Races heating up in TYIB Awards
Early returns reveal close battles in several categories
With the World Series in the books and no more playoff heroics to come from Hideki Matsui and Chase Utley in 2009, baseball fans can turn their full attention to the year-end awards that mark the start of the offseason.
Voting for the 2009 MLB.com This Year in Baseball Awards has already been under way for a few weeks, and you the fans have already come out in droves to support your favorites.
More than 4 million votes were cast through the opening days of November, and that was before the Postseason Moment of the Year nominees were unveiled.
Now, with the most memorable playoff moments in the fray -- from Jimmy Rollins' walk-off hit in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series to Mariano Rivera finishing off the Phillies in the Fall Classic finale -- fans have a complete list of categories to choose and vote from.
Several key races remain very much up in the air. And with more than a month left until the ballot boxes close on Dec. 11, there's plenty of time to shape the outcome of these races.
Here's a look at a few categories that are likely to go down to the wire:
Hitter: Twins catcher Joe Mauer flirted with .400 for much of the summer and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols made a run at the NL Triple Crown, but Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter sits on top after his best all-around season in years. Pujols is close behind in second place, while Mauer is in shouting distance at third.
Defense: Fleet-footed Boston center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury tops the balloting, but his lead over cannon-armed St. Louis backstop Yadier Molina is hardly a comfortable one. Rollins, the smooth-fielding Philly shortstop, lurks in the periphery in third place.
Setup man: In the closest race to date, San Francisco's Jeremy Affeldt (1.73 ERA, ML-best 33 HLD) barely leads Minnesota's Matt Guerrier (2.36 ERA, AL-best 79 G), with the Yankees' Phil Hughes (1.40 relief ERA) capable of surging into first.
Moment: So far, fans have found Jeter's passing of Lou Gehrig for the Yankees' all-time hit record to be the year's biggest moment, with Ellsbury's steal of home against the Yanks not far behind. The Angels' tribute to fallen teammate Nick Adenhart and Ernie Harwell's goodbye to Tigers fans are in a tight race for third.
Starter: Giants ace Tim Lincecum, who followed up his Cy Young campaign of '08 by posting a 2.47 ERA and an NL-best 261 strikeouts in '09, holds a sizeable lead in this category. However, the early returns also show plenty of support for the Royals' Zack Greinke (ML-best 2.16 ERA) and the Yankees' CC Sabathia (ML-best 19 wins), suggesting this race could get a lot closer.
Manager: Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Yankees' Joe Girardi and the Phillies' Charlie Manuel have garnered the most votes for guiding their troops to the Fall Classic, with Girardi owning a small lead. Jim Tracy, who turned around the Rockies in midseason and Ron Gardenhire, who led the injury-ravaged Twins to the playoffs, also have drawn plenty of attention.
Executive: Once again, you have the brains behind the two World Series clubs emerging as the top nominees. Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. holds a slight lead over his counterpart on the Yankees, Brian Cashman.
There's plenty of time until ballot boxes close on Dec. 11, so there's no need to feel discouraged or disappointed if your favorite player or moment isn't getting the kind of support you feel is deserving.
Simply get in there and vote as many times as you like, and let your voice be heard.
Tim Ott is a writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.