ST. LOUIS — They say this is who they are. And have been all season long: a resilient team.
The Atlanta Braves stole victory from defeat on Sunday afternoon when they waited out a brilliant performance by St. Louis Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, only to get to closer Carlos Martinez in the ninth inning — erasing a 1-0 deficit and turning it into a 3-1 win in Game 3 of their National League Division Series.
None of Atlanta’s late dramatics would have happened without a gem from their own starter, 22-year-old Mike Soroka, but a ninth-inning rally always overshadows everything — especially in a game that 10-year vet Freddie Freeman called the best win he’s ever been a part of.
Veteran Josh Donaldson started things off for the Braves in the ninth, hitting an 0-1 changeup down the left-field line for a double. The Braves were feeling good about their chances to tie the game until Nick Markakis and Adeiny Hechavarria both struck out. Pinch runner Billy Hamilton stole third as Hechavarria whiffed on a checked swing.
“At the time you want to get to third with one out, so that was a bad break,” the speedy Hamilton said afterward. “But getting to third even with two outs, what if Martinez bounces one in the dirt? I could score. And maybe he has to pitch the next guy differently.”
We’ll never know if it made a difference but Martinez’ next pitch — after the Cardinals intentionally walked Brian McCann — was a high slider to Dansby Swanson, which he deposited off the left-field wall.
Tie game, 1-1.
“I saw it coming, even just getting ready in the dugout, just how the inning was playing out, that that could definitely be a possibility,” Swanson said of the McCann walk. “God blessed me with good hand-eye coordination. In those situations, you just try and breathe and relax. It’s easier said than done.”
The Cardinals played the odds. McCann is a lefty, while Swanson was 0-for-6 against the right-handed Martinez, including a Game 1 strikeout on Thursday.
“I was ready for that move,” Swanson continued. “And I would have been — I personally would have been surprised if they would have pitched to [McCann] just because of his postseason experience and everything. So I was ready from the moment I started putting my batting gloves on in the dugout.”
Said McCann: “At that point the Cardinals start doing game management and then Dansby came up clutch.”
Cardinals manager Mike Shildt simply went by the numbers.
“Consensus was … rather take a shot at Swanson, 0-for-6 at that point with Carlos,” he said.
Perhaps the most confident person in the stadium was Swanson’s manager. He understood the move to walk McCann — and wasn’t unhappy with it.
“I love Dansby in those situations,” Brian Snitker said. “I always have. That kid lives for that moment.”
But the Braves weren’t done. Adam Duvall, the Game 2 hero, did it again, this time with a two-run single on an 0-2 pitch. And again, it was a slider from Martinez. It probably would not have been called a strike.
“The pitch before that was 99 miles per hour, kind of in,” Duvall explained. “So the ball I hit was probably a little bit off. But at that moment you kind of have to protect, you can’t necessarily leave it in the umpire’s hands there.
“It was close enough for me that I thought I could get the barrel to it. So I made the move on it.”
Duvall got good wood on the ball, sending it into center field for a no-doubt, two-run single, giving the Braves a 3-1 lead.
“What he did this year to go to the minor leagues and regain his stroke, he’s come up humongous for us,” McCann said of Duvall, who hasn’t started either game that he’s had such a big impact on. He homered off the bench in Game 2 and won Game 3 with a two-out, two-run single.
“I’m just trying to be ready,” he said. “I’m getting ready from about the second or third inning on. Just so that when they call my name I’m fully ready to go into the game and prepared.”
Like all good teams, the Braves simply believe they’ll pull things out. It took 8⅔ innings on Sunday, but they never gave in. Swanson and Duvall may not have the same star power as Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies and Freeman, but they’re as responsible for the Braves’ two wins as anyone.
“The one thing that we’ve talked about all year and that makes this team so special is we come out and we play tomorrow’s game,” Swanson said. “We don’t worry about what happened tonight; we’re not worried about what’s happening in the future. We always stay where our feet are [in] that moment [and] come out each inning, each pitch, and hopefully be able to come out of here with a victory.”
And now the Braves are one win away from advancing to the National League Championship Series for the first time in nearly two decades. Oh, what a ninth inning it was.
