Making predictions not as easy as 1-2-3

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Can a .250 hitter become the National League Most Valuable Player? Can a relief pitcher win the American League MVP?

Those unlikely events could happen because of unusual circumstances in both leagues this season. MVP voting must be completed before the postseason begins, but the wise voter -- two members of the Baseball Writers Association of America for each franchise -- likely will wait until the final game before filling out the 10-player ballot.

The .250 hitter who could well win the MVP in the National League is Ryan Howard, whose average might be down but whose power remains prodigious. Going into games of last night, Howard had 45 home runs and 138 RBIs to go with his .248 batting average. That was eight more homers and 24 more RBIs than anyone else in the National League.

What really has made Howard a solid favorite to win the award for the second time in the past three years is a monster September. He was batting .379 with eight homers and 24 RBIs and was a major reason the Phillies were 11-5 in September.

Howard's major competition figures to come from three New York Mets, the team the Phillies are competing with for the NL East championship. Mets third baseman David Wright, first baseman Carlos Delgado and center fielder Carlos Beltran all have more than 100 RBIs. With 114 RBIs, Wright was second to Howard. Delgado's 36 homers were third. Beltran was sixth in RBIs.

The problem for all three is they'll compete against each other for votes. Chase Utley and Pat Burrell of the Phillies will get some votes but are clearly behind Howard among Phillies.

Milwaukee's Ryan Braun will get some consideration.

Predicted order of finish: 1. Howard; 2. Wright; 3. Delgado.

Only three relievers have won the MVP award -- Rollie Fingers in 1981, Willie Hernandez in '84 and Dennis Eckersley in '92.

Los Angeles Angels reliever Francisco Rodriguez has the stats to do it, having set the all-time record for saves. But there's a major drawback to his candidacy. His team is too good. It's entirely possible the Angels, who led the American League West by 181/2 games, could have won without him. How much a player impacts his team's success is a major factor with voters. If the Angels were in a close race, Rodriguez would have a better chance of winning and might be a lock.

What could help Rodriguez is there is no solid leader among the other candidates.

Among the contenders neither Tampa Bay nor the Angels have a player worthy of winning the award. The Angels didn't have a player with more than 25 home runs or 90 RBIs. Carlos Pena had 29 homers and 91 RBIs for Tampa Bay. He'll get some votes but doesn't have a winner's credentials.

Among other contenders, Boston has two candidates, unheralded Kevin Youkilis, who leads the team in homers, RBIs and slugging percentage, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who could win the batting title.

Carlos Quentin of the first-place Chicago White Sox had a great candidacy, 36 home runs and 101 RBIs at the end of August, but he has been out since Sept. 1 with an injury that was a result of his own stupidity. That could cost him votes.

If the Minnesota Twins catch the White Sox in the AL Central, it will greatly enhance the candidacy of Justin Morneau, who leads the American League in RBIs.

Predicted order of finish: 1. Youkilis; 2. Morneau; 3. Rodriguez.

The American League Cy Young Award, based on performance without regard to team standing, has two worthy candidates -- Rodriguez, who had 59 saves, and Cleveland's Cliff Lee, who leads the league in wins and earned run average. The fact Lee is 20 games over .500 -- a breathtaking 22-2 -- on a team that was two games under .500 is astonishing.

Predicted winner: Lee

The top winner in the National League is Brandon Webb, who won the Cy Young in 2006. He's 21-7 on a team that was at .500. But San Francisco's Tim Lincecum is 17-4 on a team that was 17 games under .500. He also led the league in ERA and strikeouts.

Predicted winner: Lincecum.

The Rookie of the Year awards are easy. Chicago Cubs catcher Geovany Soto, 23 home runs and 86 RBIs, should be the unanimous winner in the National League, and the same goes for Tampa Bay third baseman Evan Longoria, 24 homers and 77 RBIs, in the AL.

Joe Maddon should be the unanimous choice for American League Manager of the Year for what he has done with Tampa Bay. In the National League, there's no such standout for the award that usually goes to the manager who gets the most out of the least.

Predicted winner: Fredi Gonzalez, Florida.

Bob Smizik can be reached at .


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