|AP Photos NY183-187|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 28 September 2007 18:49|
The rest of the races for baseball's top honors are as tight as the stomach knots that plagued Mets fans all week.
After New York blew a seven-game cushion in the East, seven National League teams went into Friday night with a chance to make the playoffs.
One final weekend, three games to go, all four NL spots still available. Unbelievable.
And there were nearly as many contenders for NL MVP as there were teams in the hunt. At the front of the line: Matt Holliday from the surprising Colorado Rockies, Prince Fielder of the Milwaukee Brewers and Jimmy Rollins representing the Philadelphia Phillies.
They all play different positions, they all have different strengths, they all provide leadership in their own way for a club that contended down to the wire.
That makes it hard to compare 'em. It's not like lining up one big bopper against another and just seeing who has more RBIs or a better slugging percentage.
Rollins has plenty of pop (30 homers), but what makes him special is his rare combination of power and speed. One of the game's most dangerous leadoff hitters, he was leading the league in runs scored (136) and triples (19) while ranking fifth in stolen bases (38).
He's also supplied outstanding defense at shortstop and played in every game this season for the Phillies, who were ravaged by injuries to other stars all year.
``He's done everything you can ask. He's been the catalyst for our team,'' said Ryan Howard, last year's NL MVP. ``He's stepped up into the leadership role, made it known and is making things happen. Is he the MVP? I think so. While everything else has fallen apart this year, he's the guy who's made things happen.''
With 44 homers and 130 RBIs, Howard warrants another look himself. But he also set a major league mark for strikeouts in a season, and it's Rollins who has been Philadelphia's steadiest performer in 2007.
His biggest shortcoming, however, is an underwhelming on-base percentage of .344. And while Rollins helps make up for that with a bevy of extra-base hits, OBP remains an important stat, particularly for a leadoff hitter.
With more than 700 at-bats already, Rollins was poised to break the big league record for one season. So even though he topped 200 hits, he had made nearly 500 outs this year.
That's a huge total - too many for an MVP. Holliday and Fielder are each just above the 400-out mark.
The knock on Holliday, batting .338 and leading the NL with 132 RBIs, is that he plays his home games at hitter-friendly Coors Field, which inflates his offensive numbers. And while Coors is no longer the homer haven it once was, thanks to the humidor, there is some validity to that argument.
Holliday was batting .374 with 25 homers in Colorado, and .301 with 11 homers on the road. In fairness, Milwaukee and Philadelphia (especially) are excellent places to hit, too. But Fielder and Rollins don't have that sort of home-and-away discrepancy.
Holliday plays a solid left field, part of the Rockies' exceptional defense, so he gets an edge in that department over Fielder - who has 14 errors at first base.
Still, in a very close call, the choice for NL MVP is the 23-year-old Fielder. The youngest player to hit 50 homers in a season, he's carried much of the offensive load for the Brewers all season as they tangled with the Chicago Cubs for the NL Central title.
Sure, Milwaukee let a comfortable midseason lead slip away, but Fielder did all he could for his team. In addition to leading the league in home runs, he ranked first in slugging percentage (.622) and third in RBIs (119).
``Watch him on a popup to the outfield. He's sprinting to second base every time,'' Milwaukee manager Ned Yost said. ``Everything he does on that field sets an example. All you've got to do is watch him.''
Fielder also had less help around him than Rollins or Holliday.
Philadelphia's lineup is loaded with sluggers such as Howard, Chase Utley and Pat Burrell. The Rockies boast Brad Hawpe, Todd Helton and Garrett Atkins. The only Brewers hitter besides Fielder with more than 80 RBIs was rookie Ryan Braun.
Of course, Fielder's estranged father, Cecil Fielder, hit 51 home runs with Detroit in 1990. But he never won an MVP award, so this is a chance for Prince to be first in the family for a change.
No doubt, he would relish that.
``It would be a cool award to get, but that's not something I really think about, besides the fact that my dad never did it,'' Prince Fielder said. ``If I did get it, it would shut him up again.''