AL East offseason preview — Will Yankees add an ace? Will Red Sox really deal Mookie Betts?
With free agency underway, the offseason is going to pick up steam. What are the big questions facing all 30 teams?
Here’s a look at the AL East, which features two teams that won 96 or more games in 2019, two clubs that posted 95 or more losses this year … and, right in the middle, the 2018 World Series champs.
2019 record: 103-59
2020 World Series odds: 5-1
The Yankees’ biggest offseason storyline will be how general manager Brian Cashman will improve his starting rotation, which on the first day of the GM meetings he stated would be a team priority. The marquee names on the free-agent market, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg, are potential targets, but certainly not the only ones.
“Obviously, starting pitching is always something that we want to try to continue to look at and shore up,” Cashman said. “There are some exciting opportunities that exist in the marketplace via trade as well as free agency. Of course, we’re going to talk to Strasburg; we’ll talk to Cole. We’ll talk to the higher-end guys, clearly, and have conversations, and we’ll also talk about some surprise guys, I’m sure.”
The Yankees will also have to address how many of their own free agents they want to keep, and most importantly, how much they want to spend doing so. Cashman has specified that there is no ownership mandate on a maximum payroll, but it’s doubtful a team with more than $210 million in salary commitments for 2020 would be able to work out deals with a Cole or a Strasburg, and also bring back Brett Gardner, Didi Gregorius and/or Dellin Betances.
Beyond that, the 2019 Yankees overcame a barrage of injuries to win 103 games and their first AL East title since 2012. But the “Next Man Up” mentality and performance that went along with it is unlikely to be duplicated. The Yankees will likely have to address their injury prevention and treatment protocols in order to avoid setting yet another MLB record for most injured players in a single season. — Marly Rivera
Tampa Bay Rays: Can the Rays stay creative to keep thriving in the East?
2019 record: 96-66
2020 World Series odds: 30-1
The Rays have never been short of good, outside-the-box ideas. After another successful season of bullpenning, Tampa Bay has enough strong starters on its roster, among Charlie Morton, Blake Snell, Tyler Glasnow, Yonny Chirinos and Ryan Yarbrough, to field a full rotation — if the Rays want to. In 2019, they found a lot of success from their bullpen, between Emilio Pagan‘s lockdown year and strong performances from Nick Anderson and Oliver Drake, and they’ll likely keep looking for more diamonds in the rough, given relievers are a notoriously fickle group when it comes to year-to-year consistency (looking at you, Jose Alvarado). Two-way top prospect Brendan McKay could become an interesting factor for Tampa Bay as well, after making his debut both on the mound and at the plate.
General manager Erik Neander hopes to prioritize adding offense to a lineup that finished the season with 769 runs, seventh in the American League. Catcher Travis d’Arnaud hits the open market following his best season, hitting .263/.323/.459 in 92 games. While they weigh bringing back d’Arnaud, the Rays, who had the lowest payroll in the majors in 2019, will look to upgrade at designated hitter, with veteran names such as Edwin Encarnacion and Howie Kendrick being tossed around as solutions. Foundational players like Glasnow, Austin Meadows and Snell remain under team control, with Tampa Bay facing $73.8 million in 2020 salary commitments heading into the offseason. Neander will explore every possible option to make marginal improvements to an already strong team facing financial restrictions. — Joon Lee
Boston Red Sox: How will a new front office balance Mookie Betts and the budget?
2019 record: 84-78
2020 World Series odds: 10-1
Boston enters the offseason with a new chief baseball officer in Chaim Bloom and an offseason already filled to the brim with rumors about what the team will do with superstar Mookie Betts as he enters his contract year — but the questions don’t stop there. Bloom faces the challenge of getting the team’s payroll under the luxury tax threshold — balancing big-time salaries, from Betts to designated hitter J.D. Martinez to starters Chris Sale, David Price and Nathan Eovaldi — while a World Series-worthy roster remains the goal.
