Handicapping the stretch drive
With just four weeks left in the regular season, Awards Watch is moving into the lightning round. Instead of looking at one award per week on a rotating basis, I will now examine all three awards every Monday. In order to do that, I'm trimming my leader lists from the top five to the top three. With the possible exception of the American League Cy Young, where there has been considerable turnover in just the last two weeks, there seems to be little chance of an award winner emerging from beyond the current top three in each category. Our focus now becomes the week-to-week surges and slumps that could give one of the three players an edge over the others. Hold on tight, here we go ...
With apologies to
This was a great race before both players were serious candidates to win the first Triple Crown since
I'm still convinced that this race is so tight that, unless one of these two players does win the traditional Triple Crown, the NL Central standings will decide the award. With the Reds opening up the biggest lead that division race has seen since early May, that makes Votto No. 1 on this list. I also think Pujols is close to
Don't look now, but the NL batting leader isn't that far behind Votto and Pujols in anything other than on-base percentage. The 24-year-old has been on fire since the beginning of July, hitting .367/.409/.755 with 17 home runs over that span (including a 5-for-7, three homer performance this past weekend). He has an additional dose of speed (Votto and Pujols are opportunistic base stealers, but Gonzalez is fast) and defensive versatility (he's started 51 games in center, 60 in the corners). I don't think Gonzalez has any real chance of overtaking the top two here, but it's worth noting that, while his Rockies are out of the NL West race, they're just 4-1/2 games behind the Wild Card leader and just 1-1/2 games behind Pujols' Cardinals.
The voters who were impressed when looking past the win column handed last year's AL Cy Young to a deserving
Since his last non-quality start on June 8, Hernandez has posted a 1.52 ERA and 4.70 K/BB in 15 starts, including four complete games. Yet, he has won just seven games over that stretch while losing five. According to
Continuing our theme of run support, lack of it has kept Halladay from being the clear favorite for this award. From May 12 through June 18, he posted a 2.94 ERA and completed four games, but his record over those 13 starts was just 4-7 as the slumping and injury-depleted Phillies offense scored just 2.85 runs per game for him. In his seven starts since, the Phillies have averaged 4.57 for their ace and he has gone 6-1. That's still not much support relative to the capabilities of the Phillies' lineup, but it's plenty for a pitcher who has posted a 1.70 ERA over that span.
Though he hasn't been hit all that hard, Wainwright has lost his last three starts, and his five-inning, four-run outing against the Nationals on Sunday inflated his ERA dipped above Halladay's. Coming down the stretch, this is shaping up as a great two-man race, with both pitchers trying to hurl their teams into the postseason, potentially at their rival's expense.
Things got ugly in June and July, but Jimenez has recovered nicely. His last six starts have all been quality as he had a 2.57 ERA and lasted at least seven innings in five of them. Unfortunately, the Rockies' offense (other than Gonzalez) has gone missing, leaving Jimenez winless in his last four starts. His incredible first 14 starts (13-1, 1.15 ERA) were strong enough that, with a month left in the season, there's still time for him to rally and claim this award, but he'll need both Halladay and Wainwright to slip a bit for that to happen.
Feliz has four weeks to pick up the six saves that would give him the all-time rookie record. He has a solid shot -- Feliz has averaged more than six per month -- but saves are an opportunity-dependent stat. He's only had four opportunities (one of which he blew) in August. If he doesn't set the record, some voters might notice that an above-average centerfielder is more valuable than a closer who throws fewer than 70 innings a season, no matter how talented that closer might be.
The early favorite after his red-hot start (.371/.420/.508 through May 9), Jackson fell hard, but since June 26 he's hit .314/.372/.415 with five of his league-leading eight triples. Compare that production to the average major league center fielder's (.260/.325/.404) and combine it with Jackson's high-percentage base stealing (81 percen) and solid defense. It's clear that he poses a serious threat to Feliz.
Garcia's biggest threat in this race is his own endurance. He's thrown 146-2/3 innings thus far, a workload he has surpassed just once as a pro -- back in 2006, when he threw 155 between low and high A-ball as a 19-year-old. Last year, he worked just 37-2/3 minor league innings while rehabbing from
His Rookie of the Year candidacy is really built on just one red-hot month. Posey hit .417/.466/.699 with seven of his 10 home runs in July and that, particularly in combination with his position on the field, has been enough to thrust him toward the front of a very deep rookie class. Barring a collapse by Garcia, Posey will need an equally torrid September to have a real shot at the award.