Baseball’s most-treasured individual awards are handed out in the fall, but I elected to chuckle in the face of tradition. Besides, I thirst for some sort of diversion so not to mope over the underachievers that are my beloved Cleveland Indians.

The Major League regular season is closing on the quarter mark, yet already leaders have emerged in the big three categories — Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award and Manager of the Year.

Let’s touch the bases in both leagues with my winners if the votes were counted today and predictions for who wins at season’s end:

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Most Valuable Player

Now: Jim Thome, Chicago. The big lug has returned to his Cleveland form of yesteryear with AL-best numbers in home runs (14) and RBI (36). The production of this off-season aquisition has enabled the world champs to pick up right where they left off. The key is whether Thome, 35, can remain healthy over the long haul.

In October: David Ortiz, Boston. Not only does he play home games in a hitter-friendly ballpark, he’s pinched between Mark Loretta and Manny Ramirez in the Red Sox batting order. Also, Ortiz has proven he can get hotter at the plate the colder it gets outside.

Cy Young Award

Now: Mike Mussina, New York. Like the Yankees or hate them, no one can dispute Mussina’s fast start, a 6-1 record, 2.56 earned run average and top-five status in a variety of other AL pitching categories.

In October: Mussina. The Yanks lost a dependable bat in Hideki Matsui with a wrist injury expected to sideline him for three months. New York still possesses the kind of firepower required to take pressure off of New York’s pitchers. However, if Bernie Williams comes up cold and the team is unable to make a suitable trade, count on Chicago’s Freddy Garcia to bring home the Cy Young.

Manager of the Year

Now: Jim Leyland, Detroit. No franchise needed the jumper-cable treatment more than Detroit and the grizzled Leyland has the Tigers growling with a 22-13 record.

In October: Ozzie Guillen, Chicago. Barring a breakdown of monumental proportions, the Chisox should cruise into the playoffs. Much as I would like to see Detroit keep pace, it won’t.



NATIONAL LEAGUE

Most Valuable Player

Now: Albert Pujols, St. Louis. Eighteen home runs, 36 runs, 44 RBI and a .331 batting average. Nothing against Barry Bonds, but Pujols is the most-feared hitter in baseball. Ask Brad Lidge. It’s been months since the Astros’ closer surrendered that NLCS rocket launch to Pujols and rumor has it the ball just landed 10 minutes ago.

In October: Pujols. Only injury can stop him. Challenge him and he’ll take it yard; avoid him and he’s standing on first via a walk.

Cy Young Award

Now: Bronson Arroyo, Cincinnati. While the individual numbers are impressive (5-1, 2.03 ERA), this long-haired Reds righty, acquired in the offseason via a trade with Boston, brought a swagger to a franchise in dire need of one.

In October: Pedro Martinez, New York. Over 162 games, New York is a solid enough team that Martinez should flirt with the 20-win plateau and bring home his first NL Cy Young since 1997 and fourth overall.

Manager of the Year

Now: Jerry Narron, Cincinnati.

In October: Willie Randolph, New York. The second-year skipper makes himself an even more desirable candidate to someday replace Joe Torre in the Yankees dugout. Rest assure, George Steinbrenner is watching his former second baseman and these Mets very closely.



Sports Editor Mike Beas can be reached at mike.beas@heraldbulletin.com.

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