Last but not least- the American League
MVP – you’d think they’d name it after someone like all the hockey awards. I mean, if the best pitcher award is the “Cy Young” maybe the MVP should be the “Ted Williams” or ‘Babe Ruth award”. Just sayin’… anyway, my choice for the big honor is…
Mookie Betts, Boston. Gotta admit, my first gut instinct at the end of the season was for the runner-up – J.D. Martinez – but upon studying the stats and consideration, Betts deserves to win out. Too bad an ab strain kept him out of the lineup for half of June or he might have been even more clear-cut best. But even with that, in his 136 games, he hit .346, launched 32 homers, 80 RBI and was tied for second in the league with 47 doubles. 81 walks helped his on base soar to .438 and all in all, he was second best in the majors with a 1.078 OPS. Gotta like that he only ground into 5 DPs all year too. Perhaps though the tipping point for me, making Mookie the most valuable on the best team was he played 131 games in the outfield, and rather well too. Which is something my second-place,
J.D. Martinez, Boston, couldn’t boast. Not that his fielding was bad by any means, but he had only 32 games with any fielding mixed in, being by and large the full-time DH. I don’t believe that a desginated hitter can’t be an MVP, but in a virtual tie, you have to give the nod to the more multi-dimensional player. That said, Martinez was a huge addition to the Sox and they probably wouldn’t have won it all without him. .330, 43 HR, major-league best 130 RBI, .629 slugging percentage, 188 hits (second in league)… he did all that New England hoped he would and then some.
third- Khris Davis – Oakland. the outfielder/DH led the world with 48 homers this year, in a division which isn’t terribly inclined to a lot of longballs, and drove in 123. Granted he hit only .247 but his .549 slugging percentage was quite stellar and the award does say valuable not all-around “best.” The A’s amazed, making it into the Wild Card with a, well, kind of lacklustre team, and one has to think that Khris’ dynamic hitting was the thing that lifted them there…. there weren’t a lot of other big bats on the Bay’s east side to back him up!
fourth – Luis Severino – New York. While he finished just out of my top picks for Cy Young, he was a powerhouse on the mound, being 19-8 with a 3.39 ERA over 191 innings. The Yanks had a balanced and talented postion lineup, with Aaron Judge, Aaron Hicks ,Giancarlo Stanton and rookie of the year choice Miguel Andujar all contributing well but none were head-turning or completely invaluable. But the starting rotation was shaky for the pinstripes, especially before J.A. Happ arrived, and one has to think that without Severino, digging deeper into their farm system or trying to recycle another aging starter in the Jaime Garcia ilk would have led to problems …and no triple-digit win tally for them this year.
Honorable mentions- Mike Trout – L.A. Anaheim , Blake Snell – Tampa Bay, Jose Ramirez – Cleveland, and yes a bad team but still, Whit Merrifield – Kansas City. How stinky would they have been without his infield glove, league-leading 192 hits and his 45 steals?
Well the owners will be meeting in a couple of weeks, free agents will be flying free and just hours back I saw that soar-backed superstar Clayton Kershaw did what most expected him to do, namely sign an extension to stay in L.A. We’ll look at the off-season, some free agent predictions and what Toronto should be doing this winter in the coming weeks….
The big show kicks off tonight, with the Dodgers looking to become World Champions for the first time in 30 years traveling to New England to take on the Vegas odds-on favorites, Boston, who of course broke the Curse of The Babe back in 2004. Since winning then for the first time in over 80 years, they have come back to repeat it twice in ’07 and ’13. It should be a good series and will feature perhaps the two best southpaws in the game facing off tonight, Clayton Kershaw and Chris Sale. Yesterday I looked at how it seems to shape up to me.
That said, the off-season will soon be here and for fans of 28 teams that means thinking about the things which went awry in 2018 and looking ahead to ’19. And one of the highlights of the whole process is Awards season, so I’ll give you my picks for the big awards this year, starting with the National League today. And remember, votes are cast prior to any post-season dramatics….
Manager of Year – Brian Snitzer, Atlanta. Second year manager, aided and abetted by increasingly impressive GM Alex Anthopoulos, helped the Braves go from a mundane 72-90 last year to an unexpected division title this year. All without any big splashy free agent or trade acquisitions. Runner-up- Bud Black, Colorado, keeping his team on an even keel and getting them hot when they needed to force the Dodgers to a game 163.
