MVP picks that may surprise you
In the National League MVP vote, which should be fascinating, the question the voters will have to ask themselves is whether two players who came to the party late can qualify for that coveted seasonal honor.
That is, was a half season of CC Sabathia's dominance and heroics enough to carry him to this year's award? And was less than half a season plenty for that savant turned savior, Manny Ramirez?
My answer is an enthusiastic yes to both questions. Both candidates are deserving. I don't care that they were late arrivers to the National League this season. Sabathia (11-2, 1.65 ERA in 17 starts for Milwaukee) and Ramirez (.396, 17 homers, 53 RBIs in 53 games with L.A.) easily made the biggest impacts.
Ramirez is the MVP and Sabathia the runner-up on my ballot. Although the reverse works for me, too.
Ryan Howard still looks like the probable winner to me, as he had a big finish and bigger numbers (48 homers, 146 RBIs), which will sway a majority of voters. But just like Ramirez and Sabathia, Howard did almost all his real work over the final few months of the season.
Howard's season stats are larger. But the performances of Ramirez and Sabathia are more remarkable.
Johan Santana (16-7, league-leading 2.53 ERA) would be there right at the top of my MVP ballot, too, if not for the Mets' second straight last-minute failure. But thanks to the ineptitude of teammates, Santana's not going to win the MVP.
Even so, in one way Santana could be the single biggest winner this awards season. His superhuman performance on Saturday may have earned him a consolation prize of a cool $25 million.
According to Santana's record $137.5 million contract, the seventh year kicks in to the tune of $25 million if he wins one Cy Young award or finishes in the top three twice in the six guaranteed seasons, and after his heroic effort he just might shoot to the top of the Cy Young vote.
Since that award should be more closely tied to overall numbers and less to which teams make it to October, I'll give Santana an ever-so-slight edge over Sabathia, who matched Santana's late-year heroics and led his team into October, too.
In this remarkable year of pitching performances in the National League (what's odd is that the NL produced better individual hitting performances than the AL, as well), at least five worthy candidates will likely dot different ballots, including tiny Giants wunderkind Tim Lincecum, 22-game winner Brandon Webb and perfect shutdown closer Brad Lidge. I'd take Santana and Sabathia 1-2, but I couldn't really argue against any of the other picks, either.
The AL races don't hold the same sort of allure. Cliff Lee wrapped up the Cy Young by August. As for MVP, no one really stands out among the candidates I keep hearing about.
With that in mind, I'll take the only AL player who truly had a spectacular season for a contending team. I might be the only one perhaps making this call. But without even one truly special or MVP-worthy performance among starting pitchers or starting players on any of the contending AL clubs, I'll take K-Rod for MVP.
Here are my full theoretical ballots (since I left the newspaper game, they don't trust me with a real ballot anymore)...
1. Manny Ramirez, Dodgers. The savant saved the storied franchise, slugging .743 and lifting the Dodger dogs to the NL West title.
2. CC Sabathia, Brewers. Carried them with three straight outings on three days' rest, and oh yes, had a league-leading seven complete games.
3. Ryan Howard, Phillies. Huge September (.352, 11 HRs) probably will get him the award.
4. Brad Lidge, Phillies. Second perfect season for a closer ever. That's 41 for 41 in a park that was supposed to be tough on him.
5. Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Kept the Cardinals in the hunt with .357 average despite a banged-up elbow.
6. Ryan Braun, Brewers. Two big bombs in final week aids his cause.
7. Johan Santana, Mets. Worth every penny after a perfect second half (8-0, 2.17 ERA).
8. Carlos Delgado, Mets. Great power run put Mets in playoff position before they blew it again.
9. Chase Utley, Phillies. Huge start still counts.
10. Lance Berkman, Astros. Houston was just a little too late to the party.
NL LVP: Andruw Jones, Dodgers. He hit .158. What can you say? The worst ever. And at $18 million, no less. The anti-Manny.
1. Francisco Rodriguez, Angels. An alltime great season with a record 62 saves.
2. Carlos Quentin, White Sox. Broke his hand in a fit of anger, costing him the top spot here.
3. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. The "jockey'' may actually win it with a scrappy attitude and solid stats (118 runs, 54 doubles).
4. Justin Morneau, Twins. Without him and his 129 RBIs, what does that lineup look like?
5. Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox. The Red Sox campaign is for Pedroia, but this guy is just as pesky (.569 slugging, 115 RBIs).
6. Joe Nathan, Twins. Another great, underappreciated Twins star.
7. Joe Mauer, Twins. Great two-way catcher who won another batting title (.330) and is easily the best in his business.
8. Jermaine Dye, White Sox. Unnoticed star had a nice season.
9. Josh Hamilton, Rangers. As talented as anyone playing, including A-Rod, and 130 RBIs doesn't hurt his cause.
10. Evan Longoria, Rays. Even better, they already locked him up for six years.
AL LVP: Richie Sexson, Mariners, Yankees. Hit .221 overall and was absolutely terrible on both coasts.
NL Cy Young
1. Santana. Gets edge over CC for ERA title and for being in the NL all year.
2. Sabathia. Sheer second-half dominance.
3. Lidge. Though tough to leave out Webb and especially Lincecum (18-5, with a league-leading 265 strikeouts) in this year with at least five deserving candidates.
NL Cy Old: Tom Gorzelanny. Ugliest numbers ever, including a demonic 6.66 ERA.
AL Cy Young
1. Cliff Lee, Indians. Once-in-a-decade type season for this reclamation project (22-3, 2.54 ERA).
2. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays. The one pitcher in the league who can complete what he starts (nine complete games).
3. Francisco Rodriguez. Now holds the alltime saves record.
AL Cy Old: Dontrelle Willis, Tigers. Seemed to lose the strike zone shortly after signing a $29 million extension.