The American League Manager of the Year voting figures to decide a five-man race. Boston's own Terry Francona, along with New York's Joe Girardi, Tampa Bay's Joe Maddon, Minnesota's Ron Gardenhire and Texas' Ron Washington can each stake a claim as the top skipper in the AL, each for various reasons.
It could be the closest race since 1997, when winner Davey Johnson of Baltimore was one of six different managers to receive at least two first-place votes.
Each member of the quintet has an argument. Each also has a knock or two against them. Without further ado, here is our breakdown of the pros and cons of each choice.
Why he deserves it: The injuries.
Entering Friday's play, only one team in the American League had used as many as 40 position players. That would be the Red Sox, who, out of necessity, have had to employ 42.
Only two teams, Boston and Kansas City, have used as many as 25 different pitchers.
Since Jacoby Ellsbury broke his ribs in a collision with Adrian Beltre on April 11, Francona's job has involved a constant alteration of the lineup card in order to get the healthiest squad on the field. When Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Cameron were each officially lost for the year in August, that job involved working with more bit parts.
Francona will get consideration for guiding a team that might win 90 games (maybe more than Texas) despite having a player go on the disabled list 24 times.
Why he doesn't: Regardless of the bumps and bruises, the Sox struggled in two areas they are known to dominate. They went 20-16 against last-place teams in the AL (a recent three-game sweep of Seattle made this more respectable) and have won just 18 of their last 38 at home against American League opponents.
Whether that falls on Francona or not is debatable. However, all too often, the Red Sox seemed like just another team in series they should've dominated.
Why he deserves it: If No. 28 winds up with the best record in the league, then that alone will earn him praise, regardless of the payroll. Since the award began in 1983, 15 of the 27 winners have had the best record in the league.
If some shy away from Girardi because of the payroll, he does have ammunition in the fact that he, like Francona, has seen his team suffer its fair share of injuries.
Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson, Jorge Posada, Marcus Thames, Lance Berkman and a handful of relievers have hit the DL. Others, such as Nick Swisher, Brett Gardner and Mark Teixeira, are still dealing with various ailments.
It's not at the level of Boston, but there were times when Girardi was reaching pretty far down that bench to find something that worked. And it often did.
Why he doesn't: As long as the Yankees exist in the way that they do, their manager will always have his critics, simply due to the fact that the club is loaded with high-priced stars. How much that takes away from the job Girardi has done is up for debate. Compared to teams like Tampa Bay and Minnesota, he will always assume an inherent advantage.
Why he deserves it: Like Francona, Maddon had plenty of issues to deal with in the middle of the season, only his involved healthy players. When B.J. Upton and Evan Longoria nearly came to blows in the Rays' dugout at the tail end of a 12-19 stretch near the end of June, Maddon's club appeared to be spiraling out of control.
The Rays visited Fenway Park after that incident and lost another game, their ninth in 12 games. But the next night, with Maddon preaching that all was well with his young club, Matt Garza outpitched Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tampa Bay began to turn it around.
They have gone 46-29 since — dropping that series opener in Boston — and still have the division title in their sights.
Maddon is still working with the youngest everyday lineup in the group.
Why he doesn't: The 2008 winner of this award may pick up his second trophy if the Rays overtake the Yankees. It will be hard to argue with that result, considering New York's payroll is three times Tampa Bay's.
But Maddon and his team would've been runaway winners in the division if they were not torched in interleague play. Despite having a penchant for taking part in the small-ball ways of the National League, Tampa Bay could not keep up with its NL counterparts in a 7-11 interleague slate.
The Rays lost each of their last four series with teams from the Senior Circuit, spotlighted by an Edwin Jackson no-hitter at the Trop and culminating in the Upton-Longoria clash.
In addition, while his division colleagues have become accustomed to medical terms, Maddon has largely avoided them. His pitching staff has remained intact throughout most of the season and he has had to use just 17 pitchers all year — every other AL team has used 20 or more.
Why he deserves it: Perhaps no member of this group gets more credit from his colleagues than Gardenhire, and with good reason. The Twins have won six of nine division crowns since Gardenhire took over, often beating teams with greater resources.
With an 8-2 finish, the 2010 version would wind up with 100 wins for just the second time in franchise history. Just splitting the final 10 games would result in the highest win total in 40 years.
And most of it has been done without the services of Justin Morneau, the 2007 AL MVP who has been out since July 7 with a concussion. Minnesota has managed to go 47-21 without Morneau, who is the No. 3 hitter and one of the league's best run producers.
Why he doesn't: This might not fall on Gardenhire, for he is only working with what he's got, but the old "woe-is-us" routine in Minnesota doesn't fly as much this year. The normally cash-strapped franchise has begun to shell out money in a big way in an effort to maintain a winner in the gleaming new Target Field.
After ranking 24th in payroll last year, the Twins are now 10th. They've done well to build a solid core, which gives Gardenhire plenty to work with.
Again, that is no knock on Gardy, but it does refute those that would hand him the trophy for seemingly guiding a group of scrubs to the AL Central crown.
Why he deserves it: Many thought the Rangers would be better in 2010, but few saw them coasting in the AL West, which has been owned by the Angels and manager Mike Scioscia, a two-time winner of the award.
Washington's crew is among the more balanced of the group, ranking among the AL leaders in most hitting, pitching and fielding categories.
And since we keep talking payroll, it should be noted that the Rangers entered the year 27th in the majors and ahead of only Oakland in the American League.
Why he doesn't: If the most recent results ring true for voters, they may cite the Rangers' lackluster finish as reason to skip over Washington. Texas has been a .500 team since July 27.
The plodding pace has kept the Rangers from clinching a division many thought was over a long time ago. They'll get in, but they are not roaring into the postseason.
Our pick: Ron Gardenhire
One wild card in this race is Buck Showalter, who may steal some votes for the remarkable turnaround job he has done to for the last-place Baltimore Orioles. Provided his presence in the polls does not cause too much of a disruption, our choice in a close race is Gardenhire.
If anything, it's his time — he has finished second in the voting five times and third once and would've been a worthy choice each one of those years.
As Francona said just this week when asked about Gardenhire, "They've got a good thing going." Much of that is because of the manager.