Rookie of the Year – Ronald Acuna Jr. Atlanta a big reason Snitzer did what he did. Three very good candidates for award, but I’ll go for the OF phenom. In 111 games, he hit .293 with 26 HR, 64 RBI and 16 steals. His 26 homers and 16 stolen bases were tops among rookies, as was his average for those with 400+ at bats. His 127 hits was second (among rookies). Numbers were quite similar to my third place, Juan Soto of Washington (.292/22/70 with a .917 OPS in 116 games) who was still a teen when he set foot on the field for the first time. But Acuna’s seem a tiny bit better and, Acuna was a lynchpin in a successful lineup; Soto’s team floundered all year. That wasn’t his fault necessarily, but he didn’t add the same “zip” the Brave did to his team.
Runner-up – Walker Buehler, L.A. the best rookie pitcher , by an arms’ length over Pudge’s son Derrick Rodriguez. Buehler looked quite at home in the playoff-bound team’s rotation, and hasn’t buckled under October pressure (not that that counts in the balloting.) He went 8-5 over 23 starts with a stellar 2.62 ERA, best among rookies not surprisingly. His 151 strikeouts was second best and highlighted the low 37 walks he issued.
Cy Young – Jacob de Grom, New York. Voters who once gave Felix Hernandez an AL cy Young despite being 13-12 showed that the win total isn’t the primary factor, and rightfully so. Thus we have de Grom spinning one of the best seasons in this century so far, despite having a so-so 10-9 record. His other numbers dazzled- especially the 1.70 ERA, best by far for any pitcher logging over 100 innings. Speaking of which, his 217 innings in 32 starts is a pretty heady tally in 2018 with the game being what it is now. 28 of 32 starts were “quality”, 269 K’s to just 46 BBs, only 10 homers allowed meaning opponents had a measly ,277 slugging percentage vs him; allowed only 4 runners to be left on base in all the games he departed from… of course, his bugaboo was that the Mets only provided 3.5 runs/game support. Seems like if there was a 1-0 game going on, Jacob’s crew would be on the zero end! Runner-up – Max Scherzer, Washington. A season good enough to win it most years – 18-7, 2.53, lead-leading 220 2/3 innings, 300 strikeouts. Surprisingly, he gave up 23 HR but limited the damage obviously.
MVP – Christian Yelich, Milwaukee. the year’s breakout star and obvious choice, coming ever-so-close to winning the Triple crown. Likely wasn’t even the pre-season choice in the Yelich household … but 6 months later, no arguing with his .326 average, 36 HR, 110 RBI and 1.000 OPS The average and all-telling OPS were best among players with 400+ AB and he was tied for second in RBI, third in HR and second in hits with 187. throw in 22 SB for good measure and you see why the Brewers booted the Cubs from the top this year…which Christian was instrumental in of course, hitting .451 with 7 HR in the final 15 games down the stretch as they caught, then overtook the Wrigley fielders. One wonders what kind of mammoth numbers he would have had if he’d avoided an oblique injury in April that sidelined him for 10 days.
Runner-up – Javier Baez, Chicago. Coming into his own and the type of star people expected him to be, .290, 34HR, league-leading 111 RBI, .554 slugging percentage…and stellar IF defense too. I’ll opt for Freddie Freeman of Atlanta for third place, the veteran engine behind the ROY, Freeman didn’t take a game off all year and hit .309 with a league-high 191 hits, including 23 HR and 98 RBI.
Next , we’ll look at the AL choices…
Watching the Blue Jays play their first post-season game since 1993…what better time to look back at the regular season and make my picks for the awards before playoff heroics (or zeroics!) taint our opinions per baseball rules. I for one always rather thought the voting should take place after the playoffs since a spectacular October would certainly add to a players value. Case in point, Madison Bumgardner was not the best pitcher in the NL last season, but after seeing him go through opponents like a hot knife through butter in October makes him seem like perhaps the better pitcher than Clayton Kershaw.