Bloom’s decisions over the next few months will not only shape Boston’s direction for next year, but for the foreseeable future. If Boston hopes to keep both Betts and Martinez for 2020, the organization will likely need to trade some of its bigger contract commitments, requiring the creativity that made Bloom a rising front-office star with the Rays. — Lee
Toronto Blue Jays: Can they build a winning team around the kids?
2019 record: 67-95
2020 World Series odds: 75-1
In 2019, the Toronto Blue Jays let the kids play. In 2020, will they be able to find anyone who can pitch? That is the overriding question this offseason for the position-rich Jays, who saw not only Vladimir Guerrero Jr. make his much-hyped MLB debut last season, but also Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette step into the limelight.
That impressive collection of controllable talent could go to waste in the coming years without a vastly improved pitching staff.
Despite team president and CEO Mark Shapiro telling reporters the team will need to “be aggressive on every level of the free-agent starting pitcher landscape,” the Blue Jays are unlikely to open the wallet for big-ticket items, but should be involved in acquiring second-tier veteran options like Gio Gonzalez, Julio Teheran or Michael Pineda. A middle-of-the-road farm system will make it difficult to trade for a top-tier arm.
Nonetheless, in a top-heavy division such as the AL East, a 95-loss team faces a Herculean task in breaking through by limiting itself to smaller-scale moves, particularly given the fact that Shapiro and general manager Ross Atkins have uncertain futures beyond the 2020 season. — Rivera
Baltimore Orioles: How long will they be at this level of awful?
2019 record: 54-108
2020 World Series odds: 1,000-1
“Improving” from 115 losses in 2018 to 108 last year shouldn’t be mistaken for the start of a turnaround, because as bad as the Orioles have been, GM Mike Elias’ total rebuild doesn’t really have an upward trajectory yet. While the farm system gets restocked, the team will still be scrounging for talent to field a quasi-competitive club in 2020.
That’s because the current group doesn’t have much room for growth. You’d be hard-pressed to name a current Oriole who might be a major contributor to the next good ballclub in Baltimore — unlike, say, the Astros, who at least had Jose Altuve during their bad patch of three consecutive 100-loss seasons.
Although Trey Mancini had an excellent year, it was his age-27 season, and he’s under club control for just three more years. Will the O’s be ready by then? Or will they have traded him? Middle infielder Jonathan Villar might be Elias’ best bargaining chip, but he’s just one year from free agency. Even their top rookie of 2019, lefty John Means, is just a couple of months younger than nominal top starter Dylan Bundy. — Christina Kahrl
How the four MLB MVP favorites unlocked their home run power
Cody Bellinger, who damn near broke the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ home run record this season, managed only one home run as a high school senior. Alex Bregman, who belted 41 homers despite also leading his sport in walks, never once reached double-digit home runs in college. Mike Trout, on a faster home run pace for his career than all but four players, went deep every 49 at-bats in the minor leagues. Christian Yelich, who has required only 277 games to produce 80 home runs for the Milwaukee Brewers, was typecast as a slap hitter as he neared his mid-20s.
Major league baseball is immersed in the most prodigious home run era of its history, a remarkable circumstance for a sport once tainted by prevalent steroid use. Pitchers are throwing harder than ever and aggressive defensive shifts are commonplace, so hitters are looking to lift, looking to pull and, mostly, looking to slug. The 2019 season, dominated by theories about juiced baseballs, produced 6,776 home runs, blowing past the previous record of 6,105, set only two years earlier.
Bellinger, Bregman, Trout and Yelich are products of that environment. But they’re more than that — they’re what happens when naturally gifted hitters evolve through a time defined by the long ball.
See, it’s not that they couldn’t hit home runs before; it’s that they didn’t care enough to. They were more concerned with the subtleties that produce great hitters, like controlling the strike zone, honing their opposite-field power and consistently meeting the baseball with the barrel of their bat. Their power wasn’t yet prevalent enough for home runs to result from all that.
Bellinger, Bregman, Trout and Yelich are now four of the game’s most complete hitters. They made up four of the top five spots in weighted runs created plus this past season, and on Thursday, they’re each expected to finish in the top two in Most Valuable Player voting for their respective leagues.
What follows is a look at each player’s path toward the most elusive part of his game — the home run.
