Steady Pujols Rates Favorite for National League MVP Honors

The National League is vastly inferior to the American League and except for the New York Mets, it has mediocre teams contending for playoff spots. The wild card winner, for example, may be barely over .500.

The Senior Circuit was crushed in interleague play this season and has been swept in the last two World Series (Boston over St. Louis in 2004 and Chicago over Houston last season). Should the NL even bother with awards? Well, somebody’s got to win them.

Actually, there are a number of players putting together solid seasons and there is no clear-cut favorite for MVP. Three or four different players could win it. Our choice goes to St. Louis Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols, arguably the game’s best overall player. While the Cardinals have had somewhat of a disappointing season, even if they are still in first place in a weak division, Pujols has been as steady as ever and is worthy of winning this award for the second straight year.

.Despite missing two weeks in June with a strained right oblique, he is on pace to better last season’s totals of 41 homers and 117 RBI. Pujols should reach the 40-homer mark for the fourth straight season and drive in more than 120 runs for the fifth time in his six major league seasons. The man is a machine. Through August 27, he had 38 home runs and 107 RBI while batting .322. He ranked in the top five in each of those Triple Crown categories.

The runner-up nod goes to New York Mets outfielder Carlos Beltran, who is finally producing in the manner the Mets expected when they signed him to a seven-year, $119 million contract after he tied a major league record with eight home runs in the 2004 playoffs. Actually, Beltran may be exceeding expectations. He struggled through a disappointing first season with the Mets in 2005 while getting used to playing under the spotlight in New York. This season, however, he has been the best player for the Mets, who are cruising to a division title. Through August 27, Beltran also 38 homers and 108 RBI while batting a respectable .286..

Our third choice goes to Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Ryan Howard, last season’s National League Rookie of the Year award winner.Howard is the NL’s version of David Ortiz, hitting monstrous home runs and coming into his own as one of the game’s top offensive threats. With more than a month remaining in the season, Howard has doubled last year’s output of 22 homers and 63 RBI. He led the National League in home runs (46) and RBI (121).

Manager of the Year
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1. Joe Girardi, Florida Marlins. Girardi essentially is managing a Triple-A outfit with a payroll of $15 million. Still, he has managed to keep the team competitive, and for that alone, he deserves this award. After starting 11-31, the Marlins amazingly were within reach of .500 (63-66) through August 27 and only four games behind in the wild card race. Ironically, Girardi could win the award after he gets fired (How oddwould that be?) because he has been feuding with Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria and has not received a vote of confidence.

2. Grady Little, Los Angeles Dodgers. Grady Little in consideration for a manager of the year award? The same man who is despised in Boston for letting Pedro Martinez pitch too long in Game Seven of the 2003 ALCS? Yes, the same Grady Little. Go ahead and laugh, but Little is doing a good job with the Dodgers and they are in first place, even if it’s the pathetic NL West. Remember, this is a team that was in chaos last season, when it finished 20 games under .500. Besides, there are slim pickings in the NL. No offense to New York Mets manager Willie Randolph, but we can’t pick him because his team is stacked, at least by National League standards. Of course, the Dodgers may be the most difficult team to figure out in the majors. They started the second half by losing 13 of 14 games yet remained in playoff contention, which tells you how bad the NL West is. However, they responded by winning 11 in a row and 17 of 18. Go figure.

3. Jerry Narron, Cincinnati Reds. There’s no one left to pick. Still, Narron has managed to turn things around in Cincinnati after a disappointing 73-89 mark a year ago. The Reds have led the NL wild card race for most of the season, albeit with a record barely over .500. Eight-five wins may be enough to capture the wild card in the NL. The Reds are the best off a mediocre lot (so far).

Cy Young Award
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1. Chicago Cubs righthander Carlos Zambrano – This is where the NL’s mediocrity shows as there isn’t a single pitcher having a truly dominant season. Through August 27, Zambrano was the National League’s first 14-game winner (14-5 with a 3.31 ERA). Besides, we feel sorry for the eternally hapless Cubs, who always seem to be dealing with injuries to Kerry Wood and Mark Prior. Zambrano has been one of the lone bright spots for the poor Cubbies. He is a good pitcher with solid stuff.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks righthander Brandon Webb – Toiling in obscurity in the Arizona, Webb has proved durable for the Diamondbacks, ranking second in the NL in innings pitched (178 1/3). He also ranks second in complete games (three) and ERA (2.93). He was 13-5 with a 2.99 ERA.

3. St. Louis Cardinals righthander Chris Carpenter. – It wasn’t easy coming up with a third pick but we’ll go with Carpenter (12-6 with a 2.96 ERA). He ranked second in the NL in ERA behind Marlins’ rookie Josh Johnson (2.90).

Rookie of the Year
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Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman – Through August 27, he led all NL rookies in hits (136) and RBI (83) and is on pace to drive in 100 in his first season. Zimmerman has shown some power with 17 homers, which ranked fourth among NL first-year players. His biggest hit to date was a walkoff homer against Chien Ming Wang of the Yankees on June 18.

Florida Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla. The Marlins may have a shoe-string operation but they do have a number of promising young players and Uggla is among them. He led all NL rookies in batting average (.291) and ranked second in home runs (19), RBI (72) and runs scored (85).

Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder. Built like his father, Cecil, the 260-pound Fielder also has some of his dad’s power. He led all NL first-year players with 23 homers. However, like a lot of rookies, Fielder has endured an up-and-down season as he strives to become more consistent. He recovered from a tough June, when he batted only .208, to hit .303 in July, but has slumped again in August.

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