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Tampa Bay Rays in line for two awards, another strong finish this week

ST. PETERSBURG — This could be a pretty significant week for the Rays, who have some top candidates for baseball's major awards, voted on by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.

There's a chance Tampa Bay matches its highest award total; it took manager of the year (Joe Maddon) and rookie of the year (Evan Longoria) in 2008. This time, Rays RHP Jeremy Hellickson (AL rookie) and Maddon are up for the honors, with RHP James Shields looking like he'll crack the top five in the AL Cy Young race.

We break down each of their chances:

• AL rookie of the year (Monday): Hellickson has a good shot. He went 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, with a .210 opponent's average and 20 quality starts, best of all major-league rookies. The fact he did so while pitching in the AL East should hold some weight with voters. The same could be said for Yankees RHP Ivan Nova (16-4, 3.70). Hellickson's other chief competition could be Angels 1B Mark Trumbo (.254, 29 homers, 87 RBIs), who won the players' choice AL rookie of the year award, with Mariners RHP Michael Pineda (9-10, 3.74 ERA) garnering attention.

"I've definitely been thinking about it; I'd like to win it," Hellickson said. "But there are a few other guys that have just as good a chance."

• AL Cy Young (Tuesday): This one likely will be unanimous for Tigers RHP Justin Verlander, who also probably will earn some MVP votes for his spectacular season (24 wins, 2.40 ERA for a division-winning team).

Though Shields won't win, he would seem almost certain to finish in the top five (which would kick his contract to $8 million next season). Shields put up career highs in wins (16) and innings (249 1/3) while throwing a major league-high 11 complete games. Shields, who admired what Verlander did from afar, will be in the mix for second place with the likes of Angels RHP Jered Weaver and Yankees LHP CC Sabathia.

"It's kind of hard to beat 24 wins," Shields said. "(Verlander) had a phenomenal year. I tried to keep up with him in every category. It'll be interesting to see how everything turns out. If I get some votes, that'd be awesome, with the season I had."

• AL manager of the year (Wednesday): You could make the case Maddon did an even better job this season than when he won after the 2008 World Series run.

With the team losing LF Carl Crawford, 1B Carlos Peña, RH closer Rafael Soriano and nearly the entire bullpen, Maddon helped lead Tampa Bay to an improbable September comeback to take the AL wild card on the season's final day.

The Indians' Manny Acta (80-82, second place) deserves some kudos, but rarely do winners of this award go to managers who didn't make the playoffs. The Tigers' Jim Leyland will be in the running, too, as will the Rangers' Ron Washington. But Maddon is a good bet for what he did with what he labeled "the best 0-6 team in the history of major-league baseball."

RAYS RUMBLINGS: ESPN's Keith Law had RHPs Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann as two of the four "intriguing names/trade targets" for this offseason. … Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo writes Davis "is the pitcher (the Rays) will likely end up dealing for an outfielder or catcher." … Shields will be autographing copies of his book, September Nights, he wrote with MLB.com's Bill Chastain from 5:30-8 p.m. Monday at Beef O'Brady's, 2819 S MacDill Ave., Tampa. … Ex-Rays INF Willy Aybar will spend three months in prison before his trial on charges of battering his wife, according to the Dominican Today.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com.

Tampa Bay Rays in line for two awards, another strong finish this week 11/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 12, 2011 7:52pm]
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