Remember that notion that Jonathan Papelbon was a slam-dunk Rookie of the Year?
In fact, the Red Sox closer could all of a sudden find himself a distant fourth by the time the voting is all said and done for, a once unthinkable proposition for a guy who has been as consistently dominant as he has been in his first full major league season.
Reason? Here are three: Jered Weaver, Francisco Liriano, and Justin Verlander.
As if Weaver's seventh consecutive win to start his career with the Angels weren't enough, Liriano is now 12-2 for the Twins, after dominating the Indians yesterday with 10 strikeouts over five innings. Verlander hasn't lost for the runaway Tigers since June 7, and won his 12th game of the season Friday night, allowing just one run over six innings of work against the A's.
And all Papelbon has done is lead the AL in saves (29) to go along with his miniscule ERA (0.54).
Liriano (1.93) and Verlander (2.77) are 1-2 leading the AL in starting pitchers ERA. And if Weaver had enough innings under his belt, his tiny 1.15 would trump them both.
Good luck to the voters on this one. It's not often that a field of rookies of this caliber comes along every season. In 2004, you might remember, the A's Bobby Crosby won with a .239 batting average, perhaps the weakest winner since his Oakland shortstop predecessor Walt Weiss in 1988.
What makes it all the more astonishing though is that we have a quartet of pitchers vying for the title. Only 11 pitchers in baseball history can claim winning the AL Rookie of the Year, an award that has gone to a hurler just twice in the last 16 years (Huston Street in 2005, Kazuhiro Sasaki in 2000).
For a game typically watered down with a lack of good, young pitching, it is indeed an encouraging sign of a new era in baseball with fresh arms beginning to claim their dominance in the sport. We're witnessing a stretch here that can boast the fortune of young pitchers such as Johan Santana, Josh Beckett, Scott Kazmir, and Jeremy Bonderman (a combined 43-19), enough to make the old dudes like Curt Schilling and Kenny Rogers (23-6) smile for the future of the game as they try to keep pace.
No pitcher has ever won Rookie of the Year and the MVP, but it's a distinct possibility this year with a decided lack of an eye-opening offensive choice. While David Ortiz is certainly deserving, we're bound to have the whole DH argument again come time to vote, and Joe Mauer might be doing his best to hit .400 (.381 after a 2 for 2 afternoon in Cleveland yesterday), but there's a reason why nobody has done it since Ted Williams in 1941.
Could they possibly split the votes three ways, leaving just one deserving pitcher in the dark?
It's doubtful. It would take a complete acceptance of voting knowledge by the baseball writers prior to balloting. Or sheer luck. Maybe Liriano and Weaver duke it out for the Rookie of the Year, Papelbon wins the MVP, and Verlander takes home the Cy Young. That's a scenario most unlikely, but perhaps the most just when it comes to some form of recognition for these guys.
The only sure bet is that one of the four will win Rookie of the Year. Another may win Cy Young, although the greater possibility exists it might be the same guy.
At this moment, I'd put my stock in Liriano, for the way he's wowed fans of baseball. But Weaver might be creeping in, conjuring memories of Fernando Valenzuela on the left coast. Imagine, Papelbon could lead the AL in saves with an ERA under 1.00, while Verlander might win 20 games and they could finish 3-4 in the voting. That is nothing short of remarkable.
It may come down to which pitcherís team is going to the playoffs, in which case, all four may still be in the running (The Twins are just three games in back of Chicago for the wild card lead, the Angels one game behind Oakland in the West), each pitcher having a more than significant impact on his teamís success. It may come down to a coin flip for some voters, which might be the only fair way to make a decision really.
There is little more exciting in baseball than witnessing fresh, young talent mature and claim the game as its own. In which case, it's a tough time not to be excited about the future. It's in good arms.
And what arms they are.