By Tom Verducci
September 27, 2011

The ballots for the Baseball Writers Association of America major awards are due before the playoffs begin, which still leaves time to finalize the choices.

(Partial disclosure: I do have a vote for one of the awards, but will honor the request to award voters by the BBWAA not to reveal official ballots prior to the November announcements. I will wait until after the final regular season game, including any potential tiebreakers, to file my ballot -- and yes, changes are still possible.)

But hey, let's have some unofficial fun with the awards. Of the eight major awards, I believe only two look to have certain winners. Here's my take -- my almost-final answers -- on the ballots:

The Ballot

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston*

2. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit

3. Justin Verlander, Detroit

4. Jose Bautista, Toronto

5. Curtis Granderson, New York

6. Dustin Pedroia, Boston

7. Robinson Cano, New York

8. Adrian Gonzalez, Boston

9. Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay

10. Josh Hamilton, Texas

The Thinking

Yes, there is an asterisk next to Ellsbury. This vote is not final. If Boston does not make the postseason, there is no sense in handing the MVP to a someone on the team that just staged the greatest September choke in the history of the sport. It would be like handing out Best Actor or Actress awards to anyone in Gigli.

Sorry, Jacoby, but four of the 14 teams in your league make the playoffs. Only one AL player since the expanded format began in 1995 won the MVP for a non-playoff team (an enhanced Alex Rodriguez in 2003). Ellsbury can take home every Player of the Year Award that's out there, but this is Major League Baseball. The greatest value possible -- the reason these players play the game -- is to be a winner, and there are too many great candidates from too many available playoff spots.

That said, Ellsbury has been so phenomenal that Bautista could hit 10 more home runs and Ellsbury still would have more total bases than the Toronto outfielder. (All stats entering this week.) I'm okay with either Verlander or Cabrera taking the MVP if Boston completes its all-time collapse. Cabrera has reached base more times than anybody in the league, plays every day, leads all of MLB in batting with runners in scoring position, will win the batting title with an average near .340 and has the best adjusted OPS by anyone other than Bautista.

The Ballot

1. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee

2. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles

3. Prince Fielder, Milwaukee

4. Albert Pujols, St. Louis

5. Justin Upton, Arizona

6. Lance Berkman, St. Louis

7. Joey Votto, Cincinnati

8. Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado

9. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia

10. Shane Victorino, Philadelphia

The Thinking

Kemp has put up a monster season with MVP numbers, leading the league in WAR, runs, total bases, home runs and RBIs. But his team, the Dodgers, didn't play a meaningful game for the last two-thirds of the season. Los Angeles was nine games out by the middle of June.

And this business that Kemp had no help in the lineup? Baloney. Kemp batted with 87 more runners on base than did Braun. Kemp had 24 more plate appearances with runners in scoring position -- and Braun was the better hitter in those spots (.347-.327). The seasons of Kemp and Braun are too close not to give it to the guy who delivered the most value in terms of context.

The Ballot

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit

2. Jared Weaver, Los Angeles

3. James Shields, Tampa Bay

4. CC Sabathia, New York

5. Josh Beckett, Boston

The Thinking

No intrigue here, folks. Verlander will win unanimously. I'd rather have Beckett take the last spot on the ballot than Detroit closer Jose Valverde, whose perfection (47-for-47 in save chances) was too pampered. Get back to us when you actually pitch more than an inning or get a save that involves an inherited runner.

The Ballot

1. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles

3. Cliff Lee, Philadelphia

4. Ian Kennedy, Arizona

5. Tim Lincecum, San Francisco

The Thinking

This one is so difficult. Halladay and Kershaw both deserve to win. The margin between the two of them in virtually every area is too small to be meaningful -- with one exception. Halladay threw with much better control. He led the league with the best walk rate (1.3 per nine innings; Kershaw was not even in the top 10 at 2.1) and the best strikeout to walk rate (6.29; Kershaw ranked a distant third at 4.59). It's the only area with a significant difference between the two, so the edge goes to Halladay.

The Ballot

1. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay

2. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City

3. Ivan Nova, New York

The Thinking

Hellickson put up a 2.90 ERA in almost 200 innings in the AL East. Now that's impressive. Hosmer is going to be a huge star and deserves many first-place votes himself. Nova tied a modern record with 12 straight wins as a rookie, leaving Mark Trumbo, Jordan Walden, Jemile Weeks, Michael Pineda, Dustin Ackley and others with no room on the ballot.

The Ballot

1. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta

2. Freddie Freeman, Atlanta

3. Vance Worley, Philadelphia

The Thinking

Kimbrel is far from your pampered closer, punching out about 15 batters per nine innings while working almost 80 games. Freeman should also pull down some first place votes for an impressive .806 OPS season.

The Ballot

1. Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay

2. Ron Washington, Texas

3. Manny Acta, Cleveland

The Thinking

This is a bad offensive team that will score more than 100 fewer runs than it did the previous year. And yet somehow Maddon keeps this team loose and confident enough to take the season down to game number 162 -- and maybe then some.

The Ballot

1. Kirk Gibson, Arizona

2. Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee

3. Tony LaRussa, St. Louis

The Thinking

This one should be unanimous. This team totally bought into Gibson's intense, no-excuses approach. The Diamondbacks lost 97 games last year, but played all of this season as if expecting to win 97.

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