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These guys look like sure bets in 2012
My preseason awards picks are usually better than my division picks, which have earned me a lifetime ban in the state of Nevada.
But as always, so much is out of my control.
Consider last season, when I anointed the Blue Jays’ Brett Lawrie as my AL Rookie of the Year, fully expecting the Jays to freak out over his potential Super Two status and demote him at the start of the season.
No big deal — a number of recent ROYs joined their clubs in late May or early June. Sure enough, that seemed to be the plan with Lawrie. But the Jays kept him at Triple A so long, he broke his left hand, delaying his debut until August.
And ruining my ROY pick.
I may forgive Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. I may not.
Moving forward, here are my awards picks for 2012 — and woe to any GM who dares get in my way.
AL MVP: Miguel Cabrera, Tigers
After three straight top five finishes, this is the year.
Cabrera, who turns 29 in April, isn’t a lock, not with Albert Pujols now in the AL. But unlike Pujols, who is three years older, Cabrera is at the peak of his powers, as evidenced by his career-high 181 OPS-plus last season.
Cabrera’s move from first to third base, even if only moderately successful, will boost his candidacy; he is putting the team’s interests ahead of his own. Of course, Cabrera is in no position to complain. Hitting in front of Prince Fielder should only help him.
NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez, Marlins
Can’t say I trust him; Ramirez might get off to a bad start, blame his move to third base and act like the petulant Hanley of old.
Thing is, Ramirez is showing no signs of such regression this spring. Not only does he look fully recovered from surgery on his right (throwing) shoulder, but also is hitting like crazy and displaying an exemplary attitude.
Ramirez was one of the best players in the game from 2007 to ’09 and pretty darned good in ’10. He is 28 now, and he has something to prove. If he goes back into a funk for whatever reason, give me the D-Backs’ Justin Upton the Reds’ Joey Votto or maybe that Matt Kemp guy in L.A.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
I know what you’re thinking: “Man, Ken hates Justin Verlander.”
Au contraire — I love Verlander, even if I “only” voted him second for MVP last season. But consider this:
Hernandez’s opponents’ batting average on balls in play rose from .265 in his Cy Young season two years ago to .308 last season, helping his ERA spike from 2.27 to 3.47.
Verlander, by contrast, had his opponents’ BABIP drop from .289 to .237 (second lowest in the AL) and his ERA fall from 3.37 to 2.40.
Now, BABIP isn’t everything; Verlander’s line-drive rate matched the lowest of his career, and he had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 5-to-1. But I’m thinking both figures will revert to more typical levels this season.
Verlander is determined to become one of the all-time greats; nothing he accomplishes will surprise me. But let’s not discount Hernandez, who says he dropped 15 pounds in the offseason — and will pitch this season at 26.
NL Cy Young: Cole Hamels, Phillies
Greg Maddux won four straight NL Cy Youngs from 1992 to ’95, Randy Johnson four straight from ’99-2002, Tim Lincecum two straight in ’08-’09.
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Dodgers left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the reigning NL Cy, is a reasonable bet to put together a similar streak. He just turned 24, his home starts are at pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium and his team — soon to be under new ownership — should only improve.
Still, I’m picking Hamels for the second straight year.
Hamels, 28, finished fifth last season, with his teammates Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee running 2-3. Run support, given the state of the Phillies’ offense, could be an issue for all three pitchers this season, But Hamels is entering his peak, not to mention — ahem — his free-agent year.
Some players succumb to such pressure. Hamels, in trying to prove to the Phillies that he deserves big money, will thrive on it.
AL Rookie: Jesus Montero, Mariners
In fact, I’m picking against those two even though Montero figures to add little value to his candidacy with his catching, which remains a work in progress at best.
So, why go with Montero?
Have you seen the guy hit?
NL Rookie: Devin Mesoraco, Reds
All right, now I’m just being contrarian, going against the Nationals’ Bryce Harper, who could be manning center field in DC by May 1.
But hear me out:
Mesoraco will be with the Reds from the start of the season, splitting time with Ryan Hanigan. By July, the Reds will determine that Mesoraco should play every day and trade Hanigan to the Rays, who only have coveted him all winter.
Harper likely will be a monster, but Mesoraco will be no slouch, starting at catcher for a contender in a hitter-friendly park.
Not that unreasonable, is it?
AL Manager: Mike Scioscia, Angels
I’d love to go off the board with the Royals’ Ned Yost or Blue Jays’ John Farrell, but even the second wild card will prove elusive for those clubs in the power-packed AL.
No, it’s going to be all chalk — two from the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays in the AL East; the Tigers from the Central; the Rangers and Angels from the West.
Joe Maddon, working with by far the lowest payroll, could win his second straight award under that scenario. But his mentor, Scioscia, will sift through his first-base/DH logjam, piece together his bullpen and maybe even beat out the Texas Napolis.
NL Manager: Don Mattingly, Dodgers
Several NL executives view the Dodgers as a darkhorse in the West, and not simply because they boast one of the league’s best hitters, Kemp, and pitchers, Kershaw — or because they’re about to be sold.
Mattingly, managing for the first time, held the Dodgers together through a rocky first half last season, then guided them to an 82-79 finish. His challenge this season is to get the most out of right fielder Andre Ethier and first baseman James Loney in their respective free-agent years.
With a little help at the trade deadline, the Dodgers could return to prominence sooner than expected, elevating Mattingly’s profile.