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Weekend Buzz: Baseball's award season begins with Verlander

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Kirk Gibson and the D-Backs are vying for home-field in the first round of the playoffs. (Getty Images)  
Kirk Gibson and the D-Backs are vying for home-field in the first round of the playoffs. (Getty Images)  

The Weekend Buzz while you were thinking that perhaps the Red Sox and Braves should simply merge forces and concentrate on attempting to defend ONE of those wild-card slots ... and while you were debating the postseason awards. No need, here's how it should go. ...

AL MVP: 1. Justin Verlander, Tigers. 2. Curtis Granderson, Yankees. 3. Jacoby Ellsbury, Red Sox. 4. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays. 5. Robinson Cano, Yankees. 6. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox. 7. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers. 8. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox. 9. Victor Martinez, Tigers. 10. Michael Young, Rangers.

Start with a chief argument against: That Verlander, even in a season for the ages, only affected the Tigers in his 34 starts over 162 games. Absolutely false. Verlander was so sensational, his work affected Tigers games directly before and directly after his starts. The game before, manager Jim Leyland could use his bullpen uninhibitedly because he knew he probably wouldn't need many relievers the next night. Then, in most games after Verlander pitched, Leyland's bullpen was just-back-from-the-dry-cleaners fresh. In the meantime, Verlander proved to those who say starting pitchers have little control over wins that the theory, at times, is a bunch of bunk.

No starting pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 has won an MVP award -- and only Clemens and Vida Blue (1971) have won the award since baseball lowered the mound after 1968, but this is the year. Verlander was 16-3 after a Detroit loss, was 22-2 after May 1 (and one of those two losses was 1-0), the Tigers were 23-4 as a team in Verlander's last 27 starts. Here's another astounding number, courtesy of STATS LLC: Through Verlander's start Saturday, no pitcher since the end of World War II won more games in as few starts. And only three pitchers -- Mel Parnell (1949 Red Sox), Bobby Shantz (1952 Athletics) and Clemens ('86 Red Sox) -- had matched Verlander's 24 wins through 33 starts.

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After that ... no player in the majors is within 19 runs scored of Granderson. That's astounding. Ellsbury has been Boston's most consistent player. Bautista, Cano, Gonzalez ... so many deserving candidates, so little time.

NL MVP: 1. Ryan Braun, Brewers. 2. Matt Kemp, Dodgers. 3. Prince Fielder, Brewers. 4. Justin Upton, Diamondbacks. 5. Albert Pujols, Cardinals, 6. Jose Reyes, Mets. 7. Joey Votto, Reds. 8. Ryan Howard, Phillies. 9. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies. 10. Shane Victorino, Phillies.

This comes with a caveat: I'm writing this with three games left in the regular season. If Kemp uses them to win the game's first Triple Crown since 1967, he's the MVP. Failing that, Braun and Kemp are closer than the Kardashian sisters in their stat lines. The tie-breaker goes to Braun because of the work he's done in helping Milwaukee to its first division title since 1982.

AL Cy Young: 1. Justin Verlander, Tigers. 2. Jered Weaver, Angels. 3. CC Sabathia, 4. James Shields, Rays. 5. Josh Beckett, Red Sox.

Verlander = unanimous.

NL Cy Young 1. Roy Halladay, Phillies. 2. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers. 3. Cliff Lee, Phillies. 4. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks. 5. Craig Kimbrel, Braves.

The simple fact is, Halladay, who won the award last year, remains the game's gold standard. Kershaw has been phenomenal, but he works in a division featuring pitchers' parks and mostly toothless lineups. Halladay, in a bandbox of a home park, leads the league in complete games and has numbers mostly in line with Kershaw's. Really, Halladay, Kershaw and Lee each could win the award this year and it would be deserved.

AL Manager of the Year: 1. Joe Maddon, Rays. 2. Ron Washington, Rangers. 3. Jim Leyland, Tigers.

Whether the Rays stage the comeback of the year and win the AL wild-card or whether they fall short, Maddon has done an absolutely sensational job pulling the levers and pushing the buttons. Washington is presiding over the most successful three-year stretch in Rangers history. Leyland has been marvelous, but with great help from Verlander and general manager Dave Dombrowski.

NL Manager of the Year: 1. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks. 2. Ron Roenicke, Brewers. 3. Tony La Russa, Cardinals.

Smashing debut season as manager for Mr. Gibson. The Diamondbacks lost 97 games last year and then lost most of their Cactus League games this spring. I don't know when I've seen players influenced as much by a manager's sheer will. Roenicke's debut season wasn't bad either, but he had a far better core in place when he took over than Gibson. And La Russa ... back when the Cardinals lost Adam Wainwright this spring, it looked like that was a wrap.

