It’s going to be exceedingly difficult for the Major League Baseball playoffs to be more exciting than the regular season this year, if only because they can’t possibly generate the same quantity of amazing accomplishments and moments we’ve seen this year.

There were an absolutely mind-boggling number of records set or broken; Barry Bonds’ home run record was just the one that got the most attention. Sammy Sosa became the only player ever to record three 60-home run seasons in his career. Rickey Henderson broke the all-time runs and walks records. Bonds, in addition to the home runs, also walked more times in one season than anyone else in history. The Milwaukee Brewers struck out more than any other team in National League history. Ichiro broke the all-time rookie hits record, and Albert Pujols set more National League rookie records than can be repeated here in the interest of brevity.

The Seattle Mariners tied the all-time single season wins record. (Of course, the astute observer knows that the 1906 Chicago Cubs had a far better winning percentage because they only played 152 games.) The Mets tied the Major League record for the furthest games under .500 overcome to regain that status.

The number of pennant races, though none of them went down to the absolute wire, was staggering. Nine teams in the National League (Braves, Phillies, Mets, Astros, Cardinals, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Giants and Dodgers) had legitimate playoff aspirations late into the season. Purists would say that this was artificial competition for an enlarged number of playoff slots. Fans would say to hell with the purists, the competition was exciting.

But what may be the most remarkable achievement of the 2001 baseball season was the influx of more talented starting pitching than in any recent year. Look at the sheer number of quality arms that either made their debut or established themselves as quality pitchers this year. The addition of Roy Oswalt, Wade Miller, Bud Smith, Matt Morris, Ryan Dempster, Brad Penny, A.J. Burnett, Mark ulder, Barry Zito, Josh Towers, Freddy Garcia, Brandon Duckworth, Jason Johnson, Jarrod Washburn, Mark Buehrle and C.C. Sabathia went a long way to improving the oft-ballyhooed, and deservedly so, state of Major League pitching.

And of course there were the single-event oddities that made the season great, like Scott Hatteberg being the first player ever to hit a grand slam and hit into a triple play in the same game. A.J. Burnett set the record for most walks in a no-hitter. Mike Hampton hit more home runs than most of the New York Mets.

Because this season was so great, and because there were so many great individual performances, the contest for MVP and Cy Young in both leagues are going to be among the closest in recent history. If I had a vote, which for some reason I don’t, (isn’t it surprising that writing for Hoya Sports doesn’t make you part of the “writers” who decide these things?) my choices would go something like this:

NL MVP: The obvious choice here is Barry Bonds, who had arguably the greatest offensive season in Major League history, and he is undoubtedly the best defensive left fielder in the league. But this award is for the most valuable player, not the best player in the league. The player who helped his team far more than anyone else was Sammy Sosa. He hit 64 home runs; the next highest total on his team was 17. The only other player on his team to hit above .300 only played in two-thirds of the games. Yet somehow, the Cubs managed to win 88 games and be in contention well into September. Bonds, on the other hand, was not the only option his team had. Rich Aurilia had a breakout season at shortstop, hitting .324 with 37 home runs. The Giants also had the reigning NL MVP in the lineup in Jeff Kent. Without Bonds, the Giants are a decent team. Without Sosa, the Cubs are the Devil Rays.

AL MVP: Ichiro Suzuki. He led the league in batting average, stolen bases and hits, was second in runs scored, had the most hits since 1930 and is the best defensive outfielder in the game. Oh yeah, he’s also a rookie. You can also make an extremely strong case for Jason Giambi, especially considering that he is the heart and soul of a very good A’s team. Either one would be an excellent choice based on his offensive numbers, but I give Ichiro the nod for his defense and the fact that he had never faced American pitching before this season.

AL Cy Young: Not to much doubt about this one – the award has to go to Roger Clemens. He was the first pitcher ever to go 20-1. Ever. Not even Cy himself pulled off that feat. His ERA wasn’t great, but 20-3 is hard to argue with, and he struck out 200-plus batters. Honorable mention goes to Mark Mulder, Freddy Garcia and Tim Hudson, but Clemens gets it for winning percentage and strikeouts.

NL Cy Young: Randy Johnson by a nose over teammate Curt Schilling, even though Schilling had one more win than Johnson. The difference? Strikeouts and ERA. Johnson came within 11 of the modern strikeout record and had an ERA that was a half-run better than the rest of the major leagues.

AL Rookie of the Year: Ichiro Suzuki. I think he’s the VP: I’m sure as hell going to give him the nod as the best of his class.

NL MVP: Albert Pujols. He had one of the best seasons of anyone in the NL, regardless of age. .327, 37, 130 are MVP-caliber numbers most years. Another no-brainer.

Tim Sullivan can be reached at sullivanthehoya.com.

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