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October 1, 2010
On the Beat
With three days left in the regular season, it's time to hand out awards for 2010. Not all of my selections will jibe with those made by my Baseball Writers Association of America brothers and sisters. I take a bit of a sabermetric bent in making my selections—though I won't delve deeply into the numbers here, leaving that for our other (and smarter) columnists to handle—so that is why things might look a little different than the norm.
National League MVP—Albert Pujols, Cardinals. Yes, I know he won't win because of the Cardinals' late-season collapse, but it wasn't his fault. No team counted on a player more than the Cardinals did on Pujols and he kept them in the race until the final week while everything was falling apart around him. And oh, by the way, he will lead the NL hitters in WARP and VORP again this season.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Joey Votto, Reds; 3. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres; 4. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies; 5. Matt Holliday, Cardinals; 6. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; 7. Aubrey Huff, Giants; 8. Jayson Werth, Phillies; 9. Brian McCann, Braves; 10. Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals.
American League MVP—Evan Longoria, Rays. OK, before everyone jumps on me, let me explain. Like the departed Will Carroll (from Baseball Prospectus, not the Earth), I believe that being there is part of the criteria. Josh Hamilton just wasn't there enough and it didn't matter as the Rangers had a big lead in their division. Meanwhile, Longoria was consistently excellent in all phases of the game for a team that has battled for the best record in the major leagues all season despite being in the toughest division in baseball. Also, Longoria leads all AL position players in WARP and had enough guts to call out an apathetic fan base.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Josh Hamilton, Rangers; 3. Adrian Beltre, Red Sox; 4. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers; 5. Robinson Cano, Yankees; 6. Joe Mauer, Twins; 7. Carl Crawford, Rays; 8. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; 9. Paul Konerko, White Sox; 10. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians.
National League Cy Young Award—Roy Halladay, Phillies. He has been everything the Phillies could have hoped for and more when they acquired him from the Blue Jays last winter. He's outstanding and durable, too, and it will be fun to see what he does after finally reaching the postseason for the first time in his distinguished career.
American League Cy Young Award—Felix Hernandez, Mariners. His record be damned, he is the best pitcher in the league and it's not even close. Hernandez winning the award would be a great sign that advanced statistical analysis has taken another small step forward.
National League Rookie of the Year—Jason Heyward, Braves. Rarely does a rookie live up to the hype but Heyward did while helping hold together an often patchwork Braves lineup all season. What he did this season is just a taste of what he will eventually accomplish.
American League Rookie of the Year—Austin Jackson, Tigers. The best in a thin class. Jackson has his flaws such as striking out too much for a non-power hitter but he got a lot of hits to fall in this season and played terrific defense at times. Playing every day and producing is more valuable than the few innings Neftali Feliz provided the Rangers, despite most of those being very good innings.
National League Manager of the Year—Bud Black, Padres. Though they have faded at the end, the Padres have exceeded even the biggest dreamer's expectations and Black has guided them with a steady hand.
American League Manager of the Year—Ron Gardenhire, T wins. While the Twins were expected to win, they took the AL Central going away despite a season-ending injury to Joe Nathan in spring training and the loss of Justin Morneau in July with a concussion.
Diamondbacks interim manager Kirk Gibson, as has been reported in this space for the last two weeks, is almost certain to be given the job on a permanent basis when the season ends. He hasn't been getting much sleep since Kevin Towers was hired as general manager on September 21. The duo has been having plenty of late-night long conversations during the Diamondbacks' season-ending road trip this week.
"We've gotten to know each other a lot more the last four or five days, talking about philosophy," Towers said. "On first impression, on him. (I) like the look in the eye, and like what he had to say. He probably deserves a little bit more time to set a foundation in spring training and an environment. I told him if he wants to stay up until 2, 3, 4 o'clock on the road trip talking baseball, you've got a guy, you are going to have to kick me out of the room."
Towers has also been talking to Gibson's former teammates, including Alan Trammell and David Wells. They have given Gibson glowing recommendations. Gibson, Trammell, and Wells own and operate a farm in the northern part of Michigan.
