As the Major League Baseball season reaches its midway point, award races are heating up.

Former Mountaineer ace Alek Manoah is in the thick of what looks to be the most tightly contested race for any of the league’s major awards this season.

Manoah, who set a Toronto Blue Jays record in Monday night’s win over Baltimore, is 8-1 on the year. He is also one of the leading candidates for the American League Cy Young Award.

“I would vote for him,” said ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian on the latest edition of the ESPN Baseball Tonight podcast. “He leads the league in ERA, he’s pitched 75 innings, he’s done it for a very good team. I find three, four guys that you could put in this conversation, but I would take the big right-hander for the Blue Jays.”

Kurkjian, who has been covering Major League Baseball since 1981, laid out part of the argument for Manoah with that response.

Following his start on Monday, Manoah has the best earned run average (1.67) in the American League, and second-best in all of baseball. His eight wins and 11 quality starts are both tied for the most in baseball.

Fellow longtime ESPN baseball reporter, Buster Olney, spoke glowingly of Manoah’s demeanor in the clubhouse and dugout. Toronto’s Sportsnet telecasts often show Manoah interacting with his coaches and teammates, both during games he pitches and games he’s not pitching in.

“I like watching him interact with teammates in the dugout during his starts,” Olney said during the podcast. “He’s just a normal guy. He’s not someone who has this aura about him, like a starting pitcher. He’s just another normal player in the dugout having a great time.”

Not only has what Manoah has done to this point in the season caught Kurkjian’s attention, but the way he’s doing it has, as well.

“He looks like your third catcher or your second DH, and he’s out there firing. Maybe that’s part of it. Maybe people look at him, and he doesn’t even really look like a pitcher until that stuff comes in,” Kurkjian said with a laugh. “And then everyone goes woah, we’re dealing with something really good here.”

Through 32 starts in his major league career, Manoah owns a 17-3 record with a 2.59 ERA.

He’s been even better this year, as his earned run average is nearly a full run lower. He has also lowered his WHIP to 0.912, which is fifth in the MLB.

Manoah also shows well in advanced metrics.

He is second in baseball in WAR for pitchers at 3.0, according to Baseball-Reference. He has the third-best adjusted ERA+ in the big leagues (237), is second in Win Probably Added (2.6), and has the best Championship Win Probability Added (1.7) among all pitchers in Major League Baseball.

The 2019 All-American is scheduled to be back on the mound on Saturday against the New York Yankees.

Manoah is 2-0 with a 1.52 ERA through four career starts against New York.