Cody Bellinger was always young and always small for the level at which he played. He was already scrawny before growing 8 inches during his junior year of high school, shooting from 5-foot-8 to 6-foot-4. When the Dodgers made him their fourth-round pick in 2013, he weighed no more than 165 pounds. His frame was expanding too quickly. His metabolism was working too efficiently.
“He would eat and eat and eat, and he would never gain,” Bellinger’s father, Clay, said. “That’s just the way it was — it’s genetics.”
Clay, a former utility player who spent three seasons with the New York Yankees, could relate. He had the same body type when he graduated high school, then added weight later and grew stronger. He knew the same would happen for his son, and that with it, the power would ultimately emerge; those line drives Bellinger kept sending into the outfield gaps would begin to travel over the fence with more frequency. But watching his son become one of baseball’s most celebrated home run hitters was unimaginable.
“When you’re hitting one in Little League, when you’re hitting one in club ball, when you’re hitting one in high school, it’s kind of hard to envision that,” Clay said.
Bellinger hit one home run in his final season at Hamilton High School in Chandler, Arizona, and didn’t produce many more than that in other settings. He was almost always the best player on the field but was hardly ever the strongest. Teammates would tease him about not hitting home runs, but Bellinger seemed content. His hand-eye coordination was elite, his mechanics were uncommonly sound. He hit line drives all over the field and hardly ever chased pitches outside of the strike zone.
“If he wanted to, he probably could’ve hit more home runs,” Clay said. “But I think it would’ve taken away from everything else he was doing.”
Bellinger managed only four home runs in the 98 games he spent at the Dodgers’ Rookie-level affiliates in 2013 and ’14. The following year, the home runs came suddenly and frequently. Bellinger blasted 30 in 128 games for Rancho Cucamonga in 2015, then 26 in 117 games — with far fewer strikeouts — in Double-A and Triple-A in 2016. That was followed by 111 home runs in 450 major league games from 2017 to 2019, a mark topped by only five players during that stretch.
Bellinger at one point decided to consume an entire gallon of milk each day, working most of it into protein shakes. It helped him gain about 20 pounds over the course of one minor league offseason. In hopes of unlocking his power, the Dodgers altered Bellinger’s mechanics, incorporating a hand pump that was followed by a flatter bat angle, as detailed by The Athletic.
Bellinger still struggles to keep weight on, losing at least 10 pounds over the course of a season. He constantly alters the position of his hands to get into the right firing position, sometimes multiple times within the same game. At 24, he is already among the game’s best all-around players. But he remains a work in progress.
“I always thought that when he ever did get to the big leagues, he was going to hit .300 with 100 walks,” Clay said. “Now he’s finally hit .300, and I think he can do a whole lot better.”
Paul Mainieri was coming back from delivering a speech downtown. It was 10 o’clock at night. LSU’s baseball stadium was visible on the drive home. His wife turned to him and asked why the lights were on. Mainieri, the Tigers’ head coach, already knew the answer. It was Alex Bregman, who had probably convinced one of the student managers to open the gate, turn on the lights and hit him ground balls again. Mainieri confirmed his assumption the following morning and finally gave in, presenting Bregman with a key to the facility.
It was a favor to everybody.
“I’ve never had a player, in 38 years of coaching, that I could compare to Alex as far as his love of the game, his work ethic, just how much he put into it every day,” said Mainieri, who has spent the last 13 years running LSU’s baseball program. “You could just see that he had greatness written all over him because he was not going to allow himself to fail.”
Bregman’s size — 6 feet, 180 pounds — has hardly changed at all since he arrived on LSU’s campus six years ago, when major league scouts projected him as a catcher. His emergence as a home run hitter has nothing to do with growing into his body; it’s the result of an obsessive work ethic that augmented an elite skill set.
Bregman batted .337/.409/.514 and was a two-time All-America shortstop in three seasons at LSU, but he managed only 21 home runs in 196 games. He had the bat speed and hand-eye coordination to smoke line drives all over the field and the strike-zone recognition and two-strike approach to walk more often than he struck out. But home runs were elusive.
