There’s only a week left in the baseball season, but I’ve already cast my vote for the annual awards in both leagues. For all of my fellow baseball writers, here’s the direction you ought to be leaning as you fill out your ballot:
NL Rookie of the Year
This is an extremely difficult vote, seeing as how the NL has fielded a bumper crop of young rookies this season. After the Strasburg hype machine went the way of Tommy John, this really became a three man race: Buster Posey wasn’t called up until late May, but he’s done nothing but hit since his arrival, solidifying the heart of the Giant order as they make a playoff push; Jamie Garcia has been a force for the Cardinal pitching staff, posting 13 wins and a 2.70 ERA, providing southpaw punch to a right-handed dominant rotation; and Jason Heyward, the Braves wunderkind outfielder who — before he even had his first big league at-bat under his belt — was hailed as the next Henry Aaron. A couple of weeks ago, Joe Morgan actually said something intelligent: he said Heyward would get his vote because he’s been helping the Braves win games — with his bat, his glove, and his legs — since Opening Day. For once, Joe makes a salient point. That’s enough for me to give my vote to Heyward.
AL Rookie of the Year
This group of rookies doesn’t even come close to the National League. Basically, this one comes down to two choices: the Tigers’ center fielder, Austin Jackson; and the Rangers’ closer, Neftali Feliz. While Jackson has certainly been a gem for Detroit, developing at a much faster rate than anyone could’ve reasonably expected, Feliz has emerged as a lights-out closer in the back of the Texas bullpen, leveraging ninth inning outs for a playoff contender with ease. His numbers (2.65 ERA, 38 Saves, 69 strikeouts in 66 innings) are even more impressive when you consider he began the season with a grand total of 31 major league innings pitched under his belt. Feliz looks like he’ll be a dominant stopper for years to come.
NL Cy Young
This is another difficult race to handicap. Last season, the NL Cy Young came down to three worthy candidates: Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, and Tim Lincecum. Waino and Carp pretty much split the vote, leaving Lincecum with a clear path to his 2nd consecutive piece of hardware. This season, Lincecum and Carpenter don’t stand much of a shot, but Wainwright has been as dominant as ever. He and Phillies’ ace Roy Halladay are tied for the league lead with 20 wins; Rockies’ horse Ubaldo Jiminez is close behind with 19. Of these three, Wainwright leads in ERA (2.42 to Halladay’s 2.53); he and Halladay are for second in strikeouts with 213 each. There seems to be a prevailing notion that Roy Halladay is the best pitcher in the league, but Wainwright’s numbers are comparable in nearly every area; and where there is a discrepancy, the numbers favor Wainwright. Hopefully Wainwright will be rightfully honored with the NL’s premier award for pitching this season.
AL Cy Young
This will be a tremendously interesting race to follow. The best pitcher in the league is Felix Hernandez. He leads in ERA (2.31), innings pitched (241) and he’s second in strikeouts (227). Here’s the problem: he only has 12 wins. As in, only one more than Bruce Chen. (Yes, I had to look it up, too. But it’s true. Bruce Chen has won 11 games this season. The end is nigh, people.) Anyway, King Felix has been awesome. But he’s probably not going to win this award. (However, Sully makes a great argument that he should win the Cy BECAUSE he won 12 games for this wretched Mariners club. Good point.) The lowest win total for a non-closer AL Cy Young award winner? 16 wins from Zack Greinke last year. But I doubt 12 will get it done.
That being said, I think the voters will look at C.C. Sabathia’s gaudy win total and send the award his way. And it’s not like the Big Fella’s pitched poorly: 20 wins, a 3.26 ERA, the second-most innings pitched in the league. It’s just that so many other pitchers have pitched BETTER than Sabathia has: Jon Lester, David Price, Clay Buchholz, Jered Weaver to name a few. If I had a vote, I’d give it to Felix, but I have a feeling this one will belong to Sabathia.
The Cards fan in me feels like this award should go to Albert Pujols by default as long as there’s air in his lungs. El Hombre has put up impressive numbers yet again this year, although they aren’t quite as splashy as some of his other seasons. Still, it’s hard to argue with the league leader in HR (42), runs (112) and RBI (116) and 4th place in the batting race (.311 AVG) when you’re voting for the MVP. But I have to be honest: If I had a vote, I’d give it to Joey Votto. Not only is the kid leading the league in On Base Percentage and Slugging Percentage, he’s been the catalyst for a Cincinnati Reds club that’s heading to the postseason for the first time in a long time. Honorable mention goes to Carlos Gonzalez, but since Votto is the only one of the three who’ll be playing in October, he gets my vote.
It’s weird because the best teams in the league — the Rays, the Twins, the Yanks — don’t have that ONE spectacular player that’s helped push them over the top this season. Sure, Joe Mauer is the reigning MVP, but you could argue that Delmon Young has meant more to the Twins this season than Mauer. And the Rays are just the consummate team: Evan Longoria and Carl Crawford are prime cogs but the rest of the lineup is more often than not determined by matchups, Joe Maddon’s way of getting the most out of his players. No singular Yankee has had a stand out season; perhaps Robinson Cano, but no one seems to be talking about him for MVP. That leaves a few clear options: Josh Hamilton, who is in line to win the league’s batting championship for an October bound club; and Jose Baustista, who has come out of nowhere to hit an amazing 52 homers (and counting) for a team that’s going nowhere. I’d probably vote Hamilton, primarily because his team is going to win their division. But I wouldn’t be surprised if Bautista’s power sways a good many voters his way.
NL Manager of the Year
Hard to argue against Charlie Manuel here. No NL team has gone to three straight World Series’ since the 1940s. And while the Phils aren’t there yet, they’re sure looking like the prohibitive favorites coming out of the National League. But I really like the job Bruce Bochy has done out in San Francisco. We all knew their pitching would be solid with Lincecum, Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and closer Brian Wilson shutting things down in the ninth. But Bochy has cobbled together enough of an offense to be competitive, fielding a lineup of AL castoffs (Aubrey Huff, Pat Burrell, Jose Guillen, Andres Torres) en route to a possible division crown. If the Giants make the playoffs, they could make some hey in a short series with Lincecum and Cain.
AL Manager of the Year
Ron Gardenhire of Minnesota doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his craft. But he’s a great manager. When Justin Morneau went down with a concussion three months ago, people worried that the Twins would fall apart. Not only did they prove that prediction wrong, they went on to post the best record in the majors after the All Star Break. That’s a testimony to a manager getting the most out of his players. Honorable mention goes to Ron Washington of Texas. After the off-season he had, it’s nice to see him leading his club to October.