Nearly all awards races still up in the air
Felix Hernandez, Josh Hamilton, Roy Halladay, among others, on top at the present time
OK, so maybe not a whole lot as changed since Jayson Stark ran through the big award candidates just one week ago. But look at Troy Tulowitzki! And see Felix Hernandez's star rise! In September, something interesting happens every day and the awards picture has changed on at least a couple of fronts
American League Cy Young
This week's plotline: How many games can King Felix win?
Actually, this might be next week's plotline; if he keeps working every five days, Felix Hernandez will start once this week, but twice next week. And if he wins each of his remaining starts, he'll finish the season with 15 wins -- exactly the same as 2009 NL Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum and one fewer than AL winner Zack Greinke. If Hernandez does win 15 (or 14) games, it will be relatively easy for the voters already leaning toward him to justify their vote.
But at the moment he's just 12-11. If he finishes with just 12 or 13 wins -- or worse, with a losing record, which is well within the realm of possibility -- it'll push some of those fence-straddlers back toward pitchers with better records.
Of course, there's a connection between pitching well and winning. If Hernandez doesn't win two or three more games this season, maybe he won't deserve the Cy Young Award. After all, it's not like there aren't other pitchers having fantastic seasons.
For example, CC Sabathia has won 20 games while giving up just six more runs than Hernandez all season (just six runs in six months). There are others, but ultimately these two are going to garner nearly all of the first-place votes because both have pitched immense numbers of innings and have done things that Cy Young voters appreciate: Sabathia with the wins, Hernandez with the ERA and strikeouts. Everyone else is fighting for third place.
This week's plotline: Can anyone take advantage of Josh Hamilton's absence?
If Hamilton plays again this season, it won't be much.
Can he win the MVP Award with only 130-some games?
Joe Mauer won with 133 games last year. In 1980, George Brett won the award with only 117 games. What did those guys have in common? Both sported gaudy batting averages. Brett's .390 was the highest by a major leaguer since 1941; Mauer's .365 was the highest by a catcher in American League history.
Granted, Hamilton's current .361 isn't quite as impressive as those figures. But it's 30 points higher than the No. 2 guy (Mauer), and that batting average has come with a great deal of power, too. If the season ended today, Hamilton would be a fairly easy choice.
But the season doesn't end today, and there are still almost two weeks for other candidates to make their cases. Somebody is probably going to have a couple of great weeks and challenge Hamilton, but it's almost impossible to guess who. Miguel Cabrera, who leads the league with 118 RBIs? Jose Bautista, who's right behind Cabrera and has hit so many home runs that he might lose some votes because of sheer disbelief? Robinson Cano, whose power has dropped off in the second half but still has outstanding numbers and plays in the middle of the infield. Evan Longoria and Adrian Beltre, two outstanding defensive third basemen having great seasons at the plate?
My ballot today: 1. Hamilton, 2. Cabrera, 3. Cano, 4. Beltre, 5. Mauer.
AL Rookie of the Year
This week's plotline: How high can Neftali Feliz go?
With 36 saves, Feliz is just one save behind Kazuhiro Sasaki for the rookie record, and he's probably going to crush it. Just one year ago, Oakland's Andrew Bailey was Rookie of the Year with 26 saves and a 1.84 ERA. But Feliz's ERA this year might wind up beginning with a 3, which might give voters an excuse for looking elsewhere and it's not clear that they need an excuse, considering what Austin Jackson has done for the Tigers this season.
Playing nearly every game this season, Jackson's batted .300 and is going to score more than 100 runs while playing well, most observers will tell you he's played well in center field, perhaps brilliantly. The numbers don't support that notion, but Jackson does figure to get some extra credit for his defense. Oddly, Jackson's chances might hinge upon well, chance. Where Feliz will benefit from an ERA below 3.00, Jackson may benefit from a batting average above .300; at the moment, both are right on the edges of those figures.
My ballot today: 1. Jackson, 2, Feliz, 3. Wade Davis.
National League Cy Young
Plotline of the week: Can Ubaldo Jimenez (help) pitch the Rockies into the playoffs?
At the All-Star break, Jimenez was 15-1 and you couldn't have found 10-to-1 odds for any other Cy Young candidate. Since then, though -- and despite pitching quite decently -- Jimenez has somehow won just four times while his Rockies have surged into contention. With 19 wins and only six losses, he's still a fine Cy Young candidate, figuring to get a boost if he wins 20 games or the Rockies make the playoffs.
Winning 20 and getting in the playoffs? Double-boost.
With Josh Johnson on the shelf, the only other serious candidates are Roy Halladay and Adam Wainwright, with all three close enough that any ranking today could easily be scrambled by season's end. Speaking of which
My ballot today: 1. Halladay, 2. Jimenez, 3. Wainwright, 4. Johnson, 5. R.A. Dickey.
Plotline of the week: Can Troy Tulowitzki keep up his Babe Ruth impression for a whole month?
In just 18 September games, Tulowitzki has cracked 14 homers and driven in 34 runs. In 1927, Ruth batted .368/17/43 in September and somehow, all those numbers seem well within reach for Tulowitzki. A shortstop. Just three weeks ago, he wasn't even on anyone's MVP radar screen. Today he's a candidate who can't be dismissed. Like Ubaldo Jimenez, though, Tulowitzki's chances hinge largely upon the Rockies' fortunes and of course, like Jimenez, Tulowitzki can do a great deal to affect those fortunes. If the Rockies do squeak into the postseason, they just might sweep the two biggest awards. And they'll deserve to.
NL Rookie of the Year
Plotline of the week: How many times can Jason Heyward reach base?
A month ago, this seemed like the most interesting argument of the awards season, because the National League's rookie crop looked like the best we've seen in a long time.
Well, the latter is still true. With players like Buster Posey, Starlin Castro, Neil Walker, Gaby Sanchez, Jaime Garcia, Ike Davis and Jonathon Niese all posting impressive numbers, you could almost throw all the names into a hat and pluck a worthy Rookie of the Year.
Except not this season. Not with Heyward in the league. He started crushing the ball in March, kept crushing in April and May, struggled with an injury in June and since the All-Star break he's been one of the best players in the league (let alone rookies). At the moment, Heyward is bidding to finish the season with an on-base percentage higher than .400, and the list of rookies who have done that is exceptionally short and exceptionally impressive.
If there was an award for most promising rookie, Heyward would deserve to win, unanimously. There is an award for best rookie, and he will win that one.
My ballot today: 1. Heyward, 2. Garcia, 3. Posey.
Rob Neyer is a senior writer for ESPN.com and regularly updates his blog. You can reach him via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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