Monday, November 20, 2006

NL MVP goes to New Kid on the Block

Philly's slugger Ryan Howard wins the award, beating out Cardinal 1B Albert Pujols

NL MVP:Ryan Howard, 1B, Philadelphia(388 pts)
.313 AVG, 58 HRs, 149 RBI
2nd: Pujols (347 pts)
3rd: Andruw Jones, ATL (230 pts)
MY PICK: Howard

Although I picked the sensational second-year slugger to win I truly though the vote would go to the safe choice, the established veteran Pujols. But much like the NL Cy went to newbie Brandon Webb, the senior circuit continued to think towards the future by naming Howard the winner after just his first full season in the majors.

Howard single-handedly carried the Phils down the stretch when he hit 25 homers and knocked in 61 runs in August & September, keeping the Phillies in the playoff race until mid-September. His homer total was the highest in the majors since Barry Bighead's record-setting 73 in 2001, and the nightly watch to see if he hit a HR that day conjured up memories of the Sosa/McGuire duel of 1998.

Still many experts believed that the mega-star Pujols, who won his 1st MVP last year, would take home his 2nd consecutive trophy. And if it weren't for a 3-week absence due to a muscle pull Phat Albert might have taken home the hardware. Despite the fact that he played 15 fewer games than Howard, Pujols put up strikingly similar numbers: .331 avg, 49 HRs, 137 RBIs. He bested the kid in OBP (.425-.431) & slugging (.671-.659), and you gotta think that had he played a full season his power numbers would have been nearly identical, and the normally safe voters would have chosen the established star over the new phenom.

But to Ryan's delight he took home the award despite having played only 266 games in his career. It was just one year ago that the Phils jettisoned aging & injured 1B Jim Thome to Chicago so that Howard could play full-time. Even though Thome went on to have a Comeback Player of the Year season, the New Kid on the Block will be mashing longballs for many more years to come, perhaps fueling a nice duel with Pujols every year.

The final award of the interminable award season is announced tomorrow, and it is the one sure to stir the most controversy long into the winter.
There are no fewer than 4 worthy candidates for the AL MVP, but only 2 with a legitamte shot at winning it. Lets' break it down:

-Stankee SS Derek Jeter
Many camps believe that the backbone of the current NY squad deserves to win his first AL trophy due to the fact that he kept the Empire in the chase after Hideki Matsui & Gary Sheffield went down with injuries early in the season. Giambi, Demon & Cano played big roles too, but Jeter has long been considered the glue that holds that team together, and his performance this year (.344, 14HRs, 97RBI, 118R, 214 hits, 39 doubles, .417 OBP) confirms that status.

-Twins 1B Justin Morneau
At first his candidacy seemed like a cute joke: the nobody from the small-market Twins giving big-time players like Jeter, Papi & teammates Joe Mauer & Johan Cytana a run for the money. But when Morneau kept getting big hit after big hit, including many game-winning bombs (just ask the Sox) he kept getting more serious consideration. His numbers are not shabby at all (.321 avg, 34HRs, 130 RBI, 37 doubles, 97 runs, .557 SLG), but something tells me that he will get cancelled out by his teammates, which is a notorious problem when you get 2 candidates on 1 team

MY PICK: Big Papi, DH, BoSox
Okay, call me a homer ("HOMER!") but I really believe the big fella deserves the award, for 2 reasons:
1.) Despite missing 11 games down the stretch when he had an irregular heartbeat/ sore back from carrying the team, Papi still finished with eye-popping numbers: 54 HRs, 137 RBI, 115 runs, 119 BBs, .636 SLG. His HR, RBI walk & total base numbers led the AL and he was in the top 10 of every major offensive category.

2.) Everyone & their brother knows that the fun-loving Dominican was robbed of the award last season when he put up similar stats but was denied the win because he was a DH. What kind of F'd up rule says that just because you don't play the field you can't win the award? I mean if a pitcher who plays every 5 days can win it, why not a DH who plays every day?

Others will point to the fact that the Sawx didn't make the playoffs, and the winner has to come from a playoff team. I say balderdash. What, it means more because Jeter's team got embarrassed by the Tigers & Morneau's got bitchslapped by the A's in the first round than Boston not making it at all? That was no fault of Big Papi's, who put the team on his back by slugging 24 HRs & 51 RBIs in July & August as Boston lost it's grip on the AL East after numerous injuries, and the Boston Massacre II, crippled their season. Plus the NL went for a winner from a non-playoff team, so there is a recent precedent for them to consider.

In my opinion the award should be a reward for everything Papi has done for the game, both on & off the field, for the past 3 seasons. Other nominees get the "dedicated service" vote all the time. It's Papi's turn to be rewarded for his ambassador-like good deeds, mesmerizing home runs and galvanizing game-winning hits these past few years.

But Jeter will win it.

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