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King Felix appears poised to lose beauty contest for AL Cy Young

The last week didn't affect any meaningful changes in my top-three rankings for the three major awards in each league, but several of the races have tightened up significantly in the past week. In fact, only two of the six races below seem to be close to being decided, and one of those involves a second-place candidate who might actually be more deserving than the presumed winner.

NOTE:All stats are through Sunday, Sept. 5. League leaders are in bold, major league leaders in bold italics. The number in parentheses after each player's name reflects his rank on the previous list. Rookies are players who, before the current season, have had fewer than 130 at-bats or 50 innings pitched in the majors or have spent fewer than 45 days on the active roster before rosters expanded on Sept. 1.

1) CC Sabathia, LHP, Yankees (1)

Season stats: 19-5, 3.02 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.54 K/BB, 2 CG

Sabathia continued his march to the Cy Young with eight-innings of one-hit ball against the A's on Thursday. That earned him his sixth-straight win, tying his career-high of 19. Over his last 18 starts, he is 16-2 with a 2.40 ERA. If he can get his ERA below 3.00, King Felix doesn't stand a chance.

2) Felix Hernandez, RHP, Mariners (2)

Season stats: 11-10, 2.30 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.48 K/BB, 5 CG, 209 K

Cover up the win-loss records of the top two men on this list and see if you can make an argument for Sabathia over Hernandez. Go ahead, dig deeper into the stats. There's no doubt that Hernandez has been the best pitcher in the American League this season, but though he finally got his record over .500 with eight strong innings against the Indians on Sunday (including nine strikeouts against juts one walk), I find it difficult to believe that enough of the voters will look past his eight-win deficit to Sabathia to give the award to Hernandez.

3) Clay Buchholz, RHP, Red Sox (3)

Season stats: 15-6, 2.25 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 6.1 K/9, 1.84 K/BB

Buccholz's league-leading ERA (which trails Matt Latos' major league-best mark by a ten-thousandth of a run) is impressive, but this is now a two-horse race.

1) Roy Halladay, RHP, Phillies (1)

Season stats:17-10, 2.36 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, 7.00 K/BB, 8 CG, 3 SHO

Halladay made two starts since my last column, winning one and losing one while inflating his ERA by .14. That put him behind Adam Wainwright in ERA, but tied him for the league lead in wins. Given Halladay's advantage in innings, complete games, shutouts, and K/BB, with all else being roughly equal and the Phillies on the verge of reclaiming fist place the NL East, Halladay remains the favorite in this race.

2) Adam Wainwright, RHP, Cardinals (2)

Season stats:17-10, 2.34 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 3.61 K/BB, 5 CG, 2 SHO

Wainwright has lost his last four starts, but while his ERA has swelled by .28 runs over that span, the losses have had as much to do with poor run support as anything else. The nose-diving Cardinals have averaged just two runs scored in each of Wainwright's last four starts, while Wainwright hasn't allowed more than four earned runs in any one of them.

3) Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP, Rockies (3)

Season stats:17-6, 2.69 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 8.3 K/9, 2.36 K/BB, 4 CG, 2 SHO

Jimenez hasn't won a game since Aug. 4, but in five starts since, all of them quality, he has posted a 3.00 ERA, struck out 35 men in 36 innings (with a 2.92 K/BB), allowed just one home run, and averaged just shy of 7 1/3 innings per start. Given his fine late-season pitching (2.52 ERA over his last seven starts), Jimenez seems likely to pick up a lot of third place votes out of appreciation for his remarkable early-season run, though Tim Hudson, Josh Johnson and Latos would be equally legitimate third-place selections.

1) Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers (1)

Season stats:.361/.414/.635, 31 HR, 97 RBI, 8 SB

Knee, back and ribs injuries have limited Hamilton to four games over the past week, two of which he left early. He still went 6-for-14 (.429), but the bruised ribs, which he suffered when hitting the outfield wall on Saturday, could have him out for the next week if not more (said Hamilton, "all signs point to not good."). Hamilton was on the verge of wrapping this award up, but after missing significant time due to injury in two of his first three major league seasons, he could have the injury bug to blame for losing out on an MVP.

2) Miguel Cabrera, 1B, Tigers (2)

Season stats: .336/.430/.630, 33 HR, 110 RBI

Speaking of injury, biceps attendants limited Cabrera to five games and a 3-for-19 (.158) performance over the last week, but he's back in action and has a chance to open up a significant gap over Hamilton in the primary counting statistics. He already leads by 13 RBIs and a couple of home runs while also boasting a superior on-base percentage. The Tigers' tumble in the standings has hurt Cabrera's chances significantly, as ridiculous as that might be, but if he opens up a 30-RBI lead, he's going to make this choice a lot more difficult on a significant portion of the electorate.

