Posted: Tuesday September 26, 2006 4:11PM; Updated: Tuesday September 26, 2006 10:41PM
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The regular season's final week isn't just a chance for the Cardinals to pull off the choke of the century. It's also a prime opportunity for award candidates to make their final cases. In a year in which some categories are still as wide open as Dick McAuliffe's batting stance, the next few days could mean everything.
If the Phillies are still playing a week from today, Ryan Howard is a lock to become Philadelphia's first MVP since his admirer, Mike Schmidt. But what if Charlie Manuel's club stumbles (Baseball Prospectus gives Philadelphia a 50 percent chance of taking the wild card) and Howard has a lousy week? Then it gets murky. Of the 17 different MVP winners in both leagues over the last 11 years, only three -- Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Larry Walker -- won the award while playing for a non-playoff team. Voters will allow a longer look at Albert Pujols, and they'll see that the Cards first baseman is hitting for a higher average, has a higher OBP, and has struck out nearly 125 fewer times. He is also playing Gold Glove defense while Howard's defense is as leaky as the Eagles secondary. With a lesser supporting cast, Pujols is having the better all-around season. Who will win: Howard Who should win: Pujols
NL Cy Young
Here's the most underwhelming race. Not since 1982 has a pitcher with an ERA above 3.00 won the award, and it's possible that the two current frontrunners -- Chris Carpenter and Brandon Webb, who were both scheduled to have two starts this week -- finish with ERAs north of that figure, and both are also likely to finish shy of 18 wins. If the pair have poor outings to finish the year, look for new all-time saves leader Trevor Hoffman -- a media favorite -- to make a real push. Webb, though, has had the best all-around year: He's in the top three in the league in wins, ERA, innings, WHiP and complete games. Who will win: Webb Who should win: Webb
Derek Jeter is having his finest season this century but the folks at 33formvp.com are right on: Justin Morneau means more to his team. On June 7 the Twins were 25-33 and as dead as Jesse Ventura's political career. Since then their sweet-swinging Canadian first baseman leads the majors in hitting (.368 average) and is second to Howard in RBIs (91), and the Twinkies -- not coincidentally -- have posted the best record in baseball. Who will win: Jeter Who should win: Morneau
AL Cy Young
Johan Santana should be closing in on his third straight award (he, not Bartolo Colon, deserved the honor last year), which would have made him the first in AL history to do so. As marvelous as Santana has been this year, he will be the first starter without 20 wins since 2000 to claim the AL award. And that's why a pitcher's win-loss record is a reasonably meaningless indicator of performance. Minnesota is an absurd 25-4 since April 27 in games Santana has started; they're 16-0 for the season when he takes the mound in the Metrodome. He not only should be a unanimous winner but also deserves serious MVP consideration. Who will win: Santana Who should win: Santana
NL Rookie of the Year
This is the hardest race to read because of the number of worthy candidates. A week ago Dan Uggla was a frontrunner, then he went into a 2-for-30 funk, and now he may not even finish in the top three. Uggla's teammate, Hanley Ramirez, is more worthy of the award. Ramirez, whose VORP (50.8) far exceeds Uggla's (38.2), is enjoying a spectacular all-around first year, hitting .290 with 115 runs scored and 50 stolen bases. But Ryan Zimmerman has been even better: he's played exceptional defense at third base, and has put up big numbers (.283, 70 extra base hits, 104 RBIs) while playing home games at cavernous RFK Stadium. Who will win: Ramirez Who should win: Zimmerman
AL Rookie of the Year
This race appeared incredibly tight a month ago but in reality it's not even close: Justin Verlander has been the AL's best rookie, even considering his 5.82 ERA over the past two months. All year long the Old Dominion grad has been the ace on arguably the best team in baseball, while injuries have derailed the outstanding seasons of Francisco Liriano and Jonathan Papelbon. Who will win: Verlander Who should win: Verlander