The envelopes, please. The race for the National League MVP award comes down to two players, first basemen Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. What if we pretend we do not know the names and just look at the numbers?
One candidate had 58 home runs, the other 49.
One had 149 RBIs, the other 137.
One player hit .313, the other .331.
And so it goes. Their slugging and on-base percentages are that close.
So, one player seems to deserve the award more than the other.
If Pujols had the better numbers he might win by acclamation, because he is Pujols and his team made the postseason.
Since Howard has the better numbers, and his team did not make the playoffs, a debate has ensued.
But Howard was the driving force behind Philadelphia’s late rush toward the NL wild card, after the Phillies gave up by shipping No. 3 hitter Bobby Abreu to the Yankees in a cash dump for several fringe prospects.
Howard had nine homers and 20 RBIs in September and was given the Bonds treatment — no, not flaxseed oil — late in the season.
Houston manager Phil Garner intentionally walked Howard as the leadoff batter in the ninth inning of a tie game in an early September doubleheader, one of his 35 walks in the month.
Howard had the better numbers and just as much impact.
If he wins, he will become the second player in history to be the rookie of the year one season and MVP the next. Cal Ripken did it in 1982-83.
The vote: 1. Howard, 2. Pujols, 3. Houston’s Lance Berkman.
AL: 1. Derek Jeter, Yankees. 2. David Ortiz, Boston. 3. Justin Morneau, Minnesota.
NL CY YOUNG
Brandon Webb’s difficult last start came at just the wrong time because it dropped him from the NL leader in ERA to third behind Roy Oswalt and Chris Carpenter.
ERA is the most important statistic in pitching, because unlike victories it is the number over which a pitcher has the most control.
Webb finished among a sextet of pitchers with 16 victories, the lowest total in history to lead the league in a non-strike year.
Carpenter, starter Carlos Zambrano and even closer Trevor Hoffman have entered the national debate as challengers, Hoffman after breaking Lee Smith’s major league record for career saves.
But this is not a lifetime achievement award, it is an award based on this year’s performance. Hoffman probably deserved the award when he had 53 saves in 1998, but his 46 saves this season stand for a very good year, nothing more.
Webb has one more number working in his favor — his 23 quality starts were four more than Carpenter. Oswalt had 25. Zambrano had 22.
His overall consistency — second in the league in innings, tied for first with Carpenter in shutouts, tied for second with Carpenter in complete games — gives him an edge.
The vote: 1. Webb, 2. Carpenter, 3. Oswalt.
AL: 1. Johan Santana, Minnesota. 2. Roy Halladay, Toronto. 3. Mike Mussina, Yankees.
NL MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Sure, Joe Girardi has been fired, because he “was not able to integrate himself into the workings of our organization,” according to general manager Larry Beinfest.
But we’re not voting for the corporate mind-set award here.
Beinfest’s shrewd acquisitions — Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez in a trade from Boston, Dan Uggla in the Rule 5 draft from the Diamondbacks — gave the Marlins the players, but Girardi made them win, even if it took awhile.
Florida was 11-31 and well on its way to 100 losses when something changed in late May.
The Marlins became the first team in major league history to go over .500 in a season in which they were 20 games under at one point, and while that takes a lot of talent, it also takes a leader who can nurture and restore the confidence of a young and fragile group.
Sure, he told owner Jeffrey Loria to put a sock in it. Maybe Loria deserved it.
The vote: 1. Girardi. 2. Willie Randolph, Mets. 3. Bruce Bochy, San Diego.
AL: 1. Jim Leyland, Detroit. 2. Ron Gardenhire, Minnesota. 3. Ken Macha, Oakland.
NL ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Florida’s glut of young talent should keep the franchise rising for years to come, and by the time the season ended, shortstop Ramirez may have inched ahead of second baseman Uggla, left fielder Josh Willingham and right-hander Josh Johnson as the top newcomer on his own team.
With a late-season run, Ramirez joined Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker and Craig Biggio as the only players since 1900 with at least 45 doubles, 50 stolen bases and 110 runs scored in a season.
Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman had the most productive season, however, and it is not his fault his team had no pitching.
The vote: 1. Zimmerman, 2. Ramirez, 3. Uggla.
AL: 1. Justin Verlander, Detroit. 2. Kenji Johjima, Seattle. 3. Francisco Liriano, Minnesota.
“I guess I’m puzzled in this terrible mess that baseball and the fly-under-the-radar part of the chemical industry and the truly odious Barry Bonds himself have created, is the fact that the only people who are in danger right now of paying a price are the two reporters who have done the most to tell the truth about what happened.”
— Pulitzer Prize winner David Halberstam, after Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada were ordered to serve jail time for not revealing their sources in their book detailing Bonds’ alleged steroid use.
Moose on the loose
Mike Mussina was undefeated at Yankee Stadium (29-0 in 35 starts) in the past four regular seasons when he held leads of at least two runs, according to Elias Sports Bureau, but that did not deter Detroit, which overcame a 3-1 deficit to beat the Yankees, 4-3, in the AL division series on Thursday. Mussina is only 5-3 in 10 postseason starts when leading by at least two runs.
A grand entrance
The Mets’ Carlos Delgado (1,711) and Oakland teammates Jason Kendall (1,542) and Mark Kotsay (1,280 games) snapped three of the seven longest streaks of active major leaguers who had not played a postseason game this year. Delgado and Kotsay celebrated with big games, too. Free agent outfielder Jeromy Burnitz (1,694) has the longest nonplayoff run.
Punch in the middle
Philadelphia second baseman Chase Utley (32 home runs) and shortstop Jimmy Rollins (25) became the first double-play combination in National League history and the second in major league history with at least 25 homers apiece. Boston second baseman Bobby Doerr (27, 27) and shortstop Vern Stephens (29, 30) did it in 1948 and 1950.
Call the subway and tell it the Series is off.