As the 2010 regular season enters its final week, there is some drama left in the pennant races, but lots of drama and intrigue remains in the battle for various individual statistical titles and the more prestigious awards that players covet.
In the American League, we have known which four teams would qualify for the playoffs for many weeks, but who will win the AL East battle between the Yankees and Rays? The Twins also are battling for best record in the league.
On the individual race front, will anybody join CC Sabathia as a 20-game winner? There are some close races (most wins and most runs scored) and some runaways (homers and stolen bases).
In the National League—while it's always foolish to ever count out those streaky Rockies—there appear to be five teams playing for four spots. The Phillies have all but sewn up the East and will soon lock down the best record in the league. The Reds have the Central, and the Giants and Padres are too close to call in the West. The Braves will battle the runner-up in the Giants-Padres tussle for the wild-card entry.
Among NL hitters, batting average and stolen base titles are foregone conclusions, but intrigue remains in several categories, including RBI and runs scored. Among pitchers, most wins and most saves has not yet been determined.
While baseball is a team sport, it also features a host of individual matchups and stats that greatly define the game.
Join me on this tour of some of those individual battles and see my unofficial top five or so in the MVP and Cy Young Award races for both leagues.
** Please note that all stats were compiled prior to the games of Monday, September 27.**
While familiar names such as Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon have accumulated a good number of saves (sixth and fourth respectively), the battle for most saves in the American League comes down to two very similar names: Soria and Soriano.
Rafael Soriano (pictured) has a 44 to 41 lead in saves, and the fact that he is pitching for a better team (Tampa Bay) than Joakim Soria (Kansas City) should allow him to retain his three-save lead.
Well, he's too good to blow it, but there are always blowouts for which he won't get the opportunity.
Their names and their stats are eerily similar:
In 62 games and 60.1 innings pitched, Soriano is 3-2 with 44 saves against only three blown saves. He has 54 Ks and 13 walks, opponents are only batting .164, and his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is 0.80. His ERA is 1.79.
In 63 games and 62.3 innings pitched, Soriano is 1-2 with 41 saves against only two blown saves. He has 69 K's and 16 walks, opponents are batting .211, and his WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched) is 1.04. His ERA is 1.58.
If you think you're seeing double, I'm Sori...er, sorry.
King Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners (pictured) is a factor in many statistical categories, although he's not a factor for most wins in the AL. More on him later.
CC Sabathia (20-7) stands alone as a 20-game winner, but he has only one victory in his last four starts. Who will join him?
Boston's Jon Lester (19-8) is coming up fast and notched his 19th victory on Saturday. He has won his last six starts and figures to get one more.
David Price (18-6) and Justin Verlander (18-8 and winner of his last four starts) have an outside shot at 20 wins, but only if they squeeze in two more starts apiece...and win them.
Hernandez (only 12-2, but with a 2.31 ERA) has a slim lead over Boston's Clay Buchholz (16-7, 2.39). Nobody else is close.
Barring anything weird, Hernandez (241.1 IP) has been the biggest workhorse, with Sabathia second at 229.1.
Texas' Cliff Lee and the Twins' Carl Pavano have seven apiece to Hernandez' six.
The Angels' Jered Weaver just moved in front with 229, trailed closely by Hernandez (227) and Lester (220).
The Rangers' Josh Hamilton (pictured) has been sidelined since September 4, but is a virtual lock for his first batting title.
Batting Average: Hamilton (.361) has a 30-point lead over the amazing Joe Mauer of the Twins, who has led the league in hitting three of the last four years.
Home Runs: It's a pretty safe bet that Toronto's Jose Bautista has this one sewn up. With a remarkable 52 longballs, he is miles ahead of Miguel Cabrera (Tigers) and Paul Konerko (White Sox) who have 38 apiece.
RBI: Cabrera is not likely to be passed by either Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees (who has quietly knocked in 119 in onlly 131 games in an "off" year) or Bautista (118).
Stolen Bases: Veteran Juan Pierre (White Sox) switched leagues and has kept on running. He has 61, and way ahead of runner-up, Rajal Davis of the A's (47).
Runs Scored: Cabrera (110) has a one-run lead over the Yankee's Mark Teixeira (110). Interesting, as between them, the two slow-running first basemen have three stolen bases in seven attempts. Five other players have reached or topped the century mark.
This may be decided by who wins the NL West: the Giants or the Padres. Both races are thisclose.
Brian Wilson (pictured, and no relation to the famous Beach Boy of the same name) has been a great closer for the Giants, saving 45 of 50 opportunities. His other numbers are pretty strong as well: 3-3, 1.90, 67 games, 71 IP, 89/25 K/BB, 1.21 WHIP and a .226 BAA.
Heath Bell, the puffy Padre reliever, has saved 44 of 47 chances and is 6-0 with a 1.78 ERA. In 63 games, he has compiled a K/BB of 84/27, with a 1.17 WHIP and .211 BAA.
