AL MVP RACE
The American League MVP race is as heated as the one in the National League that the Notebook looked at on Monday. Between what I would see as legitimate candidates, and those the media has elevated in the discussion, there are eight players to look at. Here’s the rundown..
*Jose Bautista (Toronto): If there was ever a case of the de facto requirement that an MVP be on a playoff team going to an extreme, this is it. Even though Bautista has slowed down since the All-Star break, he’s still having a dominant offensive year in every way. His 33 home runs key a monster .639 slugging percentage. Nor is he just a pure home run hitter, with a .311 batting average and the plate discipline that elevates his on-base percentage to .446. And even though the Jays won’t make the playoffs they could fulfill a solid team goal by having a winning season and possibly edging out Tampa for third in the AL East. Yet Bautista is not commonly mentioned in most MVP discussions I hear in mainstream discussion.
*Mark Teixeira (NY Yanks): He’s the opposite of Bautista, thrust into the race because he’s on an almost-certain playoff team in the premier media market. Teixeira currently has 32 home runs and if he passes Bautista for the home run title, the Yankee first baseman will see his case increase. He plays a good defensive first base. But even with that his .516 slugging is low for an MVP, as is a .344 on-base percentage. The home runs alone push his MVP case and I don’t think that’s near enough.
*Curtis Granderson (NY Yanks): Teixeria’s case is further weakened that a teammate has a better resume. Granderson has a significantly higher OBP and slugging (.364/.564), leads the league if you combine RBIs and runs scored and plays an important defensive position pretty well. I’m not sure I think Granderson is MVP-caliber, but a strong finish could change that and he deserves his place in the conversation.
*Jacoby Ellsbury (Boston): On the Red Sox-Yankee telecasts this weekend on Fox and ESPN, the twin MVP cases for Ellsbury and Granderson, the two centerfielders, got discussion. Ellsbury is obviously having a very good year and has sizzled of late, but while a .511 slugging percentage is a big asset for a leadoff man, I’m not sold that it’s MVP-worthy, nor am I sold that Ellsbury’s 31 steals make up for that. MVP is a big stretch for the Boston centerfielder.
*Adrian Gonzalez (Boston): Here we come to the big-time Boston MVP candidate. Gonzalez is leading the league in hitting with a .351 batting average, and leads in RBIs with 92. The on-base percentage is up over .400, he slugs at .556, plays a great defensive first base and is on another team almost a lock for the postseason. What’s the problem with his candidacy? Nothing really. I’d have no problem with a Gonzalez pick but like the Yankee players, it does have to be factored in that Red Sox hitters have a lot of support in their lineup and even given that Gonzalez’ numbers still trail Bautista’s.
*Dustin Pedroia (Boston): Like teammate Ellsbury, a red-hot second half has vaulted him into the discussion. Pedroia won the award in 2008, although that was in a year where there was no one who had a really great MVP-like campaign. Virtually every candidate on this list is having a better year than Pedroia’s ’08 competition. The second baseman has a .477 slugging percentage, lower than Ellsbury, so if I sound skeptical of the MVP case, the reader interprets me correctly.
*Paul Konerko (ChiSox): I know he’s not going to win, and I won’t even argue he should. But the White Sox first baseman deserves a little honorable mention. He’s hit 26 home runs and is slugging .547 in a lineup that aside from Carlos Quentin has given him no support. I hope Konerko at least gets enough respect to finish in the Top 10.
*Miguel Cabrera (Detroit): The most underrated player in these entire discussions. Cabrera somehow manages to be second in the AL in OBP (.424), fourth in slugging (.556), do it all in a pitcher’s park on a first-place team and not get attention. He does have a lot of support in his lineup, but that hasn’t stopped New York and Boston from filling the conversation with candidates. It’s time to give Detroit’s underrated star his due.
I’d vote for Bautista and not think twice about it. If I have to look at a playoff team, I wouldn’t hesitate on Cabrera. Of the players most often discussed, I’d back Gonzalez.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS PREVIEW
The Vikings fell hard in 2010 and a tough rebuilding process now has to begin. Last year they got old at quarterback, offensive line and defensive line all at once in a development that wasn’t unexpected, but certainly Minnesota might’ve hoped for more gradual decline rather than the sudden collapse that accompanied all three areas.
It’s likely to get worse before it gets better because the secondary has age problems too. Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are on the corners, are both are getting older and are injury-prone to begin with. The defensive front saw the loss of 38-year old defensive tackle Pat Williams, the departure of end Ray Edwards and the decline of Kevin Williams and Jared Allen. A once-dominant front four was an empty vessel last season and Allen is the only one for whom a comeback is realistic.
On the offensive line, left tackle Bryant McKinnie declined last year and is gone for 2011. Steve Hutchinson may suffer a similar fate. John Sullivan and Anthony Herrera aren’t going anywhere, but run-blocking was never this group’s strong suit and it’s worse now that it ever was.
Finally we come to quarterback, where Brett Favre’s sudden fall and what looks to be his final retirement, left the door open for Donovan McNabb. There aren’t too many teams who can say they’re getting younger by trading for McNabb, but the Vikes are one, and it also underscores how hopeless their backup quarterback situation is. The team started to address that in the draft by taking Florida State’s Christian Ponder to learn under McNabb.
The focal point of the offense is back to being Adrian Peterson, as was the case prior to Favre’s acquisition in 2009. Peterson has never had a truly dominant line to run behind and has still produced, so new coach Leslie Frazier can count on him as a building block. But there’s a lot of building to do for a team that fell apart quickly.
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