|Justin Verlander's in line to win the first pitching Triple Crown in the AL since Johan Santana in 2006. (US Presswire)|
The Weekend Buzz while summer (and playoff races) screeched to a crashing halt. ...
1. The Great Race: Last time baseball conducted a September with this little interest, it was 1994 -- and guess what? Strike! No games! But just because we can practically already name all eight playoff teams with our eyes closed doesn't mean we have to sit in the locker room all depressed for hours on end like the Notre Dame football team.
Here's what's worth watching this September (and yes, damn straight Justin Verlander should be a legitimate candidate to become the first pitcher to win an MVP award since Oakland's Dennis Eckersley in 1992):
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Jose Bautista, Blue Jays
Arguments for: Leads the majors in OPS, homers and wow factor. Just because he plays in Toronto, he should not be ignored.
Arguments against: He plays in Toronto. The Jays are a continent away from the playoff race.
Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox
Arguments for each: Gonzalez leads the majors in batting and hits, and his presence in the Sox lineup has helped David Ortiz get pitches he hasn't seen since Manny Ramirez was taking bathroom breaks inside the Green Monster. Ellsbury torments everyone in his path in myriad ways -- hits, steals, total bases, power. Pedroia is one of the three or four most indispensable players in the game.
Arguments against: Gonzalez has only six homers since the All-Star break. Ellsbury is 27 runs behind Curtis Granderson. Pedroia isn't even the MVP on his own team.
Justin Verlander, Tigers
Arguments for: Most dominant single individual player in baseball this season. In line to win the first pitching Triple Crown in the AL since Johan Santana in 2006, and he's 14-3 this season after a Detroit loss.
Argument against: Well, he could be 26-0 instead of 21-5.
Curtis Granderson, Robinson Cano, Yankees
Arguments for each: Granderson leads the majors with 125 runs scored, 27 more than the No. 2 run-scorer. He also leads the league in RBI, ranks second in homers and plays a great center field. Cano is closing fast, having become only the fourth player in Yankees history to compile consecutive seasons of at least 40 doubles, 20 homers and 100 RBI.
Arguments against: Curtis Granderson isn't even the MVP on his own team. No, wait, it's Cano who isn't even MVP on his own team.
Ryan Braun, Brewers
Arguments for: Leads the NL in OPS, slugging percentage, runs scored and wearing down opposing pitchers. He's fourth in total bases and fifth in RBI.
Arguments against: Prince Fielder for MVP!
Matt Kemp, Dodgers
Arguments for: Best all-around player in the NL. Leads league in total bases. Runs, hits, scores. He's added brains to his athleticism.
Arguments against: The Dodgers stink. And Frank McCourt couldn't afford to hold an MVP reception at Del Taco, let alone anywhere else.
Prince Fielder, Brewers
Arguments for: Leads the NL in RBI, ranks second in on-base percentage, ranks tied for fourth in homers. Makes life a living hell for Bernie Brewer.
Arguments against: Ryan Braun for MVP!
Justin Upton, Diamondbacks
Arguments for: Dude is a doubles machine, is crossing the plate every time you blink and is the key player in bringing relief to the desert's baseball drought.
Arguments against: Numbers aren't as startling as, say, a snake bite. How much do you value a player's contribution to a turnaround story like Arizona's, anyway?
AL Cy Young
Arguments for: Have you seen him?
Arguments against: Get out (followed by dramatic shove, like from Elaine on Seinfeld). There are none. Give him the award now.
NL Cy Young
Roy Halladay, Phillies
Arguments for: Great numbers pitching in a bandbox park. Nobody intimidates opponents more.
Arguments against: How can you not give this award to teammate Cliff Lee?
Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks
Arguments for: Leads NL with 18 wins, instrumental in bringing baseball relief to desert.
Arguments against: Haven't we learned enough from sabermetrics that pitchers just can't, ahem, control wins very much? And Kennedy's other numbers don't come close to stacking up.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Argument for: Innings pitched, strikeouts ... this guy is more dominant than a windshield vs. a bug.
Arguments against: McCourt couldn't even afford to host a Cy reception at Subway.
Cliff Lee, Phillies
Argument for: Did you watch this guy pitch in June (5-0, 0.21 ERA) or August (5-0, 0.45)?
Argument against: How can you not give this award to Halladay?
2. Pennant races: "Hey, honey, there are no good games on tonight. Wanna watch a Loveboat rerun?"
3. George Kottaras is not Prince Fielder nor Ryan Braun: True. But then again, neither Braun nor Fielder -- nor anybody else in the majors -- has hit for the cycle like George Kottaras did Saturday night.
4. White Sox GM Kenny Williams vs. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen: The Sox had to have a good weekend in Detroit. They didn't. As a season explodes, enough with the family feuding. Major changes are needed.
5. Giants vs. Diamondbacks: San Francisco had to have a good weekend at home against first-place Arizona. It didn't. See ya Miguel Tejada and Aaron Rowand, and there had better be other Giants lineup changes where those came from.
6. Yankees vs. Red Sox: Not that an ALCS pitting these two hated rivals against each other could be interminable, but their Thursday game just ended a few minutes ago. Memo to umpires: Call a damn strike.
7. Red Sox vs. Rangers: If they meet in the AL playoffs -- and as we stand today, that's the first-round matchup -- it could be as dull as the current pennant races. Texas won six of the 10 games between them, and check this out: in their six wins, the Rangers bludgeoned the Red Sox 51-15. In Boston's four wins, the Red Sox routed the Rangers 42-14.
8. Funny, he doesn't look finished: Derek Jeter tied his career high with five RBI on Sunday against the Blue Jays and now is hitting .298. Or, here's another way to look at Jeter: since July 4, he's hitting .355 (72 for 208) with 11 doubles, three triples, three homers and 34 RBI in 50 games.
9. Action Jackson: Detroit center fielder Austin Jackson had 13 hits in 19 at-bats leading into Sunday night's game with the White Sox. And we're not talking doinkers. This kid is drilling the ball.
10. Barry Bonds, Citizen of the Week: That's neither a joke nor a typo. Bonds was in the house in San Francisco on Saturday when the family of Bryan Stow -- victim of the savage April beating in the Dodger Stadium parking lot -- threw out the first pitch. Bonds has been very supportive of the family, to the point of promising to pay college tuition for Bryan's two children. To help the family, to get the latest on Stow's health or just to show some love, check out www.support4bryanstow.com.