And the Winner is. . .

Will this man still be smiling in October?

With two weeks left in the season, several of the year-end honors are still up for grabs. In fact, I can’t recall a year when so many awards were still in play this late into September. So I think I’ll go out on a limb and present the first annual “Off the Foul Pole Awards With Two Weeks to Go in the Season.” Check back in a few weeks to see how much I’ve wavered.  

NL MVP: I’ve been wavering on this one for quite some time. Pujols? Votto? Gonzalez? All three — serious Triple Crown threats for much of the second half  — are worthy. I’ve eliminated Pujols because of the Cards’ fade, plus the fact that Pujols is having just another average year — for Albert Pujols. Carlos Gonzalez has provided a big lift for the white hot Rockies, but I’ve soured on him for two reasons: 1) In the grand tradition of Rockies sluggers (Bichette, Walker, Galarraga, Helton, Holliday), he’s a mere mortal away from Coors Field, and 2) You can argue that Troy Tulowitski, who is having one of the best September’s EVER, is more deserving. That leaves Joey Votto, who despite being almost snubbed for the All-Star team, has been consistently great and is the biggest of many reasons the Reds have been at or near the top of the NL Central all year.     

AL MVP: Many solid candidates. Mauer. Cano. Cabrera. Beltre. Bautista. Konerko. But one man stands alone: Josh Hamilton. He has done it all for the Rangers, who have run away with the West crown. In a  year when offense is markedly down, he’s hitting .360 to go with his power and fielding prowess.    Easy pick.

NL Cy Young: I almost conceded this pick back in July to Ubaldo Jimenez, who had arguably the best first half by a starting pitcher in the last 40 years. He’s still in the running, but a tepid second half has put him a nose behind Roy Halliday and maybe even with Adam Wainright (who might be the front runner if not for a rough stretch last month) . I’m not really sure where Jimenez wins out over the Phillies ace. Maybe his invisible pre-All Star game ERA and no-hitter will stand out in many voters’ eyes, but Halliday is simply the best pitcher in the NL if not all of baseball. He’s my guy.

AL Cy Young: A month ago, there were more guys in the mix than 2012 GOP Presidential hopefuls.  A  lot of  solid campaigns, but no undeniable front-runner. I’m talking about the Cy Young race, not the race to unseat Obama. Sabathia. Buchholz. Price. Hernandez. Cahill. Wilson. Right now, it’s down to C.C. Sabathia and David Price. Hernandez may be having as good a year as anyone, but he has only 11 wins and pitches for a lousy club. Sorry King Felix, maybe next year. I think C.C.’s first ever 20-win total and strong second half gives him a  slight edge, although Price’s ERA (the first stat I look at) has been about .25 – .50 lower than C.C.’s for much of the year. Tough call. Right down to the wire. I’ll go with C.C. for the moment.

NL Rookie of the Year: A very crowded field. There are about ten players who are worthy. Jason Heyward was the prohibitive favorite back in April and he has not disappointed. But he has had the stiffest competition from Giants’ catcher Buster Posey,Cards’ starter Jaime Garcia, and Brewers’ reliever John Axford. Other notables includes Gaby Sanchez and Mike Stanton of the Marlins, Ike Davis and Jon Niese of the Mets, Tyler Colvin and Starlin Castro of the Cubs,  and Mike Leake of the Reds. My vote goes to Posey.  A rookie catcher who is hitting .325, in a  pennant race at that, gets the nod.   

AL Rookie of the Year: Not a stellar group. Among position players, the two most notables are in Motown. Brennan Boesch and Austin Jackson have both had solid debuts seasons, although both tailed off in the second half. Two pitchers have stood out: starter Wade Davis of Tampa Bay, who has notched 12 wins, and Neftali Feliz of the Rangers, who has chalked up 36 saves in 39 opportunities.  My vote goes to Feliz. A rookie reliever with 30+ saves is rare.

NL Manager of the Year: Back on September 1, this was like Secretariat in the Belmont. Not a  challenger in sight of Bud Black, who was running about 31 lengths ahead of the pack. But with the Padres September swoon, and the Rockies in the midst of another torrid September run, you have to pay attention to Jim Tracy and they head toward the finish. Regardless of how the West is won, I think Black wins by a head. He’s had less to work with.    

AL Manager of the Year: Before the season started, I was dumbfounded that Texas would keep Ron Washington in charge after the revelation that he failed a drug test last season. Well, as baseball moves go, I guess it worked out well for Texas and Washington. But my vote goes to Ron Gardenhire, who for the second straight year got the Twins to play their best ball without Justin Mourneau.    

World Series: I’m sure the suits at Fox would love to see a rematch of Yankees-Phillies. I, the perennially disappointed Mets fan, do not. But I do believe the Phils will grab their third consecutive NL crown. They are finishing very strong and with Halliday, Oswalt and Hamels going 1-2-3, they are simply the most imposing and grittiest team in the league. In the AL, I like the Twins. I think the Yankees, Rays or Rangers can get there — they each have  a guy at the top of the rotation who can make a difference. But the Twins are playing like it’s their time. Of course, if they make it to the Series, they won’t have the advantage of the thunderous Metrodome like they did in ’87 and ’91. But they may have something even more potent: cold Minnesota air. The Phils will have home field advantage, thanks to that ridiculous All Star Game rule, but I’m taking the Twins to capture their third World Series title.   If they can put away the Yanks and Phils, they just may become my second favorite team.

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