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03/27/08 10:00 AM ET

NL Cy Young field varied and deep

Santana added to mix that already includes Peavy, Webb

On paper, there are at least a dozen starting pitchers who appear to have a better-than-average shot at the 2008 National League Cy Young Award.

The list goes beyond those who have taken home Cy Young hardware before, such as San Diego's Jake Peavy and Greg Maddux, Arizona's Brandon Webb, Atlanta's John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, New York's Johan Santana and Pedro Martinez, San Francisco's Barry Zito and Chris Carpenter of St. Louis.

Add in Brad Penny (16-4, 3.03 ERA last year) of the Dodgers, Carlos Zambrano of the Cubs (18-13, 3.95), Cincinnati ace Aaron Harang (16-6, 3.73), Philadelphia's Cole Hamels (15-5, 3.39), Colorado's Jeff Francis (17-9, 4.22) and Houston's Roy Oswalt (14-7, 3.18) and you have 15 stars who have either won a Cy Young or finished in the top 10 in the balloting in at least one of the past two years.

Some, like Carpenter, are coming off injuries and won't be ready by Opening Day. Others may not get the offensive support necessary to burnish their Cy Young credentials in 2008.

Five, however, pitched extremely well last season, are healthy this spring and with new circumstances surrounding them this year, should be in excellent position to make a run at the award in 2008:

1. Peavy: The reigning NL Cy Young Award winner has everything going for him. He won the pitching Triple Crown (led the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts) last season, won't be 27 years old until May 31 and pitches for a contending team in a pitcher-friendly ballpark. If he stays healthy there's no reason to believe Peavy won't be the first back-to-back winner of the award since Randy Johnson did it with Arizona in 2001-02.

2. Webb: The 2006 NL Cy Young Award winner got off to a so-so start (by his excellent standards) last season, going 4-3 with a 3.74 the first two months of the season. Webb was lights-out the rest of the way, going 14-7 with 2.83 ERA. He was 10-4 with three complete games and a 2.56 ERA in the second half to help the Diamondbacks capture the NL West title.

Opening Day
Countdown to Opening Day
•   March 23: Turnaround tales to be told
•   March 23: Rule 5 decisions loom
•   March 24: Free agents on the spot
•   March 25: Breakout players in 2008
•   March 25: Comeback candidates
•   March 26: Top storylines for '08
•   March 26: Top AL rookie candidates
•   March 26: Top NL rookie candidates
•   March 27: AL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: NL Cy Young candidates
•   March 27: Breaking down '08 slate
•   March 27: Century since Cubs' title
•   March 28: Top AL MVP candidates
•   March 28: Top NL MVP candidates
•   March 29: Changing of guard at short
•   March 30: Predictions for '08
•   March 30: '08 milestones
•   March 30: Season preview

Webb won't have closer Jose Valverde (sixth in the NL Cy Young balloting last season) finishing games behind him this time, but with the Snakes expected to be better offensively and defensively it won't be surprising if Webb wins 20 this season. With the Diamondbacks expected to contend again, that would certainly be enough to put Webb on the Cy Young short list.

3. Oswalt: Since reaching the Major Leagues in 2001, Oswalt leads all pitchers in wins (112) and ranks second to Santana (70) in wins since 2004 (69). The right-hander is 31 and has won 14 or more games each of the last four seasons (including 20 in '04 and '05). Poor run support cost Oswalt a third 20-win season last year, when he had 11 no-decisions and 21 quality starts. Houston's offense ranked 13th in the NL in runs last year. With more run support this year, Houston manager Cecil Cooper joked this spring that Oswalt might win 30 games. That might not be too far off.

4. Santana: The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner (2004, '06) goes for the hat trick with a new team in a new league. Santana was tagged with a career-high 13 losses last season, and his ERA was up a half-run from '06, but he remains one of the best pitchers on the planet. He'll also be pitching for a team picked by many to reach the playoffs. Santana owns a 3.22 career ERA and won 70 games over the last four seasons with the Twins. If he's anything close to that with New York, he'll get plenty of support from the voters.

5. Penny: He finished third in the Cy Young balloting last year after leading the league in winning percentage. The 29-year-old is 32-13 over the past two seasons. He allowed just nine home runs in 208 innings last year and all indications are that the right-hander is ready for another solid season. With the Dodgers expected to be better, the back-to-back All-Star's stock could also rise.

Jim Molony is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.