"You can tell he's a winner," Towers said. "He's a grinder. He has high expectations. He's learned from some great people, Jim Leyland, Sparky Anderson. I am looking forward to spending (time) with him and the entire coaching staff and getting to know him a little more."
Towers has not said if he is going to interview any other managerial candidates or when he plans to make an announcement on the manager: "No real timeline, other than we are not going to drag this thing out."
When Jay Bruce helped clinch the Reds' NL Central championship with a game-ending home run against the Astros on Tuesday night, he joined some select company. The right fielder became just the fifth player in major league history to clinch a post-season berth with a walk-off shot.
Bobby Thomson was the first when his "Shot Heard 'Round The World" won Game Three of the best-of-three playoff series with the Dodgers for the 1951 NL title. The others were Hank Aaron for the 1957 Braves, Alfonso Soriano for the Yankees in 1999 with his first major league hit, and Steve Finley for the storied 2004 Dodgers with a grand slam.
Bruce was thrilled to make history. He was even happier to strike the final blow in the Reds reaching the postseason for the first time since 1995.
"It has been a long time," he said. "I was just happy to be able to bring a jolt back. This is a great place to play."
Making the moment even more special was that the game was being televised back to his hometown of Beaumont, Texas.
"All of my friends and family got to watch," he said.
The Rays' celebration after clinching a playoff spot was not quite as wild as the one two years earlier for accomplishing the same feat. Of course, the Rays making the playoffs in 2008 was one of the great underdog stories in major-league history after they had been an AL East doormat ever since their inception as an expansion team in 1998.
"Obviously, you revel in that moment, but it's different this year in a sense that I'm already looking forward to the next moment," manager Joe Maddon said. "And I think that's a good thing. It gets to the point where you expect to be in the playoffs on an annual basis. The first time you do it—we talked about that magical moment, and I'm not saying it isn't still magical—but you're a little bit more pragmatic in a sense the second time through."
The Rays say that they very much want to win the AL East and finish with the best record in the league in order to have home-field advantage in the ALDS and ALCS. Left unsaid is that the Rays would love to win the World Series after losing to the Phillies in the 2008 Fall Classic and in light of the idea that the roster could be dramatically altered next season as owner Stuart Sternberg plans to substantially reduce the payroll.
"We still have other goals in mind," Maddon said.
MLB Rumors & Rumblings: The Nationals' biggest off-season objectives are to re-sign first baseman Adam Dunn and sign a frontline starting pitcher. Rockies left-hander Jorge De La Rosa and right-handers Carl Pavano of the Twins and Javier Vazquez of the Yankees have appeal. … Right-hander Jake Westbrook is hopeful of working out a deal with the Cardinals before he reaches free agency in November. … The Red Sox will consider trading for Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez if they are unable to re-sign Adrian Beltre, and they seem unlikely to re-sign catcher and team captain Jason Varitek. … White Sox left-hander Mark Buehrle, for the umpteenth time, is hinting that he will retire after next season, but 43-year-old infielder Omar Vizquel would like a return engagement on the South Side in 2011. … Ryne Sandberg, manager of the Cubs' Triple-A Iowa farm club, plans to leave the organization if he is not hired as the major league club manager.
Scouts' views on various major league players:
Giants infielder Mike Fontenot: "This might wind up being an important under-the-radar pickup for (Giants general manager) Brian Sabean, especially if (second baseman) Freddy Sanchez's shoulder acts in the postseason. They can plug Fontenot in and be OK. He's a tough little out at times and he won't kill them if they have to play him at second base."
Diamondbacks right-hander Daniel Hudson: "If he would have been with Arizona all year, he'd be the National League Rookie of the Year, no question about it. He has a great mound presence, repeats his delivery well and throws any pitch in any count. I can't wait to see him next year now that he has a little big-league experience under his belt."
Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips: "He was pretty much a non-factor in September after sitting out when he got hit in the hand with a pitch. However, I'd bet on him playing well in the postseason. He likes the big stage and he's going to eat up the chance to play in October."
Astros shortstop Angel Sanchez: "I really hope that (Astros GM) Ed Wade doesn't think this guy is an everyday shortstop because he's not. This has been a fluke year, especially at the plate. He's not going to hit .275 again with regular playing time."
Three series to watch with probable pitching matchups (all times Eastern):