Two-man MVP battle; Phillies fire up

If Milwaukee finishes first in the American League East, or even close to it, look for Brewer first baseman Cecil Cooper to be named his league's Most Valuable Player. However, if the New York Yankees should rally to win in the East, the honor could go instead to outfielder Dave Winfield.

While there are certainly going to be scattered first-place votes for Detroit second baseman Lou Whitaker, the RBI totals of the other two exceed Whitaker's by such a wide margin that any arguments should end right there. And none of the other contenders in either the East or the West seems to have any one player likely to beat out either Cooper or Winfield in the balloting.

The way Cooper picks opposing pitchers apart, he deserves to have the word ''batsmith'' placed after his name. He almost never strikes out; he has deceptive power; he uses every inch of the field in which to spray his hits; and what few slumps he has are seldom of more than one or two days duration. ''I'm an ideal hitter with men on base, because with me everything is instinct,'' Cecil told reporters. ''Once I settle in at the plate, I'm able to blank everything out but the pitcher. I have never been fooled much by breaking balls and I've always been able to handle the low pitches that handcuff most hitters.''

Winfield, the right-handed power plant of the Yankees, has matured to the point as a hitter where he no longer has a known weakness. Pitchers who used to jam David with inside fastballs, on the theory that he stood too close to the plate to get around on them, can no longer afford that luxury. Even in Yankee Stadium, a ballpark which favors left-handed hitters, he still hits home runs.

''I think because I'm taller than most players (Dave is 6 ft. 7 in. and 220 lbs.), most people have acquired a wrong impression about my power,'' Winfield said. ''I'm really a line-drive hitter who sometimes will have a well-hit ball climb out of the park on him. But basically I'm the kind who hits for average and gets his kicks from driving in runners who are already on base.'' Winfield is a remarkable athlete, who was actually drafted by four pro leagues in three sports, baseball, football, and basketball. Signed by the San Diego Padres right out of the University of Minnesota in 1973, he reported right to the parent club and has never played in the minor leagues. In fact, he started his career by hitting safely in his first six major league games. Phillies and NL East race

Until Philadelphia lost three straight games to Los Angeles recently, the Phillies had gone 20-12 since July 18, when General Manager Paul Owens replaced Manager Pat Corrales with himself. That streak not only put Philadelphia back into the thick of the National League East race, but actually made the Phillies (whose pitching has improved) slight favorites in some quarters.

''I can understand one or even two good teams having trouble with consistency , but I can't understand it happening to four,'' said Philadelphia second baseman Joe Morgan. Joe was referring to division rivals Montreal, Pittsburgh, and St. Louis as well as the Phillies. ''My feeling is that one of us is going to have a two-week hot streak near the end of the season and win it.''

Questioned as to whether he might like to manage the Phillies in 1984, since Owens has already said that he will step down at the end of the season, Morgan replied: ''I would never ask to manage in the big leagues. If a club was interested in Joe Morgan, it would have to come to me. But it's all academic, because I don't want to manage anyway.'' Tidbits from around the majors

* The Los Angeles Dodgers look a lot tougher in their stretch bid to overtake Atlanta in the NL West now that they have acquired left-hander Rick Honeycutt from the Texas Rangers. In return for the American League's earned-run average leader, who immediately signed a five-year, $3.8 million contract, the Dodgers gave up pitcher Dave Stewart plus a player to be named later. For such a deal to be made at this point in the season, every American League club had to waive on Honeycutt - hard to believe but possible when the ''I'll scratch your back now if you'll scratch mine later on'' theory is applied.

* Lee Elia, whose job had been in jeopardy ever since he blasted Chicago fans earlier in the season for their lack of baseball knowledge, has been fired as manager of the Cubs. Elia has been replaced by former San Francisco and Montreal manager Charlie Fox. Said General Manager Dallas Green, who brought Elia with him from Philadelphia when he took over last year: ''I tried to work things out with Lee, but we haven't responded like a team since the All-Star break.'' Chicago was 54-69 the day Elia was let go.

* Although the Baltimore Orioles recently stopped pitcher Moose Haas's scoreless inning streak at 28, the Milwaukee Brewer right-hander has now won eight games in a row. ''Moose always had the hard stuff that the hitters didn't like, only after five or six innings they'd kind of get on to him,'' said Milwaukee catcher Ted Simmons. ''But now that he's learned to mix his pitches with a lot of off-speed stuff, he's usually good for nine innings.''

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