A look at other awards:
AL MVP: Rodriguez in a runaway. ``He's the best player in the game. Shows up to play every day, plays hard,'' Toronto manager John Gibbons said. ``He's played some great defense this year, too.''
Magglio Ordonez has enjoyed a terrific season for Detroit, but A-Rod became only the fifth player in major league history with at least 50 homers and 150 RBIs in a season. Now that the New York Yankees have bounced back from a poor start to reach the playoffs, he should win in a unanimous vote.
That would make it three AL MVPs for Rodriguez: 2003, 2005 and 2007. Wonder where he'll be playing in 2009 - or next year for that matter. But if he flops badly in October again, this could end up being a pretty hollow honor even after his incredible season.
A nod here to the stunning year Devil Rays first baseman Carlos Pena (44 homers, 119 RBIs) put together. He should finish among the top five in MVP voting even though Tampa Bay had the worst record in the majors.
NL Cy Young: This was a competitive race for part of the summer, but Peavy (2.36 ERA) separated himself from Brad Penny, Brandon Webb and the rest of the pack. The San Diego Padres ace is on his way to the pitching version of a Triple Crown, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. That makes this an easy pick.
AL Cy Young: Not an easy pick. The toughest call besides NL MVP. There are four particularly deserving candidates: Boston's Josh Beckett, Los Angeles' John Lackey, and Cleveland teammates C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona.
Oakland's Dan Haren (15-8, 3.12 ERA) would probably get a closer look if he had more wins for a better team, and an injury cost Baltimore's Erik Bedard (221 strikeouts) a chance to win.
Beckett's 20 wins look nice, but he had the highest ERA and the fewest innings pitched of the top four contenders. The choice here is Sabathia (18-7, 3.19), who entered his scheduled start Friday night with an AL-high 234 innings. Plus, the big lefty had struck out 205 and walked only 36, a remarkable ratio that made life easy for his defense all season.
NL Rookie of the Year: Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki takes the honor, barely edging Braun in a neck-and-neck race.
Tulowitzki is a splendid defensive player with a strong arm, and he's really come on the plate (.292, 23 homers, 94 RBIs). Braun, a converted shortstop, has made 26 errors at third base for the Brewers, but he swings a big-time bat. After getting called up in May, he's hitting .325 with 34 homers and 95 RBIs.
``They're obviously the two studs in the NL,'' Hawpe said. ``Tulo's defense has been unbelievable. I hope that doesn't get overlooked.''
AL Rookie of the Year: This is a difficult decision because it pits everyday players against pitchers in a relatively deep class. Tough to compare.
Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.318, 8 HRs, 50 RBIs), Tampa Bay outfielder Delmon Young (93 RBIs), Royals right-hander Brian Bannister (12-9, 3.87 ERA), Boston import Daisuke Matsuzaka (14-12, 4.48 ERA) and Baltimore's Jeremy Guthrie (7-5, 3.70 ERA) have all impressed.
``The fact that Pedroia's doing it in Boston is huge. He's a tough player,'' Gibbons said. ``Pedroia's probably the guy.''
NL Manager of the Year: Charlie Manuel took a lot of heat in Philadelphia during a slow start and still held the Phillies together through all those injuries. Lou Piniella got the Cubs turned around in a hurry. But the pick here is quiet Bob Melvin, who has guided a young Arizona team to surprising success. The Diamondbacks don't have any stars or big bats in the lineup, and Melvin has done a terrific job handling his top-notch bullpen. Arizona has also excelled in one-run games - when managerial moves can make the difference.
AL Manager of the Year: This award usually goes to the skipper of a team that exceeded expectations. Hard to pinpoint one in the American League other than the Seattle Mariners, who had two managers this season. Nobody gets more out of his players than the aggressive and demanding Mike Scioscia of the Los Angeles Angels. Still, Eric Wedge gets the nod here for helping the Indians rebound from a disappointing 2006 to win a tough division. He made a key decision that sparked the club when he replaced slumping second baseman Josh Barfield with rookie Asdrubal Cabrera.
AP Sports Writers Rob Maaddi in Philadelphia, Chris Jenkins in Milwaukee and John Nadel in Los Angeles contributed to this report.