The Washington Times - September 22, 2008, 05:32PM

By SEAN RAPOSA
September 23, 2008

A great 20th Century philosopher once said, “Life is like a box of chocolates - you never know what you gonna get.” Never has the wisdom applied so aptly to my life. I spent the last two years trying desperately to get a sports website up and running and failed miserably. Then, out of nowhere, this opportunity came along from The Washington Times and provided the forum I had been searching for. I am forever grateful for the chance to voice my sports insanity, and a gargantuan thank you needs to be put out to my super-editor/fellow writer/administrator Jay LeBlanc. I would also like to thank all of you who have joined me on this journey through the 2008 MLB season, and I hope it’s been as entertaining for you as it has for me. This will be the final My Five column this season; I know some of you will take this news hard, but remember: There’s no crying in baseball. Have no fear, however, as my colleagues and I will bring fresh material throughout the playoffs and my weekly installment will resume in the spring of ‘09.

One thing I have come to realize while writing for a very diverse national audience is that you can’t please everyone. It’s just not possible so I’ve stopped trying … kind of. This week I’m offering up a unique awards presentation to close out this spectacular season and my first summer of My Five columns. As a Boston fan (I know, Matt from San Diego, “Blah blah blah, Boston, New England…” - just keep reading), I walk a fine line in my attempts to utilize my passion and knowledge of that area of the country - which has some decent squads, by the way - and not turn off or neglect the rest of you clowns. So this week I’m going bi-coastal. Everybody wins! Let’s celebrate.

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No. 5: Rookie of the Year

East:Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays

When Longoria went down with a broken wrist on Aug. 8, most people thought his season was lost and the glass slipper of the Rays shattered. Not so fast! The Rays have shown incredible resiliency in the absence of stars Longoria and Carl Crawford, and now the 22-year-old All-Star third baseman is back - and not a moment too soon. Longoria announced his return with authority, smacking three homers against Minnesota in his sixth game back in the lineup. He sure looks healthy, and his return is the boost that could keep this magical mystery train rolling. His .278 average, 25 jacks and 82 RBI in only 417 at-bats are more than enough to justify his victory here today.

West:Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs

Admittedly this is a geographical stretch, but there was no way I could leave this guy out. Many in the know would argue that the catcher position is not only the most vital to a team’s success but also the most difficult to fill. Soto has been a revelation for the North Siders. He has shown impressive durability in his first crack at a starter’s role, as he’s on pace for 500 at bats - no small feat for a young catcher. With the exception of his batting average, his offensive numbers (.286 average, 23 homers and 86 RBI) are comparable to those that Braves backstop Brian McCann posted in his first full year (.333, 24 homers, 93 RBI). McCann had developed into an annual All-Star and I expect Soto to do the same. Those two, along with Russell Martin of the Dodgers, should give the Senior Circuit three otherworldly backstops for years to come. The reinvigoration of the position reminds me of the explosion of offensive shortstops in the late ‘90s, and the arrival of Matt Wieters next year in Baltimore could give the A.L. its counter-punch. In addition to his offensive production, Soto has guided his Cubs staff to the N.L’s second-best ERA (3.83) and a league-best 94 wins and counting.
 
No. 4: American League Cy Young

East:Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox

Here we go again, right? Well, too bad - it’s my column and without the Dice Man, my beloved Sox are nowhere near the playoffs. I understand that Cliff Lee is going to run away with the A.L. Cy Young, but outside of his workload and WHIP, Matsuzaka’s “vital” numbers aren’t far off. His 18-2 record and 2.80 ERA would scream “Cy Young contender” any other year. The injuries to starters Josh Beckett and Tim Wakefield (not to mention Curt Schilling’s this spring) and the complete collapse of rookie preseason Rookie of the Year favorite Clay Buchholz no doubt would have landed the Sox in the company of the Yankees this October if not for Matsuzaka’s mastery. I mean, they even were forced to trot big fat Bartolo Colon out to the hill! Okay, that’s enough - let’s move on before the East Coast bias e-mails start rolling in.

West:Francisco Rodriguez, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Any time you set an all-time record in a major category, you need to win something. While I’m sure K-Rod will win the Rolaids Relief Award, I wanted to give him a slice of the real-deal with the My Five Cy. 60 saves and only seven blown chances? Now that’s impressive! Happy trails Bobby Thigpen - you had a nice run. Whether it bodes well or poorly for the Angels in the next few weeks that they’ve played so many close games I’m not sure, but they will sure have the upper hand when those situations arise come playoff time. K-Rod’s 74 strikeouts in 65 1/3 innings of work coupled with his 2.34 ERA are further evidence of his 2008 dominance; in other words, Todd Jones he is not. From the Angels’ perspective, his impending free agency is the only thing that rivals the terror opponents feel with two strikes and his nasty curveball on the way.

