When I was growing up, there were 16 major league baseball teams, eight in each league, with no divisions. The eight in each league played for first place, as that team that finished first was the ONLY team that went on beyond the regular season, with the National League first place team playing the American League first place team in the World Series. No play-in, no Division Series, no Championship Series, no second place team in the post season, no wild card, just the winners meeting in the World Series, and it really meant something. But then the world of professional sports changed and things have never been the same. What ultimately became billions of dollars began to flow from television, and suddenly there as a demand from cities across North America for baseball, football, basketball and
hockey teams, and leagues expanded and expanded over and over again, and suddenly we have NBA post seasons the make the regular season totally meaningless, weeks of NFL post season games leading the the world’s biggest event ever, that is replayed once every year, and we have a weeks long baseball post season that makes October meaningless, as the important, meaningful games are now put off until November, when nowhere in the country (and certainly not in Canada) outside of California should people be playing baseball.
But I digress.
So, while division winners Cleveland and Los Angeles patiently wait to see if they will be traveling to New York or Minnesota or to Phoenix or Denver, respectively, and while the Cubs prepare to play Washington and the Red Sox get ready for Houston, managers are planning their post season rosters, after in some cases (cough, cough Dodgers) the last four weeks saw two dozen new players infecting not just rosters but lineup cards on a daily basis. So after the likes of Joc Pederson, Adrian Gonzalez, Ross Stripling, Pedro Baez, Brandon McCarthy, Grant Dayton and others gave their hearts to the team all season long, with some of them suffering real physical pain because of it, the LA Dodgers’ post season roster may well instead include names like Kyle Farmer, Tim LoCastro and Walker Buehler, plus Andre Ethier whose history and recovery and contribution does mean something more in setting that roster, despite his first appearance of the season having been on September 1.
And then there are the awards.
On July 23, Clayton Kershaw was 15-2 with an ERA of 2.04 and was a shoo-in for the National League Cy Young Award. But then his back became an issue and he did not pitch again until Sep.1. The amazing thing is, that when Kershaw went on the DL, he was leading baseball in wins, and over the weeks he was out, NO ONE CAUGHT UP!. When he made his next start in September, he was still tied for the major league lead in wins, and he ended the season leading the National League in wins with 18 and tied for the major
league lead with three American League pitchers. While Kershaw was out of action, pundits across American awarded the title of “Best NL Pitcher and Cy Young Winner” to the Nationals’ Max Scherzer. GIVE ME A BREAK!
Scherzer had his own physical problems the second half of the season, but the bottom line is Kershaw made 27 starts, Scherzer 31, and Kershaw ended 18-4 with a league-leading 2.31 ERA while Scherzer finished 16-6 with a runner-up ERA of 2.51. For my money, Scherzer was no better than his team mate Stephen Strasburg, who also missed a few starts during the season, but finished third in the ERA race a tick behind Scherzer at 2.51, but with a better winning percentage at 15-4, over 28 starts.
In my mind, neither Scherzer nor Strasburg was as effective or dominating as the Diamondbacks’ Robbie Ray, who in the second half was almost killed on the mound when struck by a line drive in the head, but he came back to be just as effective late in the season as he was before his injury. Ray financed 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA over 28 starts but of all these guys, has the highest strike out per nine inning ratio at 12.11, compared to Scherzer’s 12.02, Strasburg’s 10.47 and Kershaw’s 10.39.
Were I voting, my one-two-three would be Kershaw first, Ray second, and the guy who for quite awhile I’ve said is REALLY baseball’s best pitcher third, Dodgers’ reliever Kenley Jansen.
Then there is the issue of the MVP award in the NL. For some unknown reason, pundits and announcers around the country, including several in the various Dodgers’ booths, seem enamored with the Diamondback’s Paul Goldschmidt. Well, he may or may not make my top five. To me, the three top MVP candidates in the league are the Rockies’ Charlie Blackmon, the Rockies Nolan Arenado and the Dodgers’ Corey Seager. Were I to go further down the line of course Giancarlo Stanton would be there, then Justin Turner, Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, Joey Votto (ok on a last place team, but he was so devastating and the team would have been so horrible without him, his contribution needs to be recognized, and he led the league in OPS), Buster Posey (yea, also on a last place team, but still baseball’s number one in the game’s toughest position, doing his best day after day on a team that may not have won 50 games without him) and Travis Shaw.
Turner, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig and others all seemed to take turns as the Dodgers’ MVP during the season, but when it mattered, the guy who was always there to make the big defensive play, to drive in the key run, was Seager, and when he went out of the lineup, even though there were other reasons for the Dodgers’ quick and dismal decline, one could trace their string of losses directly to Seager not being there. He has gotten far too little acclaim for his at times sensational defensive play at shortstop, maybe due it being overshadowed by his timely hitting, maybe due to the great defensive play by the more respected veteran Justin Turner playing lights-out defense next to him at third base, or maybe because people just are not watching. In Colorado, Blackmon and Arenado have both been spectacular in all facets of the game, and if the team had won with only one of them, that one would have been the runaway MVP winner. Splitting the vote is difficult, as it also is in Washington, where Harper and Zimmerman have each had MVP seasons,
though Harper will miss out due to his own late season injury. The great play of both Anthony Rendon and Daniel Murphy on that same team also further dilutes the vote.
Nothing need be said about the NL Rookie of the Year. Bellinger has to receive every vote, period.
As to Manager of the year, through July, I would have argued for a second in a row for the Dodgers’ Dave Roberts, be he screwed up royally in August and September. Who then? Dusty Baker or Joe Maddon who managed talent-laden teams to first in divisions that lacked any other team with comparable talent? How about Craig Counsell who guided the never-considered Milwaukee Brewers to an over-achieving season in which they were in the post season run until the next-to-last day of the season? I think him.
Finally, how about an award for the most over-looked, under-appreciated player in the league? Hands down, Miami’s Marcel Osuna (37 HR, 124 RBI, .312), on a team that was only, throughout the entire season, known as the team on which Giancarlo Stanton plays.