And you thought the September races were tight? It's time for the major award ballots in a year with as much drama as the last month. Six of the eight major awards are too close to call with any certainty, with the AL MVP vote the most fascinating and controversial. Either the first Triple Crown winner since 1967 isn't going to be MVP or the first player in history with 125 runs, 45 steals and 30 home runs isn't going to be MVP.
Here are my ballots (one of which will be submitted as an official Baseball Writers Association of America award ballot; sorry, no reveal yet, folks, per contest rules), as well as the thinking behind each one, a telling stat and a prediction on how the voting might turn out when the results are announced next month.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
2. Mike Trout, Angels
3. Adrian Beltre, Rangers
4. Adam Jones, Baltimore
5. Josh Hamilton, Rangers
6. Prince Fielder, Tigers
7. Derek Jeter, Yankees
8. Robinson Cano, Yankees
9. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics
10. Albert Pujols, Angels
The reason: Don't tell me this one isn't close, regardless of whether you support Trout or Cabrera. That's plain rubbish because you're stuck to an ideology or a favorite team. It's a shame one of these guys isn't going to win. Trout is the best player in baseball who impacts a game more ways and more often than anybody else. He was my leading candidate until the last few weeks -- until Cabrera, who is closing in on the Triple Crown, stepped up.
The stat: Cabrera has hit 11 home runs in September/October while driving in 28 runs in the 29 games. The Tigers were three games out with 15 to play and roared past Chicago to win the AL Central. The Angels went home.
The prediction: Cabrera wins by a decent margin.
1. David Price, Rays
2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
3. Jared Weaver, Angels
4. Felix Hernandez, Mariners
5. Fernando Rodney, Rays
The reason: This one is razor close. Verlander has been nearly as brilliant as last year, though oddly he's been rather ordinary on the road (8-6, 3.57). He leads the league in complete games, innings, strikeouts, batters faced and adjusted ERA. Price has won more games (20-17) and bested him in ERA (2.56-2.64).
The stat: Price has thrown 42 percent of his starts and innings against division rivals New York, Boston and Baltimore -- three of the seven highest scoring teams in the league. He is 7-2 with a 2.34 ERA against those teams.
The prediction: With Weaver lacking the innings, this one might come down to a one-vote difference between Verlander and Price. Verlander wins the coin flip.
1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Yu Darvish, Rangers
3. Yoenis Cespedes, Athletics
The reason: Darvish, Cespedes, Jarrod Parker, Matt Moore, Addison Reed, Tommy Milone, Wei-Yin Chen and others are having marvelous seasons that make this an especially deep rookie class (and with an international flavor). But, come on; this isn't even close.
The stat: Mike Trout turned 21 in August. He is the youngest 30-30 player in baseball history.
The prediction: Trout wins unanimously.
1. Buck Showalter, Orioles
2. Bob Melvin, Athletics
3. Joe Maddon, Rays
The reason: Actually, Showalter and Melvin are both so deserving of this award that it's hard to come up with one reason why I picked Showalter. I'll just try these two: When the season began I thought Baltimore would be a little worse than Oakland, and Showalter had to deal with much worse starting pitching than Melvin. Baltimore has used 12 starting pitchers -- the most of any playoff team -- and ranks ninth in starters' ERA (Oakland was third).
The stat: The Orioles are the greatest team in history at winning one-run games (28-9). Doesn't the manager get some credit for that?
The vote: Showalter, fittingly, wins another one decided by one -- this one by one vote.
1. Buster Posey, Giants
2. Ryan Braun, Brewers
3. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates
4. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
5. Adam LaRoche, Nationals
6. Jay Bruce, Reds
7. Chase Headley, Padres
8. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
9. Craig Kimbrel, Braves
10. David Wright, Mets
The reason: Ryan Braun put up a near carbon copy of his 2011 MVP season, when he won the award over Matt Kemp, a guy who had more hits, runs, homers and RBIs but who played on a team that went home, not to the postseason. This year the roles get reversed. Braun's Brewers made a late charge, but couldn't get a division title or one of two wild cards now available.
Meanwhile, Posey has played catcher and hit fourth for the NL West champion Giants, who will play on largely because of Posey's monster second half (.389 batting average) while hit-machine and testosterone devotee Melky Cabrera was banned for 50 games.
The stat: Posey has hit .348 with runners in scoring position, while collecting more walks than strikeouts in those clutch spots.
The prediction: Posey wins easily.
1. R.A. Dickey, Mets
2. Johnny Cueto, Reds
3. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
4. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
5. Kris Medlen, Braves
The reason: Dickey leads the league in complete games, shutouts, innings, strikeouts and batters faced and barely trails Kershaw in ERA and Kershaw and Cain in WHIP. No one else has performed that kind of volume of work at that level. I am stupefied that some people have held against him the fluky nature of the knuckleball (irrelevant to this award) or the lack of meaningful games by the Mets (to pitch so well for such a poor team actually enhances his season.)
The stat: Dickey has won 77 percent of his decisions (20-6) while everybody else for the same club has won just 38 percent (53-81).
The prediction: Too close to call between Dickey and Kershaw. Cueto is severely underrated by most voters, who don't look hard enough at pitching his home games in a home run haven. (Cueto leads the league in adjusted ERA). Braves closer Craig Kimbrel will finish much higher on the overall ballot than mine, which is like valuing placekickers above quarterbacks. Medlen faced more than twice as many hitters as did Kimbrel.
1. Bryce Harper, Nationals
2. Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
3. Todd Frazier, Reds
The reason: While Miley struggled in September, Harper hit .330 in the last month of pennant race while hitting second in the lineup for the NL East champions. He has hit 22 homers and driven in 59 runs and had more extra-base hits than any teenager in history. What sets Harper apart is his dynamic defense -- most of it in centerfield -- and superb baserunning. Harper has swiped 17 bases and was thrown out by a catcher only three times -- none in five steals of third. (He also stole home once.)
The stat: Harper was in the minors for the first 20 games of the season and has still had 590 plate appearances -- an impressive volume of work for a teenager on a first-place team.
The prediction: Miley wins. Voters are impressed with his old-school stats: 16-11 with a 3.32 ERA.
1. Davey Johnson, Nationals
2. Fredi Gonzalez, Braves
3. Dusty Baker, Reds
The reason: Johnson lost his catcher, leftfielder and rightfielder to major injuries and went through four closers. The Montreal/Washington franchise had no recent history of winning -- and is the youngest team in the league -- and yet Johnson provided the expectation that it would. His handling of the pitching staff, most of it young, was superb.
The stat: Johnson set a franchise record for wins (96) in his first full season with the club.
The prediction: Johnson narrowly beats out Baker.