As pro baseball's regular season winds down, a look at the players who've made the biggest contributions
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) discuss the most exciting part of baseball season.
This lover is cruel. She comes each spring to seduce, whispering sweet hints of October glory. But she might break your heart a dozen times before June. She has expensive tastes, with her $15 beers, $50 parking passes, and $5 million shortstops. She craves the bright lights.This year she's been flirting with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee, but will probably end up with New York or San Francisco yet again.
She's smug, too, acting like she's still the only game in town. She will make you wait, of course, boring you to tears by endlessly fussing with her gloves and hat, despite mid-August heat. She will always, inescapably, finally make you spend long, bitter months alone, longing for her touch the way you miss the heat of a vanished sun.
But you'll forgive her everything, because she can give you autumn.
When the equinox passes, the timelessness of summer is gone. Life restarts with a jolt. We rush forward again, adoring the fall, but we also hear the roar of winter beyond, and the knowledge of that impending storm injects a giddy urgency into human affairs.
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The baseball season, she also snaps to life. The lover who once felt so eternally young now knows that her beauty too must inevitably fade, and the wisdom makes her focused. She turns from the cute but too coquettish girl you dated in midsummer to the intelligent, graceful, utterly absorbing woman you'd take home to mom. Then she can give you moments like last day of the 2011 regular season, when Baltimore beat Boston in the 9th, Tampa beat the Yankees in the 12th, and Philly beat the Braves in the 13th inning for maybe the single most exciting day in the whole dang history of the sport.
It's enough to make you overlook anything. Even her drug problem. Sure, it's not as bad as a few years ago, but it can still flare up at very, very embarrassing times. Which brings us to the races Most Valuable Player. Last year, you'll recall, the National League's MVP Ryan Braun failed an October drug test. Yes, Bruan avoided suspension when an arbiter overturned the test results, but some MVP voters might not be so quick to forget and give him another trophy this year.
Anyway, the NL MVP is still Buster Posey's to lose, isn't it? Especially since the Giants catcher has his club safely ensconced atop the NL West, while Braun's Brewers are still double-digits back in the Central. If Milwaukee can't at least nab one of the three wildcard slots up for grabs this year, Ryan's MVP hopes could be hoist on the same petard he used last year on Matt Kemp. Ditto for the dreadlocked Pirate, Andrew McCutchen, whose sweet swing hasn't been enough to save Pittsburgh from a September slide.
In the AL race for MVP, Tigers manager Jim Leyland this week won the Capt. Louis Renault Award claiming he would be "shocked" if his man Miguel Cabrera wasn't named MVP. Mike Trout would be. The 21-year old Angel rookie spent the first 20 games of this year in the minors, yet still could lead the league in batting average and stolen bases.
How about it, guys? This cruel mistress baseball is going to name her two favorites. Are Mike Trout and Buster Posey locks? Or will you really be all that "shocked, shocked" if Josh Hamilton hits .400 for the next two weeks and steals some hardware?