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September 14, 2005

by Larry Mahnken

Alex Rodriguez should win the American League MVP. Barring a total collapse in the next 19 games, it would be a crime if he didn't win it. But he might not -- he's been robbed of the MVP before, and writers are already touting wholly undeserving candidates like Jason Varitek, not that Varitek wouldn't be deserving in an ordinary season, but not this season.

In 2003, I half-seriously advocated Jorge Posada for MVP in a generally weak year for MVP candidates. He finished third, which was more than fair. Last season, I advocated Gary Sheffield, who would have won it and deserved it if his shoulder injury hadn't caught up to him late and ruined his September. He finished second, again, deservedly so.

This season, I advocate another MVP candidate who won't win, and probably doesn't deserve to. I know he won't win, and he might not even finish in the top 5. His counting stats aren't up to snuff, particularly his RBI totals, but his rate stats are right there, particularly in the last two months. If it wasn't for Alex Rodriguez, the Yankees would have been eliminated in May. If it wasn't for this guy, they never would have gotten back into the race.

I'm talking of course of Juicy McRoids: Jason Giambi. Last night he hit his 30th home run, which is 8th in the American League. But since June 15th he's led the AL in homers, and since July 4th he's led all of baseball. Since July 4th, his batting line has been .322/.483/.770 -- a 1.254 OPS, over 242 PAs. If Giambi had hit as well during the other 80 games as he had over those last 63, he'd have 57 homers and 129 RBI right now, and be within 8 batting average points of the Triple Crown.

But he didn't hit that well over those 80 games, and the Yankees went only 41-39. Since Giambi's Independence Day explosion, they've gone 40-23, 39-21 in games Giambi's played in. Certainly you can't attribute all that success to Giambi, but a great deal of it is him.

When Giambi homers, the Yankees usually win. That's because he hasn't hit many meaningless homers this season, he's hit homers that keep the Yankees close, tie the game or give them the lead. It's not a skill, but it increases the value of his numbers even more.

But this MVP argument is not about that. Giambi's numbers, on their own, are MVP-worthy. The fact that he won't reach 100 RBI kills any chance he would have, though the steroids scandal gave him little chance in the first place. But his OPS is second in the American League to A-Rod, and his GPA is first. A-Rod gets the advantage of the position adjustment, but Giambi's numbers since waking up this summer somewhat balance that out, I'd say.

Anyway, that's my vote for MVP. They won't count it, I know, but if the press insists on putting forth candidates other than A-Rod, Giambi's the best of them.

Last night he helped save the Yankees' season with a great game, though pretty much everyone else on the team had a great game (except Mr. Vento). The Yanks came out of last night's game 1 game out of the Wild Card (tied in the loss column) and 2½ out of first place in the division, both of which are erasable deficits, but a two-game Wild Card deficit would have been hard to make up, considering Cleveland schedule, and had the Sox won, a 4½ game division deficit would have put the AL East out of reach, if Saturday's loss hadn't done that already.

The Yankees probably need to sweep this series to make the playoffs, though sweeping hardly guarantees that. They do need to win every series left, most likely.

It's easy to make too much of the Baseball Prospectus Postseason, which has the Yankees finishing a game out of the Wild Card and 3 out of the division, with a 39% chance of making the playoffs. Even a straight log5 projection has the Yankees finishing 3 out of the division and 4 out of the Wild Card with BPro's adjusted standings and 2 out of the Wild Card with the regular standings.

But those projections are just a percentage of the games each team should win. If you round up the Yankees' projected wins in every series (2.1 wins becomes 3 wins, etc.), they'll win 95 games, which would win the division, and that's assuming Cleveland and Boston match their projection -- if either slip up, the Yankees don't need to exceed their projection as much.

But the Yankees do need to exceed the projection in any case. Winning against Tampa Bay doesn't do that, sweeping does, losing kills them. If they win these next two games, all they need to do to exceed their projection is win series. They play Toronto twice, who they're 5-2 against in the second half, Baltimore twice, who were in free-fall until the last few games, and Boston in Fenway, where they're 4-3, and won 3 of 4 in July. They can win these games. This is possible.

But they need to take care of Tampa Bay. Last night was awesome, but if the Yankees lose either of these next two, last night will increase the frustration of that loss. Winning big is nice, but only the first half of that means anything.