“It’s just that to hit home runs you have to elevate the ball, and he didn’t do that as much in college,” Mainieri said. “But he hit the ball just as hard in college as he is in the major leagues.”
Bregman played in 132 games over the college season and both of the Houston Astros‘ Class A levels in 2015 and managed only 13 home runs. He then played in 129 games in Double-A, Triple-A and the major leagues in 2016 and increased his home run total to 28. As a full-time major leaguer from 2017 to 2019, his home runs went from 19 to 31 to 41.
“I thought that he had more power in there and eventually it would show up,” Mainieri said. “But I never could’ve predicted that he would be a 40-home-run-a-year guy.”
Bregman has, like many others, altered his approach as a professional. He has actively tried to avoid ground balls, has pushed his hands back and has scrapped an inside-out swing for one that stays through the zone as long as possible, as outlined by FanGraphs. But he still rarely chases — Bregman swung at 15.5% of pitches outside the strike zone this season, the lowest rate in the majors — and his home run power isn’t as pronounced as one might think.
Bregman’s average home run distance in 2019 was 382 feet, which ranked 422nd among the 466 players with at least 50 batted balls, according to Statcast. The inflated home run total was the result of a home ballpark with a short left-field fence, in an era when balls are flying out like never before, from a player who refuses to be denied.
“You take a really good hitter like Alex and put him in an environment where more home runs are hit and he’s gonna hit home runs,” Mainieri said.
Most everyone seems to recall the first time they saw Mike Trout play in vivid detail, and Abe Flores is no exception. It was at the Los Angeles Angels‘ minor league facility in Tempe, Arizona, in 2009. Trout was 17 and playing for the organization’s Rookie-level affiliate. Flores sat in the bleachers with a stopwatch in hand. He saw Trout hit a chopper to the left side and turn it into an infield single.
“Oh my god,” Flores said to himself.
He couldn’t believe a kid who was already so big and strong also possessed that level of burst and speed. Flores spent 10 years with the Angels, the last four as director of player development from 2008 to 2011, a stretch that coincided with Trout’s rapid ascent through the minor leagues. Flores loved watching the simple act of Trout running first to third on singles but was also in awe of his tools as a hitter — the strike-zone discipline, the rapid hands, the way baseballs jumped off his bat.
But the power still was untapped.
Trout was built like a linebacker when he joined the Angels out of high school, but his swing traveled through a steep, downward path that resulted in too many ground balls, as mentioned by The Ringer a couple of years ago. He could often pull pitches with authority, but he lacked power the other way because of another flaw in his swing: Trout would get inside of pitches and “carve” them to right field, producing batted balls that seemed to drift as opposed to traveling on a line with backspin.
Trout slashed .341/.426/.516 in the minors but homered only 23 times in 290 games. Over time, however, Trout got his swing into a more conventional plane, staying through the zone for a longer period and adding more loft to his finish. By 2011, he homered 11 times in 91 games for Double-A Arkansas, which plays in what is historically a pitcher-friendly park. Then he reached the major leagues for good and quickly became a ferocious slugger, in addition to so much else. His 285 career home runs stand as the fifth most in history through a player’s age-27 season.
“He was a really special guy, even as a young player,” said Flores, who scouted for the Yankees and the Minnesota Twins after leaving the Angels. “And when you got next to him, how big and strong he was, how physical he was — you knew the power would come.”
Trout took pitches until he got a strike throughout his minor league career — not because anybody instructed him to, but because he believed it was important to build a deep catalog of pitches. When he reached the majors, he possessed an advanced feel for his strike zone, in addition to all the other gifts that were destined to make him an elite hitter.
Trout’s isolated power, which measures raw power through the amount of times someone hits for extra bases, has gone from .238 to .353 in eight major league seasons. In 2019, Trout averaged 419 feet on his home runs and ranked fourth in barrels per plate appearance, according to Statcast.
“I think the parallels between Mike and other players is that power is the last component that blossoms,” Flores said. “That comes. The more concerns are the ability to make consistent contact, understanding the strike zone, making consistent hard contact, and then the power will blossom in the end.”
