And the winners are ...

October 01, 2006|By DAN CONNOLLY | DAN CONNOLLY,SUN REPORTER

Baseball may be behind the NFL in popularity, the NBA in coolness and NASCAR in fan friendliness, but when it comes to stirring passionate debate each season, no sport can compete with baseball and its postseason awards.

And, of the four major ones of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, none matches Most Valuable Player for cachet or drama.

It's the same this year, with two great races coming down to the final week. Neither choice is easy. Here's a look at all the awards. And, for those who vehemently disagree, a disclaimer: Because of potential conflicts of interest, The Sun does not allow its BBWAA members to participate in official postseason awards voting.

In other words, my vote has no more weight than a fan's.

American League MVP: David Ortiz, Boston Red Sox designated hitter.

Yes, he doesn't play the field and his team didn't make the playoffs. To me, those are things to consider when the numbers are close. These numbers aren't close. Ortiz will win two- thirds of the Triple Crown by double digits in homers and maybe double digits in RBIs. He's second in slugging percentage and third in on-base-plus-slugging. Ortiz won't win this award, though, because of the bias against those who don't play the field. Last time I checked, though, the DH was a lineup spot in the AL.

New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter is the popular candidate, and he's a solid choice. The captain on a division winner and baseball's highest-profile team, Jeter is having a great season and is fine defensively at a demanding position. But he leads in no offensive categories, and MVP is often won on power production, homers and RBIs. Jeter has driven in runs, but his 14 homers are among his career low.

Although Jeter's batting average is .345, his on-base percentage is just points ahead of Ortiz's. Both are great in the clutch and have scored nearly the same number of runs - but New York's lineup is better. And that makes a difference in overall production. Heading into last night, Ortiz had been intentionally walked 23 times; Jason Giambi was the most intentionally walked Yankee at 11. Jeter had four intentional walks, the same as Kansas City Royals second baseman Mark Grudzielanek.

There is a middle-ground option in between the Jeter-Ortiz camps: Minnesota Twins first baseman Justin Morneau. He's solid defensively, is on a playoff team and is second to Ortiz in RBIs. His campaign is gathering steam and he might win it. Minnesota's Joe Mauer, the Chicago White Sox's Jermaine Dye, Cleveland Indians' Travis Hafner, Oakland Athletics' Frank Thomas and Twins pitcher Johan Santana also deserve consideration.

National League MVP: Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies first baseman.

With apologies to the New York Mets' scary lineup, the Florida Marlins' Miguel Cabrera, Washington Nationals' Alfonso Soriano and Houston Astros' Lance Berkman, this really is a two-person race. St. Louis Cardinals first baseman and reigning MVP Albert Pujols' is the sport's best player. He'll become the first in baseball history to finish in the top five in MVP voting in his first six years.

But Howard's season -his second half in particular - has not only carried the scuffling Phillies into the pennant race, it's also been one of the game's best stories. Imagine a pursuit of 60 home runs and no one has any juice on Howard as a juicer. Now that's refreshing.

The numbers are pretty close, but Howard has a significant lead in homers and RBIs. Part of that is because he has roughly 50 more at-bats than Pujols, who was sidelined earlier this year. So Howard also gets points for durability. Bottom line: Pujols could win every season with no complaint here, but Howard deserves this one.

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana, Twins left-hander.

Pitching triple crown and most innings pitched - last accomplished by Sandy Koufax. Enough said.

NL Cy Young: Brandon Webb, Arizona Diamondbacks right-hander.

This is about as unsexy as a major award can get. Depending on how Webb does today, he could capture at least a share of the wins crown and win the ERA title. He hasn't been super consistent, posting a 5.00-plus ERA in two different months, but his overall numbers are the best.

Reigning winner Chris Carpenter of St. Louis is the closest contender. The sentimental favorite is San Diego Padres closer Trevor Hoffman, who became the all-time saves leader this year. All are fine choices; none is outstanding.

AL Rookie of the Year: Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers right-hander.

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