Postseason Awards Edition

After the miracle of this World Series, the exorcism of the curse of the Bambino, and the most spectacular comeback / collapse in sports history, it's still not over. For those of us who cannot get enough of baseball, these are the days when we huddle together, crunching stats, reminiscing about our favorite moments and making our cases for the best players of the year. Unlike the sportswriters, we've seen fit to add a category, to give recognition to those who deserve it. Brooks, while on the DL with a nasty virus, has nonetheless given his blessings to to picks the Aho and I (Righty) have made. To keep it simple, I'll distinguish myself in italics.

So now, without further ado, here they are, the best of 2004.

AL Cy Young: Johan Santana

I have more or less argued this one to death. I think it is quite telling however, that Curt Schilling has said that Santana was completely deserving of the award. When you get an endorsement from your nearest competition (who was miles back anyway), the race is over.

2. Curt Schilling
3. Rest of league

AL MVP: Vladimir Guerrero

Vlad "The Impaler" Guerrero managed to almost singlehandedly muscled the Angels into the playoffs. In the last nine games of the season Guerrero drove in 11 RBI's, including two in that critical October 2nd game with the A's. He didn't have a bad season aside from that either, hitting .337 with 126 RBI and 36 HR. Sheffield deserves some consideration, but the protection in the Yankee lineup far exceeds anything the Angels can offer. Without Guerrero the Angels aren't even contenders for the AL West.

2. Johan Santana
What more is there to say? Completely dominant. Gaudy numbers, intimidation factor through the roof, and hasn't lost in around twenty five starts. Without him, the Twins are questionable to win the division. With him, they win it in a walk.

A quick note: After the disgrace of the NL Cy Young in 2003 (when Jason Schmidt was robbed), I and many of my fellow baseball fans felt that relievers needed an award of their own, and that the Cy Young should henceforth only be given to starting pitchers. We will hope that the baseball writers of America follow suit.

AL Relief Pitcher of the Year: Joe Nathan

Although he had an excellent bullpen in fromt of him, Nathan's stellar numbers set him apart from his competition. His ERA is a miniscule 1.62, opponents are hitting Nathan at only .187. Nathan also boasts an outstanding K/9 ratio of 11.07. Nathan became the mainstay of a bullpen which was considered to be questionable at the begining of the season and became a dominant force in the ninth for the Twins.

2. Keith Foulke
If the postseason were included, Foulke would likely take over the first spot from Nathan. He was a horse for Francona and silenced every hitter he was asked to.
3. Mariano Rivera
If the postseason were included, he might be bumped off the list completely.

NL MVP: Barry Bonds

There is no argument. There is no debate. Barry bonds is the textbook definition of MVP. The man redefines greatness every season. The only records he has left to break are Ruth's Aaron's and his own. How about a single season OPS of 1.4217 and an OBP of over .600, the highest totals ever(breaking his own records from 2002)? How about 45 homeruns in 373 AB(it took Beltre 598 AB to hit 48)? Words fall short with this man. 232 walks. 120 intentional. Still led the league in AVG and SLG by huge margins. He defines the success of the Giants, who are a .500 team without him.

2. Beltre
3. Rolen, Edmonds, Pujols (Tie)

NL Cy Young: Randy Johnson

He may not win due to his record, but he deserves it. What Santana has done in the American League, Johnson has mirrored in the NL. The two have posted nearly identical ERA's, Johnson, however, was followed in games by an incompetent bullpen. Johnson's opponent batting average: .197. Johnson also boasts similarly dominant numbers in K/9 (10.62), K/BB (6.44) not to mention his 2.60 ERA and leading the lead in strikeouts. If Johnson loses it will solely be on the basis of his poor record, which is a damned shame.

2. Jason Schmidt and Roger Clemens (tie)
Even with the supposed collapse of Schmidt, his numbers kept up as well as or better than Clemens. If Johnson had not pitched so well, it would have been a tough call.