No. 3: American League MVP

East:Dustin Pedroia, Boston Red Sox

If you thought Pedroia wasn’t going to make an appearance in this column, you just don’t know me well enough. Even the most skeptical anti-Boston fans in the universe can’t deny this guy’s greatness. He leads the A.L. with 116 runs scored and ranks fifth in the majors in batting at .324, just six points behind Joe Mauer in the race for the A.L. batting crown. Perhaps the most incredible aspect of Pedroia’s season has been his power. His 17 home runs and major league-leading 52 doubles have led to a slugging percentage of .493, which puts him in the same neighborhood as big boppers like Prince Fielder, Vlad Guerrero and Carlos Beltran! The second baseman - generously listed at 5’ 9” and 180 pounds - even slugged 1.222 in 18 at bats in the cleanup role for the Sox! I can’t stop using exclamation points! He also plays Gold Glove defense and has only missed three games all year! I love this guy!!!

West:Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers

We all experienced the Hamilton lovefest that took place in the first half and culminated with his abuse of Yankee Stadium in the Home Run Derby. Lately Hamilton’s continued greatness has been lost amidst all of the postseason-related stories; since Rangers GM Jack Daniels doesn’t care for good pitchers, his team is not in the conversation. Hamilton has slowed down since the All-Star break, but that was inevitable after his incredible first half. What many people probably don’t realize is that he has still managed to bat .299 with a .385 on-base percentage and .507 slugging percentage since the break. His overall numbers - .306 average, 31 dongs and 124 RBI - combined with the inspirational factor of his comeback provide more than enough reason to hand him my West Coast A.L. MVP award. At age 27, the former No. 1 pick is just hitting his prime years, and there should be plenty more where this came from.

No. 2: National League Cy Young

East:Brad Lidge, Philadelphia Phillies

From one comeback story to another. Admittedly, Lidge’s resurgence doesn’t compare emerging from the depths of heroin addiction, but I would imagine that getting bombarded with hate mail and Albert Pujols jokes relentlessly for years can be just as damaging to one’s soul. I find it peculiar that Lidge moved to the city with the most brutal fans in sports and quickly proceeded to get his groove back. Of course, perfection can cure many things, and that is precisely what Lidge is still representing. He’s created his own 40-40 club, as he is currently sporting a flawless 40-for-40 mark in save opportunities. His 1.87 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 67 1/3 innings are simply mind-bending numbers. More important is the drastic late-innings edge that Lidge provides the Phils with over their division-rival Mets, who have been melting down in the late innings in true Mike Tyson fashion.

West:Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

In case you haven’t noticed - and I can’t say I blame you, since no one keeps close tabs on the bottom of the N.L. Worst division - the Giants have been playing some pretty decent ball. They’ve managed 70 wins, which is about 40 more than I was expecting a month or so into the season. Here, we honor the man responsible for 17 of those wins and any and all hope still present in Giants Land. Quite possibly the most entertaining and dominant hurler in the majors, Lincecum has been absolutely dynamite. At the ripe old age of 23 and checking in at a Pedroia-esque 5’ 11” and 168 pounds, Lincecum has proven himself quite durable by racking up 31 starts and 215 innings. His 2.46 ERA and league-leading 243 strikeouts might be enough to earn him the real thing in a few weeks. Now, if only the Giants could figure out how to produce more than two runs per start for Matt Cain, they might just do some damage next year and beyond.  

No. 1: National League MVP

East:Ryan Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

I love being right - who doesn’t? A couple months ago in My Five - Contenders, I made a then-ridiculous prediction that the Phillies would once again make a playoff charge this September and and that Howard would be the hero that propelled them to a title. It’s been a bumpy road for the Fightin’ Phils, and with a full week still to play nothing is certain, but my clairvoyance seems to be beyond even my own imagination. After being snubbed from the All-Star Game and its corresponding Home Run Derby, Howard has taken out his frustration on opposing pitchers. He currently tops the charts with 46 longballs and 141 RBI, and while his overall batting average - which everyone likes to dog - is still a weak .247, he’s batting .316 with runners in scoring position. In what has truly been a September for the ages, Howard has carried the Phils with nine homers and 27 RBI in only 19 games while producing an unreal .348/.420/.855 line!
 
West:Manny Ramirez, Los Angeles Dodgers

Sure, they love him now, but when Manny-being-Manny turns into a $150 million contract request in the offseason, the taste in the mouth of Dodgers fans may turn sour. As ridiculous as it sounds, I think they should pay him whatever he wants. If they don’t, the Dodgers will run the risk of turning into the Chicago Bulls of MLB: Tons of talented youngsters and no veteran leaders. Simply put, they need to keep Manny in Hollywood. The best hitter I’ve ever seen (I’m 27) has single-handedly won the N.L. West division for L.A. Since abandoning the Nation, Ramirez is hitting .399 with 16 homers, 49 RBI and 33 runs scored. At Dodger Stadium, he whacks at a .429/.533/.843 clip! While his season totals - .331 average, 36 homers, 117 RBI - might look like a typical Manny season in the record books, his impact has gone way beyond the numbers and there is no player more important to his squad as we come down the stretch.

In closing, thanks again to all the people who have made this possible. It has truly been a dream come true.

Sean Raposa’s My Five column runs every Tuesday here on National Pastime. He can be reached at sraposa33@gmail.com.

Photos by The Associated Press

Be sure to check out our previous My Five columns: Starting rotations, The power alleys, MLB’s best bullpens, The table setters, Young guns, Burgeoning bats, Favorite first-half storylines, X-Factors, Financial blunders, Superbad Awards, Rounders, Contenders, Spoilers, What if?, Ways to make MLB better, Questions and answers, Fabled finishes.