The battle for the post-season is just about settled. The Rays, by taking 3 of 4 from Boston, have prolonged matters. But they've got 10 games left, and 7 of them are with the Yankees. The Red Sox also have 10 games left, and 7 of them are with the Orioles.
Big, big advantage to the Red Sox.
So let's hand out some awards.
The unspoken narrative this season has been the search for an excuse to support the MVP case of Anybody-Except-Jose-Bautista. The only sinister motive I assign to this is the desire for people to have something to talk about. Bautista burst from the gate like Babe Ruth himself and quickly lapped the field. Which is not the most interesting story to tell, especially if you make your living writing stories about baseball. I personally have always believed that "most valuable" means "best." The best player has more value than the second best player. Jose Bautista has been the best player in the American League this season.
There are those who focus on the phrase "most valuable to his team" when they're trying to justify some other candidate. I've always thought of this as the Doug Gilmour fallacy. Back in the early 1990s, Leafs fans would try to argue Doug Gilmour's case for the Hart Trophy by saying that he meant more to the Maple Leafs than Mario Lemieux meant to the Penguins. This did not actually make him more valuable than Lemieux, of course - if the Penguins had been sufficiently insane as to actually trade Lemieux for Gilmour, the Leafs would have gotten better and the Penguins would have gotten worse. What they meant was that Gilmour constituted a greater share of the overall goodness of the Leafs than Lemieux did for the Penguins. But even this argument isn't going to fly in the case of Bautista, who represents a greater share of what is good and decent and noble about the Blue Jays than any other player in the majors means to his team.
There is a third line of argument, that considers what the player has done in the context of its impact on the championship season. And this is where Bautista's case could run into trouble. It's not Jose Bautista's fault that all his efforts have been able to achieve is to keep the Blue Jays at around .500. But that is all he's achieved. He's lifted a bad team to mediocrity. If Alex Anthopoulos had plied Theo Epstein with so much liquour that he had said "Sure!" to the notion of swapping Aaron Hill for Dustin Pedroia... the Jays would still be out of contention. Likewise, if Anthopoulos had held Brian Cashman's family hostage until he agreed to swap Curtis Granderson for Corey Patterson... the Yankees would still be comfortably ahead of Toronto. It's not Bautista's fault that both Dustin Pedroia and Robinson Cano are so much better than Aaron Hill, it's not his fault that Rajai Davis and Corey Patterson couldn't carry Curtis Granderson's batting gloves. But those are Bautista's circumstances.
But these are also Robinson Cano's circumstances, and Ellsbury's and Granderson's. Those teams are sufficiently better than the competition that no single player is that significant. Granted, the Red Sox late season stumbles are threatening to change this particular equation - but I think it will be pretty hard to support Ellsbury for MVP if the Sox fold up completely and actually miss the post-season. Anyway, this is more or less the thinking behind the MVP argument for Justin Verlander. If Detroit was forced to replace Verlander with even an average starting pitcher - Gavin Floyd, say - it's not at all clear that they'd still be in first place. If you wanted to say that no player in the American League has had as significant an impact on the championship season as Justin Verlander, I might agree. I might give him my vote as the Most Significant Player, and if that's what you want from the MVP, maybe he's your man. But Verlander would not be the league's MSP if he played for Boston, or if he played for Toronto. Just like Bautista, just like Pedroia and Granderson, Verlander's particular distinction also comes from the accident of his circumstances. Besides - I don't think Verlander is the best player on his own team. I know they played about 130 games this season where he was just slightly more valuable than me.
So I end where I began. The most valuable player in the league is the best player.
1. Jose Bautista, Toronto
2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit
3. Curtis Granderson, New York
4. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston
5. Justin Verlander, Detroit
The situation in the National League is strikingly similar. Again, a player on a bad team has quite clearly been the best player in the league. The Dodgers were eliminated from contention almost as quickly as the Blue Jays, so there will be no shortage of people looking for a reason to give the award to someone besides Matt Kemp. MVP voters have always loved RBI men, the Brewers are going to the post-season, so it's certain that Prince Fielder will receive considerable support. This would be pretty silly, as the man has no defensive value whatsoever, and isn't even the best offensive player on his own team. The man who is the Brewers' best player, Ryan Braun, does have a good MVP case. His raw offensive numbers, in fact, are actually better than Kemp's.