That point made, without further ado, my picks for the American League Awards would be–
MVP: Josh Donaldson (Toronto) when you lead the league in runs scored, runs batted in you’re doing something right. Add in top-5 placings in hits, doubles and homers plus Gold Glove caliber defence at a tough position and it’s hard to argue against him. Most seem to concede that it’s a tossup between him and Mike Trout; though Trout did have a slightly higher OPS and matched Josh’s 41 home runs, it goes to Donaldson because 1)123 RBI runs circles around Trout’s 90. Fish fans say, “yeah, but look at Donaldson’s team” but ignore that Donaldson hit second all year, in front of Bautista and Encarnacion. Put him hitting behind them and he’d have set a Blue Jays team record. 2) finally after two decades, we can turn the old baseball adage around to our advantage- an MVP has to be from a playoff team, or so most would have us believe. We saw Carlos Delgado and Jose Bautista overlooked in the past because the team were middling; this year it’s Trout’s team that failed to live up to potential, ergo “how important can he be?”
Donaldson wins, my runners-up: #2: Mike Trout (LAA), #3: Jose Altuve (Hou), led league in hits and steals and his team to an unexpected playoff berth; #4: Wade Davis (KC), doing whatever was asked of him out of bullpen with second year in a row of ERA at 1 or less; #5: Chris Davis (Bal)- 47 HR, 117 RBI, did all he could to help his Orioles fly back up in the standings.
Cy Young: David Price (Det./Tor.) today’s game might not seem like it, but he’s been the best in the league this year, by a nose. 18-5, league best 2.45 ERA, 225K, only 42 walks. Wins it in a photo-finish by reason of his slightly better ERA than runner-up and exceptional performance down the line for Toronto (9-1, 2.30 after being traded, whereas Keuchel let up a little going 6-2, 3.34 as his Astros faded in last two months)
#2: Dallas Keuchel (Hou), only 20 game winner in AL; #3: Sonny Gray (Oak), numbers slid a bit in second half but still excellent 14-7 for a last place club with 2.73 ERA.
Rookie of Year: a tough call. The best actual position players played only double digit numbers of games, but does that still allow them to trump all-season regulars who played not quite so well? Winner-Roberto Osuna (Tor): OK, a bit of homerism here, but there’s no clear winner so why not Toronto’s closer? He came out of nowhere to win a roster spot barely turned his 20th birthday and by mid-season had taken over the closer’s role that no one else had managed to do adequately for the Jays. 68 games, 20 saves, solid 2.58 ERA helped the team have confidence with a 9th inning lead and have the best record in baseball after July.
#2: Carlos Correa (Hou), certainly the media fave, nothing wrong with his glove or his .279 avg, 22 HR, 68 RBI, 14 for 18 in stolen bases. But missed first two months of year, #3: Delino Deshields Jr. (Tex), .261, 25 stolen bases, 83 runs. Great speed won him the regular CF spot and had him hitting lead-off in a much improved Rangers lineup.
Comeback of the Year: Prince Fielder (Texas). the iron man came back from a weak and injury-shortened season last year to hit .305, 23 HR, 98 RBI and increase his slugging percentage by over a hundred points, hitting a career best 187 hits along the way. #2: Alex Rodriguez, (NY)- maybe an even more surprising comeback but, remembering why he missed all of 2014 makes me squeamish about voting for him for anything.
Manager of Year: yes, Joe Girardi, Ned Yost and Paul Molitor all got way more out of their roster than anyone expected and deserve kudos. But the award comes down to a matchup of the two skips who battled today at Rogers’. Winner- reluctantly, Jeff Banister (Texas). Journeyman Pirate employee with no big league managing experience took over the team that was league’s worst last year, lost his staff ace in first week of spring training and somehow turned them into division champs. Team showed impressive determination in contrast to last year’s. #2: John Gibbons (Tor)- Gibby showed critics wrong in their belief he didn’t deserve a return to the jays bench and had to manage with a bullpen that was terrible at start of year, cajole them into giving their best and figure out a way to use them properly.
As for other Jays and awards, Kevin Pillar should be a shoe-in for an outfield Gold Glove and Jose Bautista and Russell Martin would be decent choices for ones as well. There may not be an award for “break out player of year”, but there should be and Marco Estrada should be it! 13-8, AL fifth-best 3.13 ERA over 181 innings highlighted a year that saw him go from journeyman to star.
I’ll be happy if baseball writers agree with me … but of course, the one player award I’d really like to see go to a Blue Jay this year awaits- World Series MVP!
