Big League Stew - MLB

At the beginning of every season, we like to make some predictions mainly so you can look back a few months later and laugh.

Seriously, look at those American League MVP candidates. Among myself, Tim Brown and Mark Pesavento, the best we could do were Travis Hafner, Paul Konerko, Joe Mauer, Hideki Matsui, Michael Young and Jermaine Dye?

Since someone slipped us a mickey for those picks, please disregard them and pay attention instead to my revised picks of the major awards for the season so far – and the season that remains.

AL MVP

Midseason: Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees – I'm of the school that translates MVP literally: most valuable player to his team. Without Rodriguez, the Yankees would be an awful team. To have kept them mediocre is a feat in and of itself.

End of season: Vladimir Guerrero, Los Angeles Angels – Surely A-Rod has shown he can keep up his numbers. But end-of-season value also includes team finish, and with the Yankees damned to a winter of discontent, Guerrero ably fills the criteria – huge bat in an otherwise-meekish lineup – on an excellent team.

NL MVP

Midseason: Prince Fielder, Milwaukee Brewers – Leads the NL in home runs and slugging percentage, ranks second in RBIs and while the Brewers could function without him, absolutely no one can match his numbers.

End of season: Chase Utley, Philadelphia Phillies – So, is it wishful thinking that the Phillies, now only 4½ games back in the NL East, mobilize with a makeshift pitching staff and ride their stalwart second baseman to an improbable division title? Yeah. But Utley's so good, he's worth a hitching of hope.

AL Cy Young

Midseason: Dan Haren, Oakland Athletics – He has been great. Awesome earned-run average. So difficult to hit. Blah, blah, blah. Let's get to the point.

End of season: Johan Santana, Minnesota Twins – He's going to win his second straight. (And it should be his fourth, because he was so much better than Bartolo Colon and Mariano Rivera in 2005, it's silly.) His 2.75 ERA is the best of his career entering the All-Star break, and over the last three years, Santana is 32-3 with a 1.78 ERA post-break.

NL Cy Young

Midseason: Chris Young and Jake Peavy, San Diego Padres – Too close to call. Young is 8-3, Peavy 9-3. Young's ERA is 2.00, Peavy's 2.19. Both have allowed seven more baserunners than innings pitched. Peavy has more strikeouts. Young has a better batting average against. Hey, since they're teammates, they might split the vote anyway.

End of season: Young – He won a best-of-seven coin flip.

AL Rookie of the Year

Midseason: Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox – As great as his teammate Hideki Okajima has been, giving the award to a middle reliever just doesn't sit right. Besides, Pedroia leads AL rookies in batting average, ranks second with a .450 slugging percentage and .400 on-base percentage, never strikes out and has acquitted himself as a pretty good second baseman.

End of season: Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston – Yes, he'll throw his fair share of stinkers, like he did Sunday. No matter. Over the last month, Matsuzaka has proven himself a big-time pitcher. And rare is the voter who can deny a 20-game winner this award.

NL Rookie of the Year

Midseason: Ryan Braun, Milwaukee – He doesn't have as many at-bats as Houston's Hunter Pence, but Braun's counting stats are nearly as good, his .650 slugging percentage is far better and his team is in first place.

End of season: Braun – With Pence, king clutch Troy Tulowitzki and Josh Hamilton close behind.

AL Manager of the Year

Midseason: Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles Angels – By default. Would have been Seattle's Mike Hargrove had he not quit.

End of season: Scioscia – He'll earn it by guiding the Angels to a runaway in the AL West.

NL Manager of the Year

Midseason: Bud Black, San Diego – So what if the Padres won the NL West last year? That doesn't lessen the job Black has done in his first year as manager, as they own the NL's best record – with the seventh-lowest payroll in baseball.

End of season: Black – By holding off the NL's best division. And just ahead of Milwaukee's Ned Yost, with Washington's Manny Acta getting a pat on the back should he keep the Nationals from 100 losses.

FIVE …

Chicago White Sox general manager Kenny Williams stuck to his no-no-trade-clause policy – mostly – and still locked up Mark Buehrle for $56 million over four years. And bravo for that. Buehrle is only 28, left-handed, a solid citizen and, yeah, a very good pitcher.

To get that for $14 million a year – after Barry Zito, at best Buehrle's equal, went for $18 million a year over seven – epitomized a hometown discount. Buehrle wanted to stay, and the compromise on the no-trade clause – a kicker that adds another $1 million a season, plus another year at $15 million – showed that.

Obviously, Buehrle has faith in Williams, and with good reason: Like Walt Jocketty in St. Louis and Mark Shapiro in Cleveland, he excels at signing good players to undermarket deals. And Williams is as much friend as boss, as Mark Gonzales writes.

• However futile it may be to extrapolate statistics, it's enjoyable enough that we still do it. So if Alex Rodriguez continues his pace over the rest of the season, he will finish with 57 home runs, 164 RBIs and 151 runs.

Which would place him in elite company. His 57 homers would place him sixth all-time in the AL, behind Roger Maris (61), Babe Ruth (60 and 59) and Jimmie Foxx and Hank Greenberg (58). His RBIs would be the second most in baseball since 1938, after Manny Ramirez's incredible 165-RBI season in 1999. And A-Rod's runs, too, would rank second since World War II, next to Jeff Bagwell's 152 in 2000.

• Belated thanks to those who sent in the "We will" marketing slogans for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The winners:

"We will be drunk by the fifth inning." – Cade Cridland

"We will have short lines to the restrooms." – Dan R.

"We will take your money but we won't spend it." – Tom Gigliotti

"We will long for Mario Mendoza's return." – Jim Schweinberg

"We will continue to support our local doctors and surgeons by refusing to change our minor league pitching mechanics, workouts and pitch counts." – Dan

"We will have a better slogan next year." – Larry Lahargoue

Good karma, it seems, is the only thing keeping the Phillies from their 10,000th loss as a franchise.

• Isn't it time the St. Louis Cardinals relent and recall Rick Ankiel, whose streak of four consecutive games with a home run at Triple-A Memphis ended Sunday? He leads the Pacific Coast League with 26 home runs and ranks third with a .596 slugging percentage.

Sure, Ankiel doesn't walk, and he strikes out a lot … which makes him an awful lot like the Cardinals' current right fielder, Juan Encarnacion. If Encarnacion's $5 million salary makes cutting him prohibitive, fine. The Cardinals could get rid of Skip Schumaker from the active roster. Or they could remove Randy Keisler or John Rodriguez from the 40-man roster to make room for Ankiel.

It's time to figure out whether the 27-year-old Ankiel is nothing more than a hit-or-miss Triple-A outfielder or – and this is not exaggerating – one of baseball's greatest comeback stories: The can't-miss pitcher who lost control of everything, only to find his true calling was with the bat.

… AND FLY

Who here knew that Paula Cole was still alive? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone? Anyone?


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