Stop the cuts: Ellsbury for MVP
One of the best part about baseball and the race for the playoffs is that there's a game every day. The worst part? There's a game every day.
Your favorite football team losing their once-a-week tilt can be a punch in the stomach. Baseball losses, like those Boston has been enduring throughout September, are more like a daily paper cut across the belly. Another day another slice. Somebody toss me some sting-kill.
Jefferson County is a staunch Western outpost of Red Sox Nation. But September has wrought a meltdown for our team, fed by horrible pitching and a key injury or two. This month, the Sox have gone from having a two-game lead in the division and nine-game advantage in the wildcard to (with two games left as of Tuesday morning) having wasting it all in what may come down as one of pro sports' biggest meltdowns of all time -- chokes if you will.
It's been brutal. Every day we Sox fans expect the ship will be righted. Every day, it seems, it sinks further. Nearly every day, another cut.
But while we're nearly all Sox backers, primarily we're Jacoby Ellsbury fans -- we'd swap colors as quick as Ells get from first to third if he changed teams. -- and the former Madras High standout has rewarded his fans with a magnificent season. While his team teeters on a historic collapse, Ells is laying claim to the league's Most Valuable Player honor.
No doubt he'd rather get a few wins and make the playoffs. But, if he and the Sox do reach the postseason, there's a great chance -- judging by what some of the handful of MVP voters are writing -- that he'll get the honor.
The award is determined by 28 baseball writers. Two key ones -- Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci and Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal -- this week wrote that they'd both vote for Ellsbury. But for Verducci (and likely a good share of the other voters), Ells gets the nod only if Boston makes the playoffs.
Experts are indicating it may be one of the closest American League MVP races in history. Detroit's ace pitcher, Justin Verlander, has won 24 games, but he's a pitcher and they have the Cy Young Award so some voters won't give him their top MVP choice; New York's Curtis Granderson has 41 home runs, but he's hitting somewhere around .265; and others are mentioned, but they've had either stellar average or homer years, not both, or they've waned some in the season's final weeks.
Then there's Ellsbury. His across-the-board offensive stats -- hits, home runs, total bases, steals -- are incomparable. His play in the vital position of centerfield has been errorless.
It's not hyperbole to say his offensive stats have been historic. He is the only AL player this season with 100 runs, 90 RBI, 25 homers and 30 stolen bases. In MLB history, only 22 players have reached all those those marks -- and Ellsbury crushed those numbers.
And then there was Sunday. With the Sox facing a crucial doubleheader against their rivals, the New York Yankees, Ellsbury ripped two homers in game one. Alas, the Sox lost as one of their two ace pitchers, Jon Lester, once again stunk up the place. Then in the nightcap, with the Sox desperate for a win to maintain their wildcard lead, Ells drilled his third homer of the day, a three-run shot in the 14th inning, winning the game for Boston.
An "MVP Moment," sports journalists quipped, a signature accomplishment often required to solidify such an award.
While the MVP ring is still out there to be grabbed, the Comeback Player of the Year should already be in Ellsbury's pocket. As glorious as 2011 has been, 2010 was a nightmare for Ellsbury. After fracturing several ribs, Ells played in just 18 games in 2010. He also endured harsh ribbing from fans, the media and even teammates. They questioned his toughness, durability, commitment, and everything else you don't, as an athlete or person, want questioned.
How did Ellsbury respond? He showed up for spring training thicker, stronger, more dedicated than ever. He "came back" to post one of the best offensive years in Red Sox history. Certainly, that hardware should already be on his mantel.
But back to more pressing issues. Any true Ellsbury/Red Sox fan probably knows the situation. As of Tuesday morning, Boston likely needed to win each of its final two games, on the road against a "this is our season" Baltimore Orioles squad. Tampa, at home against the Yankees -- who are resting starting pitchers (and some position players) for the playoffs and, as a side benefit, to sting their hated rivals the Red Sox -- will probably win their final two.
Odds are, unfortunately, in favor of the Rays.
Reading between the websites, it seems like if the Sox fold and don't make the playoffs, Ellsbury's MVP award will go down with them. If they somehow scratch their way to the postseason, Ells could very well take home that magnificent personal award. He will certainly have earned it.
If Boston somehow rights that ships and wins these last two, it seems Ellsbury might win the coveted MVP. How cool would that be?
If they don't make it, Ells will likely come up short in MVP balloting as well. A double paper cut. How cruel would that be?