In the National League, Manager of the Year-worthy performances are all around us. The question is, which one will earn the hardware?
Predicting how the 32 Baseball Writers Association of America voters (two from each NL city) will fill out their ballots is a dicey proposition, as it is clearly a subjective exercise, subject to the whims and priorities of the individuals. And, of course, the ballots do not have to be turned in until the end of the regular season, and the outlook can change considerably in the weeks ahead.
But we do know that each ballot has spots for first, second and third choices. Here's a look at some of the names likely to land on some of those spots, listed in alphabetical order.
Tony La Russa, Cardinals: The Cardinals lost 2007 mainstays Scott Rolen, Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein. They lost starters Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright and Mark Mulder, and closer Jason Isringhausen to the disabled list for significant portions of the season -- in fact, St. Louis players have spent a combined 500-plus games on the DL.
They went with a converted pitcher as their center fielder, a journeyman as their right fielder and a rookie as their closer. Few gave the Cards much of a chance in the spring, but despite so many losses, they're still a winning team, 10 games over .500 and in the playoff hunt. A lot of the credit must go to La Russa.
Jerry Manuel, Mets: When Manuel took over after Willie Randolph was dismissed, the Mets were a game under .500 and in third place, 6 1/2 games back in the NL East. Since then the Mets have gone 45-27 (a .625 winning percentage entering play on Tuesday) to move into first place. If the Mets hold on, Manuel has a shot, though historically, it is difficult for a manager to win the award based on roughly a half-season. In 2004, Phil Garner took over the Astros at the break and led the team to a 48-26 finish, a .649 winning percentage. Garner received two first-place votes that season but finished fourth in the balloting.
Lou Piniella, Cubs: Piniella has done an outstanding job keeping the Cubs on an even keel and navigating the inevitable problems that every manager must face at one time or another during the course of a season. The Cubs didn't fold when Alfonso Soriano went on the disabled list, and they have managed to hold on to the best record in the NL in arguably the toughest division in baseball.
THE DARK HORSES
Charlie Manuel, Phillies: If the Phillies win back-to-back NL East titles, it wouldn't be a shocker to see support for Manuel grow, and he's hit the voting board higher in each of the last three seasons. Manuel finished second last year to Bob Melvin of the Diamondbacks, fifth in 2006 and sixth in 2005. With the exception of Atlanta's Bobby Cox, the last manager to pilot a team to back-to-back NL East crowns was Jim Leyland, with Pittsburgh in 1991 and 1992.
Fredi Gonzalez, Marlins; Melvin; Joe Torre, Dodgers.