AL Rookie of the Year: 1. Jeremy Hellickson, Rays. 2. Mark Trumbo, Angels. 3. Ivan Nova, Yankees.

Hellickson leads AL rookies in innings pitched, ERA, lowest opponents' batting average, and no way the Rays would be in this thing heading into the final days without his production. Trumbo filled a huge void for the Angels replacing Kendrys Morales at first base and did it well. Nova was the Yankees' best pitcher not named CC Sabathia down the stretch.

Honorable mention: Seattle's Michael Pineda and Kansas City's Eric Hosmer.

NL Rookie of the Year: 1. Craig Kimbrel, Braves. 2. Freddie Freeman, Braves. 3. Vance Worley, Phillies.

What are they feeding the rookies in Atlanta? Kimbrel was lights-out as a closer. No rookie has more homers, RBI or total bases than Freeman. And in Worley, a boon when Joe Blanton went down in Philadelphia.

Well, we'll just keep all of the rookie spots in the NL East.

AL Executive of the Year: 1. Dave Dombrowski, Tigers. 2. Andrew Friedman, Rays. 3. Alex Anthopoulos, Blue Jays.

Few execs have better years than Dombrowski, who hit all the right notes from Victor Martinez to Doug Fister to Delmon Young. The latter two in-season moves were sensational. Friedman rebuilt Tampa Bay's entire bullpen. And Anthopoulos, in addition to acquiring guys like Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmust, unloaded Vernon Wells' contract. Canadian bacon for everyone!

NL Executive of the Year: 1. Doug Melvin, Brewers. 2. Ruben Amaro, Phillies. 3. Kevin Towers, Diamondbacks.

Milwaukee's core was there in Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but it wasn't going anywhere without pitching. Then Melvin traded for starters Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum. Then he scooped up Francisco Rodriguez from the Mets on the night of the All-Star Game. Amaro should be hailed for his stealth and stunning move to sign Cliff Lee last winter. And Towers rebuilt one of the worst bullpens in history in Arizona.

30-second rewind

Here's how I saw it coming out of spring training ... and here's where you get your chance to wildly applaud my pinpoint accuracy (and, OK, maybe in a few cases, fire off "I-told-you-so" emails):

AL East: Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays, Orioles.

Dear Yankees fans who mercilessly harassed me about this in the spring: I was wr- - -. I mean, I was wrrr- - -. I was wron- - - ggg.

AL Central: White Sox, Twins, Tigers, Royals, Indians.

See why one of my good buddies who is a Sox fan begs me to pick them fourth or fifth every spring?

AL West: Rangers, Angels, Athletics, Mariners.

Bingo. Now that wasn't so hard, was it?

AL wild-card: Yankees.

Dear Yankees fans who mercilessly harassed me: I was wr- - -. I mean, I was wron- - -. I was, um, incorrect.

NL East: Braves, Phillies, Mets, Marlins, Nationals.

Dear Phillies fans: I was ... OK, geez, so I was not right! I still had them in the playoffs. (Keep reading).

NL Central: Reds, Brewers, Cardinals, Cubs, Astros, Pirates.

Dear Reds fans: I mean, really. That was the best the Reds had this year?

NL West: Rockies, Giants, Padres, Dodgers, Diamondbacks.

Dear Diamondbacks fans: Whew, at least some people don't notice when I'm wrong.

NL wild-card: Phillies.

Picked 'em to go to the World Series, too. And sticking with it.

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox.

He was the AL MVP ... of the first half.

NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies.

He'll win one before he's through.

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers.

Bingo.

NL Cy Young: Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies.

I always veer NL West, because seven of past 10 NL Cy Young winners have come from that division. Problem is, Jimenez now is in the AL Central. Colorado traded him to Cleveland, he was so disappointing.

AL Rookie: Jeremy Hellickson, Rays.

Thank you, thank you. Glad you noticed I nailed that one.

NL Rookie: Freddie Freeman, Braves.

I may still nail this one, unless all those Atlanta votes go to closer Craig Kimbrel.

AL Manager: Terry Francona, Red Sox.

How's that one looking right about now? Wait, I was asking Tampa Bay fans!

NL Manager: Fredi Gonzalez, Braves.

Ditto the AL manager.

AL Surprise Player: Erik Bedard, Mariners.

If you're talking surprise that Boston would trade for him. ...

NL Surprise Player: Brad Hawpe, Padres.

Ugh.

AL Disappointing Player: Brian Roberts, Orioles.

If we're grading ourselves, I'm counting this one as correct.

NL Disappointing Player: Pat Burrell, Giants.

Counting this one as correct, too.

First manager fired: Edwin Rodriguez, Marlins.

Pretty much on target here as well.

Now, we return to our regularly scheduled programming for these final, wild three days of the regular season ... after we call 911 on behalf of the Red Sox and Braves.

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