Congratulations to Matt Cain, tossing a masterful perfect game last night, and to me , for saying in this place as early as March 2011, he was clearly the best pitcher on the Giants staff. Finally today even conservative sources like Yahoo Sports are calling him the “dominant ace” of that team. Does make one wonder though- what exactly went wrong -horribly wrong- with Tim Lincecum?
A few more questions for the second half (and a bit) of the season:
Is Adam Dunn or Andy Pettitte the AL Comeback of the Year?: both have staged impressive returns to form this year. But for my money, Dunn is the winner. Like our own joey Bats, Dunn’s batting average is a bit low this season, but at .226 it still towers over his pathetic .159 of 2011. But Chicago isn’t complaining anyway, as his 21 homers ranks him second in the league and almost twice of what he cranked all of last year. His .226/21/47 RBI with a .562 slugging is a night and day improvement over last year’s inexplicable .159/11/42, .277 slugging and extended out over the whole season would best his career averages of a .505 slugging percentage and 38 HR per 162 games.
Pettite, at 3-2 with a highly respectable 2.81 ERA after six starts is a good addition to his Yankees and has improved upon his career ERA , largely by cutting down his walks from one every 3 1/3 innings to one every 4 2/3. But he is returning from a self-imposed exile and had all of last year off to rest, and build up his conditioning. Very respectable but not award-winning.
Will the Blue jays win any major player awards in 2012?: Right now, not likely. No player has dominated in our lineup this season, so there’s not likely to be a buzz about MVP, particularly if its another playoff-free season. We know voters usually opt for picking MVPs from playoff teams, so given the current standings , one would look to it as being a Josh Hamilton/Paul Konerko duel for that award.
There’s no clear-cut obvious Cy Young winner as of yet in the league, and upto last weekend, one could make the argument that Brandon Morrow, with his three shutouts and sub 3.00 ERA deserved consideration. He still might compete if he gets back into the lineup soon, but with his stint on the DL for an indeterminate time, even if he tosses three more shutouts upon return, he won’t get the votes if limited to say 25 or so starts. Plus, anything short of atrocious and Justin Verlander will be the only name most voters will even remember…and verlander, while not the 2011 ace, has been far from atrocious.
Which leaves Rookie of the Year, and some might hope that over-achieving young Drew Hutchison might have a shot at that. He might, if he continues to improve and stays in the rotation all year. But at present time, he’d clearly trail higher-profile yu Darvish among pitchers and possibly Yoenis Cespedes among all players. Hutch after ten starts has logged 58 innings, struck out 48 while walking only 19 and is 5-3 with a pedestrian 4.66 ERA (which is lowering after three rough starts to begin his career.) Darvish has made a dozen starts, lasted 72 innings, with 77K (but an ugly 44 walks) and is sitting at 7-4 with a better than average 3.72 ERA. Cespedes, despite a stint on the disabled list, is hitting .273 with 6 homers and 26 RBI on a very run-challenged Oakland team.
Will fans keep flocking to the Jays “nest”? Toronto seems to have a renewed interest in the Blue Jays this year and that has been reflected in the Rogers’ Centre attendance. Yesterday’s 43000+ for an afternoon game pushed attendance past 800 000 for the year, an average of 26 067 per game. This marks a nice increase over last season and puts Toronto square in the middle of the league for fan support: they rank 7th in the AL right now, well behind Texas (who draw 43 400 per game) but a country mile ahead of under-appreciated Cleveland (17 000 per game), Tampa (19 405 to see the Rays have another playoff-bound year) and the perhaps fairly dismissed A’s.
The unfortunate thing is that of course, our patience has worn thin with the team and with Alex Anthopolous. If the jays keep sinking towards the bottom of the division, and Anthopolous doesn’t pull a rabbit or two out of his hat (or more aptly, a Garza or Willingham or two via trade route) by July to make the team have a sporting shot at making a wild card spot at least, fans interest will wane , eyes will roll as Anthopolous gives his usual speech about ‘being close’ and ‘maybe next year’ and the turnstiles will start to gather dust.
I wish I could be optimistic but I don’t see the Jays hitting two million this year , when all is said and done. I could say to all of you, prove me wrong fans, prove me wrong but instead I’ll say prove me wrong, Alex, prove me wrong. If the corporate brass decide to take a run at it this year , the fans will respond.