NL Relief Pitcher of the Year: Eric Gange

Even with minor stumbles this year, Gagne was still head and shoulders above the rest of relievers in the NL. True, his saves streak did come to an end, but no one but him will even come close. OBA was sub-Mendoza at .181 and his ERA was 2.19. Add in a K/9 of 12 plus and the greatest intimidation of any closer in baseball, and Gagne is the clear winner.

2. Brandon Lidge, Billy Wagner (tie)
Both had respectable numbers for the year. Had Wagner not been hurt, and had the Phillies played enough meaningful games, he might have pulled ahead. As it is, there's no real reason to make a distinction between the two. They lost.

There they are, your winners for 2004. Hope you all enjoyed the games. Now, as they've gotten used to saying in Boston for the last nine decades, we'll all have to "Wait until next year." Or at least the winter meetings.


It Begins ...

Tonight begins an epic showdown. Money, power and influence on one side, brought to bear against youth and exuberance, corporation against family, light against dark. The essence of true evil will assume human form tonight and try to strike at a warrior pure of heart who has inspired this country.

I am not speaking of the Vice Presedential debate. There is something far more important going on tonight, game one of the ALCS between the Twins and Yankees. I assume you've already figured this out by now. I am ready to see Santana rip apart the Yankees lineup. I am ready to see Keving Brown break his other hand in frustration, ready to see Torre finally get fired, to see the evil empire all come crumbling down around them. I may not be as optimistic as Brooks, but I'm on board too. This year, the Twins have the look of a contender and if Johan Santana stays Johan Santana the sky is the limit.


Baseball's second season

There are still many firm believers that baseball has been tarnished by changes in the past few years. Among the most despised is the invention of the wild card. Is it because more wild card teams have won the World Series in recent memory than teams that finishes with the best record? Is it because teams that don't win their division don't deserve a chance at the playoffs? Considering that baseball still has the fewest teams participating in the playoffs of any of the major sports, coupled with the way the strikes and lock-outs have crippled baseball the wild card has been instrumental in bringing people back to the sport.

There is a good reason that the top teams don't win year in and year out. I can tell you from personal experience that what wins in the postseason is pitching, defense and perhaps most of all, heart. Statistics be damned in the postseason; it's all about the heroes. The Twins had Frank Viola throwing sweet music in winning the final game of the 1987 World Series, only to be topped for years later by Jack Morris' 10 inning gem. There was Joe Carter's walkoff homerun to win the Blue Jays their second straight World Series. The best starting trio in baseball beat the best bullpen in baseball in 1995 as the Braves beat the Indians. The Yankees in 1996, coming out of a two game hole to rally for four staright wins on Rivera's electric arm that went up the ladder for two innings every night, only to be turned to the wicked John Wetland to close it out. The 1997 Marlins featuring a game five masterpiece by Livan Hernandez in which he threw 145 pitches and was prepared to come back in game 7 out of relief as both teams went to the starters in extra innings. The 2001 Diamondbacks using Johnson to win games two, six and seven (the final out of relief) to share the MVP with an equally dominating Curt Shilling. Last years Marlins relying on the raw talent of Josh Beckett.

Where does that leave us this post season? Who has the heart and hero potential to win it all?
I'm a firm believer you need two aces to win it all and that leaves the Red Sox and Twins battling it out in the ALCS and Houston and the Cards battling it out in the NLCS. Of course anything can happen in a short series but I'll take my bets on these teams.

It took Jack McDowell three years to believe in the Twins. He finally gave in when he said, "So I guess stats don't really win. Teams do." His case in point was the 2001 Mariners. We all should have learned that lesson from the Mariners' 116 win season in 2001, when they shed the stats of the game's most dominant pitcher (Randy Johnson), the game's best shortstop (Alex Rodriguez) and, at the time, the game's best player (Ken Griffey Jr.) and won the AL West by 14 games. I didn't learn from that and I tip my hat to a team for which every player would love to play. This Twins organization has been raised on winning.

I might be the only person who follows baseball to say this, but I'll hedge my bets on a Twins - Astros world series.