The Phillies' Roy "Doc" Halladay (pictured) has made a very smooth transition to the National League, and is leading or close to the lead in many of the following categories. But, several of these will go down to the wire.
Most Wins: Adam Wainwright (20-11) of the Cards is tied with Halladay (20-11) win 20 victories. The Rockies' Ubaldo Jimenez is knocking on the door of the 20-win club with 19.
ERA: Josh Johnson of the Marlins (just 11-6, with a 2.30 ERA) is in great shape in the ERA race, even if sidelined with an injury since September 4. Wainwright (2.42) and Halladay (2.53) are close.
IP: Chris Carpenter (226) trails teammate Wainwright (230.1) and Halladay (241.2); Halladay will take this title.
Complete Games: Doc has notched eight, followed by five from Wainwright, and four apiece from Jimenez, Johan Santana (Mets) and Matt Cain of the Giants.
Ks: Two-time defending Cy Young Award-winner Tim Lincecum (Giants) should win this one: He's at 220, followed by Wainwright and Halladay at 213 and LA's Clayton Kershaw at 212.
Colorado's Carlos Gonzalez (pictured) showed a lot of promise last year, and really exploded this season. While there was talk about either Albert Pujols or Joey Votto winning the Triple Crown, this speedy 25 year-old Venezuelan made a very strong run at it himself.
Batting Average: "Car-Go", barring anything unusual, will win this crown. He's at .341, and trailed by the Reds' Joey Votto (.326) and Rockies teammate Troy Tulowitski (.321). Albert Pujols is tied for fourth at .311, a great year for most but a down year (average-wise) for the Cardinals great.
Home Runs: This one will go to Pujols (42), who is five ahead of Votto and the Nats' Adam Dunn (37). Car-Go is in fourth place at 33.
RBI: Pujols (116) has a slim lead over Car-Go (114) and Votto (111). The Phils' Ryan Howard, no stranger to leading the league in RBI, is 10 back at 106.
Stolen Bases: The Astros' Michael Bourn is literally running away with this one. He has 52; his runner-up, Angel Pagan of the Mets, has pilfered 35. Since Bourn won the tile last year, can we call this his Bourn Identity? Just asking...
Runs Scored: With the exception of the third-place Rickie Weeks (of the Brewers, at 108), we have the usual 2010 suspects: Pujols (112), Gonzalez (110) and Votto (104).
Stay Tuned For My Preliminary Awards in Both Leagues!!
Jon Lester, the fine Red Sox' lefty, is not in first place on my ballot, but I would not count him out of consideration.
There is one week left to the season, and last impressions can be important. A great debate has raged on Bleacher Report as to whether a pitcher with a mediocre won-loss record should be considered for the Cy Young Award, in a season where you have one and possibly two 20-game winners in the league. It's a good question, to which I'd answer "yes".
While there are stats for everything in baseball, it all comes down to what I'd call "educated subjectivity."
With a gun at my head, my ballot now would read, in ascending order:
5) Jered Weaver: 13-12, 3.02 (leads league in Ks with few walks)
4) David Price: 18-6, 2.84 (the ace all year for one of the top couple teams in the AL)
3) Jon Lester: 19-8, 2.96 (coming on very strong, and with a slightly lower ERA might have stolen this thing.)
2) CC Sabathia: 20-7, 3.26 (his ERA is not great, but the man delivered as the clear bedrock of the Yankees' staff.)
1) Felix Hernandez: 12-12, 2.31. His inside numbers are just too good to ignore, and he's already punished by pitching for the Mariners. Ironically, he was 19-5 with good numbers last year, but was runner-up to the guy with the inferior record but better numbers (the Royals' Zack Greinke.)
Honorable Mention: Top fives could have easily been awarded to Justin Verlander, Clay Buchholz, Trevor Cahill, Cliff Lee and Rafael Soriano.
The Blue Jays' Jose Bautista (pictured) is one of a few players that have put up monster numbers for teams that were never really factors in the pennant race this year.
How much should that fact hurt Bautista, or for that matter the White Sox's Paul Konerko, or Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers?
As I look at the AL MVP candidates, I see the aforementioned guys having great years for teams that were barely in contention, and then several others having really solid years for contenders. My list is highly subject to change, but as of now, my top six in ascending order would be:
6) Jose Bautista: .265/52-118 w/ 106 runs and an OPS (On-Base Percentage plus Slugging of 1.011) - Hurt a little by the Jays' non-contention, and his home numbers dwarf his road stats.
5) Robinson Cano: .318-28-109 w/ 100 runs and an OPS of .911. Arguably, the best player on a star-studded Yankees team this year.
4) Miguel Cabrera: .328/38-126 w/ 111 runs and an OPS of 1.043. Miggy has been great from start to finish.
3) Evan Longoria: .294/22-104 w/ 96 runs and an OPS of .879.