3) Robinson Cano, 2B, Yankees (3)

Season stats: .319/.383/.549, 26 HR, 93 RBI

Cano has cooled off in the second half, hitting .270/.360/.443 since Aug. 1 and leaving room for argument for a number of rivals to hold this spot (Paul Konerko, Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Joe Mauer). Not that it matters all that much. With just four weeks left in the season, I'd be shocked if this award goes to anyone other than Hamilton or Cabrera.

1) Joey Votto, 1B, Reds (1)

Season stats: .321/.420/.594, 32 HR, 98 RBI, 12 SB

2) Albert Pujols, 1B, Cardinals (2)

Season stats: .309/.402/.584, 35 HR, 96 RBI, 12 SB

I've been saying for weeks that this award and the NL Central race were going to tilt the same way in the end, and with the Reds opening up a convincing lead in the division, Votto has started to creep ahead of Pujols. In both cases, it has been poor performance by the second-place competitor that has made the difference. The Cardinals have gone 6-14 over their last 20 games and Pujols has just one hit in his last 20 at-bats. That has largely taken Pujols out of the Triple-Crown race as he now trails Carlos Gonzalez by 28 points in batting average.

3) Carlos Gonzalez, OF, Rockies (3)

Season stats:.335/.370/.613, 31 HR, 95 RBI, 21 SB

Given his lead in batting average, Gonzalez might actually have the best shot at the Triple Crown among the three NLers vying for that elusive accomplishment. He trails the slumping Pujols by four homers and Votto by just three RBIs and has been red-hot, hitting .387/.429/.774 with 19 homers since July 1 and .529/.576/1.098 with six homers and 16 RBIs during a still-active 13-game hitting streak. I find it difficult to believe that either Votto or Pujols won't win this award, but if Gonzalez becomes baseball's first Triple Crown winner since 1967 and the first in the NL since 1937, he kind of has to win the MVP, doesn't he?

1) Neftali Feliz, RHP, Rangers (1)

Season stats: 3.26 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, 3.69 K/BB, 34 SV

Feliz is now three saves shy of the rookie record, and while his ERA is less than sparkling for a closer, his save conversion rate of 92 percent is among the best in the majors. Among men with 25 or more saves this season, only Rafael Soriano, Mariano Rivera and Heath Bell have been more reliable in the ninth inning. Turning to the win-expectency-based WXRL, Feliz has been the 10th-most valuable reliever in the majors and the fifth-most in the AL.

2) Austin Jackson, CF, Tigers (2)

Season stats: .306/.361/.416, 3 HR, 32 RBI, 22 SB

The closer we get to the end of the season, the more I'm beginning to think that the voters will favor the above-average every-day player Jackson over the dominant closer Feliz. No matter which total-value metric you use or just how much center field you need an outfielder to play in order to be considered a center fielder, Jackson consistently ranks among the top eight center fielders in baseball, if not better. That's not overwhelming, but for a rookie, it's impressive, despite the mid-season slump and the league-leading strikeouts. Still, I suspect that setting the rookie saves record, and the resulting attention, could tilt things back toward Feliz, which is why Jackson remains number two on this list.

3) John Jaso, C, Rays (3)

Season stats: .281/.390/.403, 5 HR, 43 RBI

With a nod to Twins third baseman Danny Valencia, the third spot remains Jaso's, though he has no chance of catching either of the top two men on this list.

1) Jaime Garcia, LHP, Cardinals (1)

Season stats: 13-6, 2.35 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.03 K/BB

So the Cardinals didn't really skip Garcia's last start after all, they just pushed it back a few days. That's nothing new. Garcia has made five of his last seven starts on extra rest, four of them on six-day's rest, which is what he had on Friday. That helps explain why Garcia has looked so fresh while entering uncharted innings territory (3-1, 0.67 ERA over his last four starts). The Cardinals will continue to space out his starts as the month continues, which is good news for Garcia's career and Rookie of the Year hopes, but bad news for the Cardinals quickly fading postseason hopes.

2) Jason Heyward, RF, Braves (3)

Season stats: .281/.389/.473, 16 HR, 65 RBI, 9 SB

Heyward is making a strong late push for both this award and to try to keep his Braves ahead of the Phillies in the NL East, hitting hit .443/.528/.738 with four homers in his last 14 games. No one can hit like that for a month, and he's is already cooling off, but Heyward's going to have to come close to catch Garcia.

3) Buster Posey, C, Giants (2)

Season stats: .328/.374/.506, 11 HR, 55 RBI

Posey will likely pick up some extra votes from those who credit him for the Giants' late push for the postseason, even if the Giants' renewed hopes have more to do with the Padres collapse than anything else. Still, the fact remains that Posey is here on the strength of one monster month (he hit .417/.466/.699 with seven of his 11 homers in July), which just can't compete with Heyward and Garcia, even if that was far and away the Giants' best month of the season (20-8, .714).

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