With less than two weeks to go in the 2008 regular season, it's time to look back over the last 5 1/2 months and decide which players have truly spearated themselves from the rest of the pack in the American League. Please note, all statistics are through 9/16/08.
AL Rookie of the Year - 2B Alexei Ramirez, CWS
Evan Longoria seems to be the posh pick for this award. A 2005 Cape Cod League MVP and two years of blazing success in the minors made him the perfect candidate - in fact, many had practically given him the award before the 2008 season even began, calling him this year's Ryan Braun.
When Alexei Ramirez came over from Cuba in December 2007 to sign a 4-year contract, little was known about the deceptively lanky 26 year-old who was a natural shortstop, but could also play the outfield. Even less was known about where he would fit into the White Sox lineup, as they had just inexplicably signed SS Juan Uribe for a one-year deal and traded SP Jon Garland to the Angels for SS Orlando Cabrera (a presumptive starter).
Ramirez began the season in center field, but the emergence of LF Carlos Quentin forced Nick Swisher into center and Alexei was moved to 2B in place of a slumping Uribe. Since then the "Cuban Missile" has brought power and consistency to a lineup that desperately needs it. The Rays may be baseball's biggest surprise and Longoria has certainly been a big part of it. But many critics had the White Sox finishing fourth in the AL Central, and with about 10 games to go, they sit atop their division. The unexpected and critical contributions from Ramirez have a lot to do with that.
AL Cy Young - SP Cliff Lee, CLE
This is the least debatable award that will be handed out this year. K-Rod has had a great year and Roy Halladay has been very good, but Cliff Lee has dominated from wire-to-wire this year, and his statistics are astonishing; He has started 29 games thus far and averages 7.2 IP per start. He has a record of 22-2 with an ERA of 2.36. On top of a 1.06 WHIP, he's only given up 10 HRs and has 157 strikeouts to just 28 walks (a ratio of almost 6:1). Oh yeah, he has also won 11 consecutive decisions. Lee is a dead-lock for the hardware.
AL MVP - 2B Dustin Pedroia, BOS
Before the All-Star Break, OF Josh Hamilton against all odds had already made a strong case for the AL MVP. But after an electrifying performance in the Homerun Derby, the embattled slugger's stats slipped mightily and the rest of the pack began to catch-up to him. Call it the Derby curse, but I'm going with the injury to his teammate Ian Kinsler (who had built himself an MVP-worthy resume) as the biggest reason for Hamilton's let-down.
Evan Longoria, being the face of the surprising Rays, charged forward with White Sox OF Carlos Quentin in stride. When Longoria broke his wrist it seemed Quentin would bash his way to the award. Then another unfortunate injury deposed Quentin and left the field wide open. The flashy choice would be Alex Rodriguez and his numbers may support a case. Justin Morneau slipped under the radar in 2006 to edge Derek Jeter for the award, and his second half push is the biggest reason the Twins are still in the playoff hunt. You can keep these candidates, cause I'm giving the award to 2007's Rookie of the Year - Dustin Pedroia.
Dustin Pedroia has been a warrior on the diamond this year, and everyone in the Boston clubhouse draws inspiration from this grinder. He leads the AL in hits with 202 (.327 AVG), along with 114 runs scored and he has walked as many times as he has struck out (48). Many will point to his "power numbers" (17 HR, 79 RBI) as a weakness, but I think its time the sportswriters move past this notion that power is the only thing that means value. The award is Most Valuable Player, and Dustin Pedroia has embodied that term as he led the Red Sox up to and beyond the Manny Ramirez drama. That is why he is the MVP.
AL Manager of the Year - Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays
Please, no arguments here. The Rays won 66 games last year. They already have 89 wins and are leading the AL East. Not only that, but if you combine A-Rod and Derek Jeter's 2008 salaries, it accounts for more money than the entire Rays payroll. Enough said.
Also see my article on the NL Awards...