Not quite the same stats as some ranked below, but he's the acknowledged team leader of a team that will finish either first or second in baseball's best division.
2) Joe Mauer: .331/9-74 w/88 runs and an OPS of .880. Mauer does not have the power stats this year, but he plays the most important defensive position, and has played through injuries while helping to carry the Twins since Justin Morneau went down.
1) Josh Hamilton .361/31-97 w/ 94 runs scored. His sheer numbers would've have been much higher if he was not out the last 25 games or so. He was the best player on a Rangers team that had the division all but clinched when he went down.
If you saw the statistical analysis a few slides back, you might guess that the NL Cy Young Award would come down to Adam Wainwright (pictured) and Roy Halladay.
Statistics don't always tell the whole story, but in this case, they are ranked No. 1 and 2 on my list. Here's my top five:
5) Mat Latos (torn between him and Tim Hudson): The young Padres fireballer has cooled off of late, but is still 14-8, 2.91 with a 179/48 k/bb in 173 innings His WHIP is 1.06.
4) Josh Johnson (Marlins): The league leader in ERA (2.30) did not get much run support and went on the shelf with an 11-6 record. He struck out 186 and walked 48 in 183.2 innings, and sported a 1.11 WHIP.
3) Ubaldo Jimenez (19-7, 3.00) looked like a lock for 24-plus wins and the CYA at the All-Star break, but he did not maintain anywhere near his early pace. He has still had a very impressive campaign, striking out 198 and walking 86 (a bit high) in 206.2 innings. His WHIP of 1.18 is good, but would be much better without all those walks.
2) Adam Wainwright (20-11, 2.42) would be a worthy winner, as he's close to the top in lots of categories. In 203 innings, he's racked up 213 Ks while walking 56. His WHIP (1.06) is second only to the Phillies' Roy Oswalt, who could have made this list.
1) Roy Halladay (20-10, 2.53) gets my vote for being the anchor of a phenomenal starting rotation that has carried the Phillies to the best record in the league. While neck-and-neck with Wainwright in a lot of statistic, he leads the league in IP, CG and shutouts.
Will the great Albert Pujols (pictured) win his third straight MVP, and fourth overall? Think about this. This is Albert's 10th year in the baseball, and he has won three MVPs, been runner-up three more times, finished third and fourth one time each, and in his worst year, finished ninth. That's beyond remarkable, as are all his stats.
Will Pujols—still (in my estimation) the best player in baseball—fall prey to his own ridiculously high standards this year in his quest for more hardware? Maybe; maybe not. Here is my ballot, as of now:
5) Troy Tulowitski, Rockies: Tulo has had an unbelievable September that had Rockies fans thinking playoffs, and more. It looks like they will now fall short, but the rocket-armed shortstop has certainly done his part, hitting .321/27/95 with 85 runs in only 116 games. His OPS of .968 ranks fourth in the league.
4) Carlos Gonzalez: Tulo's teammate is likely to win a batting title while challenging for lots of other individual titles. The only reason I have him this low is because, like Tulo, his numbers are slightly lopsided in favor of his Coors Field production and the Rockies will fall short (it appears) of the playoffs. But any way you look at it, .341/33-114, with 110 runs is enormous. His OBP of .988 is third in the NL; just imagine if he drew walks!
3) Adrian Gonzalez: The Padres' first sacker is hurt by playing in Petco Park, and is surrounded by very little in an otherwise punchless lineup. He still has them challenging for the NL West pennant, and his numbers are strong, if not as eye-popping as that other Gonzalez.
AG is hitting .303/30/98 with 85 runs. His OPS of .912 is good, but not great, and attributable in many ways to that park and lineup. Consider also that he has drawn 31 intentional walks, second in all of baseball behind Pujols.
1-TIE) In what may be a cop-out, I can't decide yet between Joey Votto and Pujols.
My case for Votto is that he is clearly the best player on the NL Central champion Reds, a team that has not seen the playoffs since 1995. His stats are virtually even with Albert's in most categories. Witness his: .326/37-111 (104 runs), and his slightly higher OPS of 1.033.
Pujols' line is: .311/42-116 (112 runs) with a slightly lower OPS of 1.013.
My case for Pujols is that—even though his team missed the playoffs (losing the division to Votto's team)—Albert carried them for long stretches. There are two categories where Pujols has a big edge over Votto: strikeouts and intentional walks.
Pujols has only whiffed 75 times (a big number for him, actually) while drawing 98 walks. Votto has struck out 119 times while drawing 88 walks.
As far as who opponents feared more, it was no contest. Pujols has 37 IBBs to only eight for Votto. And that's with Matt Holliday hitting behind him.
So, mark this one "too close to call", although I will be making all these hard choices once the regular season ends.
Which individual races are you most excited about?
Do you agree with my selections? Disagree (however vehemently)?
Please feel free to voice your comments below.