Kemp has been a better player than Braun, though. Partially because he plays a key defensive position, and plays it pretty well. Braun plays left field because they have to put that bat somewhere, and first base is already occupied. More to the point, Kemp's had to play half his games in one of the toughest hitter's parks in baseball, whereas Braun gets a nice boost from his home field. In neutral parks, although Braun has closed the gap dramatically this month, Kemp has still been a little bit better. Braun has hit .320/.381/.572 on the road with 17 HRs and 46 RBI - Kemp has hit .320/.406/.584 with 17 HRs and 55 RBI. But Braun goes home to Miller Field, where he's hit .347/.415/.622 with with 14 HR and 57 RBI, whereas Kemp has to go to Dodger Stadium. Where he's still managed to hit .309/.386/.529 with with 16 HR and 56 RBI.
Of course the fact that MVP voters continue to be blissfully unaware of all ballpark effects that don't involve altitude - witness the MVP awards collected by Josh Hamilton, Ivan Rodriguez, and Juan Gonzalez - is probably very bad news for Kemp. And, Like Bautista, Kemp's season hasn't been particularly significant. He's still had more value than anyone else. Although if Brian McCann hadn't missed so many games...
1. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles
2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee
3. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado
4. Joey Votto, Cincinnati
5. Cliff Lee/Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
AL Cy Young
This is not as cut and dried as it looks, as you have to cut Sabathia and, especially, Wilson quite a bit of slack for their home parks. But Verlander's simply having one of those years, and all we can do is shut up and salute.
1. Justin Verlander, Detroit
2. C.C. Sabathia, New York
3. C.J. Wilson, Texas
4. James Shields, Tampa Bay
5. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles
NL Cy Young
Oh, this is fun. Consider, Clayton Kershaw who has posted numbers for this season that can stand up to anyone's, Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee included. What's just as remarkable is that Kershaw's also worked about the same number of innings as the Philly aces. This is a boon for everyone looking for a reason to vote for someone besides Roy Halladay (again, for no particular reason except the unending search for a new story to tell.) But Kershaw's case is the opposite of Kemp's. Dodger Stadium gives Kershaw a big boost, whereas Halladay and Lee are working in a good park for the hitters. (Halladay has pitched a little better at home anyway, and Lee has actually pitched much better in Philadelphia. But still... Dodger Stadium, people. Kershaw gets a huge boost from his home park, where he's gone 11-1, 1.72 (outside Dodger Stadium, Kershaw is 8-4, 2.90.)
So it's either Halladay or Lee, and however closely I peer at their records I find it almost impossible to tell the two apart. Right now, I'd say it's Lee by a micron. Really, whoever pitches better in their final start will have had the better season.
1. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia
2. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia
3. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles
4. Ian Kennedy, Arizona
5. Cole Hamels, Philadelphia
AL Rookie of the Year
I agree that it's a pitcher, but not the one everyone was talking about all year. Michael Pineda had a fine first season, but ultimately a 3.72 ERA at Safeco isn't all that great. I think Ivan Nova's season was more impressive, although I (like everyone else) like Pineda's future better. Dustin Ackley and Brett Lawrie just didn't play enough. I think Mark Trumbo doesn't get enough respect, but it's not him either.
1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay
2. Mark Trumbo, Los Angeles
3. Eric Hosmer., Kansas City
NL Rookie of the Year
The senior circuit produced an amazing crop of rookies last season. This year... not so much.
1. Vance Worley, Philadelphia
2. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
3. Brandon Beachy, Atlanta
AL Manager of the Year
Joe Maddon did what he always does - he ran relief pitchers in and out of the game like there was a bonus payable for every pitching change, and squeezed out just enough runs to support his fine group of starting pitchers. Jim Leyland and Joe Girardi both won their divisions with teams that had just one good starting pitcher - Leyland's bullpen and outfield were also full of holes, although Miguel Cabrera and the remarkable Alex Avila made up for quite a bit.
