posting a record of 4-7 with an ERA of 3.80.

Though I’m in favor of voters showing a bit of leniency for Rockies’ pitchers, who are often thrown under the proverbial bus in Colorado thanks to Coors’ Field, until he shows he can be consistent over the course of an entire season, is he a threat to Halladay’s crown?

As voters begin to take a more SABRmetric approach to the voting process, it’s very unlikely that Tim Hudson captures the award this season either. On the surface, Hudson’s record of 17-9 and ERA of 2.83 seem to place him among baseball’s elite pitchers.

Taking a deeper look, we wonder if he was even deserving of his fourth place finish in 2010. He struck out just 5.47 batters per nine innings while featuring a BABIP of .249—showing that he was incredibly lucky last season. His Fielding Independent Pitching, which is a stat designed to show the overall effectiveness of a pitcher in a form similar to ERA, of 4.09 was more akin to that of a bottom of the rotation arm than the ace he is built up to be. Hudson will be lucky to replicate his 2010 season, let alone win the Cy Young.

What about Halladay’s teammates? Can any of them perform well enough to steal some of their ace’s votes and capture the Cy Young Award? Cliff Lee, who won the award in 2008 in the American League with the Cleveland Indians, has an excellent chance of winning the award. Like Halladay last season, he is transitioning to the National League for his first full season, and following a year where he handled the American League opposition—a feat in and of itself—could benefit greatly from having to face the pitcher as opposed to that pesky DH.

Roy Oswalt and Cole Hamels are certainly no slouches either. Oswalt finished sixth in the voting last season while leading the National League in WHIP. He posted a record of 7-1 with the Phillies after coming over from Houston and has fans excited to see what he can do over the course of a full season.

Hamels, on the other hand, has been getting a ton of attention thanks to his newly developed cut fastball. According to pitching coach Rich Dubee, Hamels is in the best shape of his career and now boasts a cutter that is one of best in baseball. In fact, Hamels has improved to the point where FOXsports’ Ken Rosenthal has chosen him as his 2011 NL Cy Young prediction.

While we are losing Wainwright for a season, we must also remember that we are gaining Zack Greinke in his first year in the National League. Greinke, who won the American League Cy Young in 2009 with the Kansas City Royals, was acquired by the Milwaukee Brewers this offseason, as they threw all of their eggs in one basket hoping for a World Series run. Though he had a bit of a down year in 2010 by his standards, he could easily challenge any pitcher in the game for the Cy Young.

If I had to have my pick at who would be the most likely to challenge Halladay, however, I’d go with either Tim Lincecum or Josh Johnson.

Lincecum, who is just turning 27 this season, already has two NL Cy Youngs under his belt, though they were both captured with Halladay in the American League. Lincecum battled a few injuries last season, and perhaps the league became a bit more familiar with him, but that shouldn’t be a problem moving forward. As long as he brings his control back to earth, he should contend for a Cy Young, especially pitching in a large ballpark. The only worry is that making last season’s historic run will do to him what it did to Hamels in 2008. The price for a World Series ring won by young arms are tired arms the following season.

Josh Johnson, on the other hand, has to be one of the most overlooked players in all of baseball. Though he has his injury concerns, the guy’s “stuff” is just absolutely filthy. Before missing the final month of last season, he posted a record of 11-6 with an ERA of 2.30. He seemed to finally develop into one of the game’s truly “elite” arms, and as long as he remains with the Florida Marlins, who are a dark horse pick around baseball and stays healthy, he could win 20 games and challenge any pitcher in baseball—not just Halladay’s Cy Young.

Of course, there’s the chance that Halladay removes himself from the process as well. As Wainwright’s circumstance shows, injuries can pop up at any time and completely hamper a player. There’s no predicting them and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. So while Halladay is likely to continue to blast through the National League, it’s entirely possible that something terribly wrong can happen. In fact, anything can happen.

With Wainwright out of the picture, is there really any pitcher better than Roy Halladay?

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