1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay
2. Jim Leyland, Detroit
3. Joe Girardi, New York
NL Manager of the Year
Some respect for Charlie Manuel wouldn't be monumentally out of line, you know. But when you go from losing 90 games to winning your division, it's pretty simple.
1. Kirk Gibson, Arizona
2. Charlie Manuel, Philadelphia
3. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta
Finally, let's pick some All-Star teams. It makes so much more sense to do this in September, rather than July, no?
C - Alex Avila, Detroit - Wow, that was easy. Honourable mention: Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters.
1b - Miguel Cabrera, Detroit - Kind of snuck up on everyone, but he had yet another monstrous year. Honourable mention: Adrian Gonzalez, Paul Konerko
2b - Robinson Cano, New York - Cano and Pedroia can both do just anything on a ball field, but Cano does some things a little better. Honourable mention: Pedroia, Howie Kendrick
3b - Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay - Injuries played havoc with Youkilis and Rodriguez's seasons, which narrowed the field somewhat. Longoria's season looks quite a bit like Adrian Beltre's and both men are wonderful defensive players, but Beltre plays in the best hitter's park in the league and Longoria plays in the worst. Honourable mention: Beltre, Mark Reynolds.
ss - Jhonny Peralta, Detroit - Not a banner year for AL shortstops. Peralta's defense is average at best, but he does enough with the bat to push him to the top of the heap. Honourable mention: Yunel Escobar, Asrubal Cabrera
lf - Alex Gordon, Kansas City - Wow, was I wrong about this guy. I'd written him off completely, and kudos to those of you who challenged me on that back in the spring. Gordon played better than Josh Hamilton, and he was much better at staying in the lineup. Which makes it a pretty easy choice, actually. Honourable mention: Hamilton, Josh Willingham
cf - Curtis Granderson, New York - Very close between him and Ellsbury. Personally, I think the criticism of Granderson's defense is suspicious - the Yankees team defense is quite impressive, and I don't think it's because of the left fielder, as good as he happens to be. And I'm pretty sure it's not the shortstop. Honourable mention: Ellsbury, Peter Bourjos
rf - Jose Bautista, Toronto - The best player in the league, so... yeah. Honourable mention: Matt Joyce, Carlos Quentin.
dh - David Ortiz, Boston - It turns out he's not quite as washed up as I was thinking. Head and shoulders above the rest. Honourable mention: Billy Butler, Victor Martinez
sp - Justin Verlander, Detroit. Honourable mention: C.C. Sabathia, C.J.Wilson, James Shields
rp - Mariano Rivera, New York - He's still the one. Honourable mention: Jose Valverde, David Robertson
C - Brian McCann, Atlanta - Duh. Honourable mention: Yadier Molina and Miguel Montero
1b - Joey Votto, Cincinnati - Stands just a little higher than the rest. Honourable mention:Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder
2b - Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee - Utley's injury and Uggla's nightmarish first half eliminated the usual suspects. Honourable mention:Brandon Phillips, Uggla
3b - Aramis Ramirez, Chicago - It's not surprising that injuries took a big bite of the seasons of Scott Rolen and Chipper Jones, but David Wright, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval also missed plenty of time. Ramirez was almost the last man standing. Honourable mention: Sandoval, Jones
ss - Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado - The best in the game, by a comfortable margin. Honourable mention: Jose Reyes, Jimmy Rollins
lf - Ryan Braun, Milwaukee - A very easy choice. Honourable mention: Matt Holliday, Carlos Gonzalez
cf - Matt Kemp, Los Angeles - The best player in the league. Honourable mention: Andrew McCutchen, Shane Victorino.
rf - Justin Upton, Arizona - Very tough choice between him and Beltran, who was just as productive a hitter in tougher places to hit. Upton's speed and durability tip the scales for me. Honourable mention: Beltran, Lance Berkman
sp - Cliff Lee, Philadelphia. Honourable mention: Roy Halladay, Clayton Kershaw, Ian Kennedy
rp - Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta - Honourable mention: Jonny Venters, Tyler Clippard
Let the disagreeing commence! (And next Monday comes the 2011 Blue Jays report Card, and we can all argue about that)