There’s something about the fluid swing of a graceful left-handed hitter that makes baseball people swoon. It’s the easy rhythm, the natural flow, the seemingly effortless power, an artistry that appeals to the senses like nothing else in the sport.
Christian Yelich had this in abundance. The home run power was elusive early on, but sometimes he’d deliver the barrel right on time, and all the other components would fall into place, and he’d send a baseball sailing over the center-field batter’s eye at Roger Dean Stadium, where the Marlins’ Rookie and Class A teams play. That’s when Dan Jennings’ imagination would run wild.
“You’d look at that body,” Jennings said, “and you’d go, ‘How the hell does he do that?'”
Jennings, now a front-office assistant for the Washington Nationals, worked for the Marlins from 2002 to 2015, occupying a variety of roles that included general manager and interim manager.
When the Marlins made Yelich a first-round pick out of high school in 2010, Jennings envisioned someone who would win multiple batting titles and hit 20 to 30 home runs in the major leagues. Yelich’s hand-eye coordination was among the best Jennings had ever seen. He was long and lanky and flat-chested — “He was the guy that had the long muscles,” Jennings said — but he was bursting with quick-twitch, and occasionally the power appeared.
“He always hit a lot of doubles,” Jennings said. “You knew ultimately those doubles would turn into home runs.”
Yelich managed only 37 home runs in 309 career minor league games, then hit 16 in 270 major league games in 2014 and ’15. Over the next two years, he produced 39 home runs. The two after that, with the Brewers in 2018 and 2019, resulted in more than double that total — 80 homers, including 44 this season even though he was limited to 130 games because of injury.
Over time, Yelich came to embody the evolution of the modern hitter, sending more pitches to his pull side while increasing the percentage of fly balls. In the summer of 2018, he began standing more upright, with his hands higher and his shoulders more square, getting out in front of pitches as opposed to letting them travel deep into the strike zone, a development that was detailed in ESPN’s Body Issue.
But the key to everything, Jennings said, was consistently “hitting against a stiff front side,” which involved Yelich locking his right knee at the point of contact, creating the necessary leverage. Everything else was about individual comfort.
“He has a gift,” Jennings said. “I mean, one day God decided to make a hitter and he made Christian Yelich. The rest of it was gonna come from his hard work and him understanding his swing and unlocking the rest of it. He’s done it. He’s a gifted, gifted athlete, he’s a blessed hitter, and he worked really hard to get the rest of it to become usable for power.”
Yelich appeared in a popular MLB commercial that aired in March. It involved a mock news conference with all of the game’s biggest stars making increasingly more audacious predictions about the upcoming season. At one point, Yelich proclaimed: “I’m gonna hit 50 home runs this year.”
Jennings saw it and laughed.
“It’s one of those statements that make you go, ‘What the hell,'” Jennings said. “And sure enough, he comes in and he almost does it.”
MLB Awards Week — Verlander, deGrom earn their second Cy Youngs
MLB awards week is here, and that means it’s time to hand out some hardware as baseball’s best of 2019 vie for MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year honors.
Will Mike Trout hold off Alex Bregman for his third American League MVP award? Did Cody Bellinger separate himself from Christian Yelich and Anthony Rendon as the National League’s most valuable player? Which Astros ace will take home Cy Young honors in the AL? Here’s when each award will be announced, the finalists to win and a quick take to get you in the know. Be sure to check back during the week as we update this page with winners and more key information.
MLB awards schedule
Monday: AL and NL Rookie of the Year
Tuesday: AL and NL Manager of the Year
Wednesday: AL and NL Cy Young Award
Thursday: AL and NL MVP
(All awards announced at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.)
Cy Young (Wednesday)
Why Verlander won the AL Cy Young Award: Verlander won his first Cy Young Award in 2011 and then had second-place finishes in 2012 (to David Price, losing by four points), 2016 (to Rick Porcello, losing by five points even though he had six more first-place votes) and 2018 (losing by 15 points to Blake Snell). In 2012 and 2016, he had the edge over the winner in Baseball-Reference WAR and in 2018 he led the AL in FanGraphs WAR. So this could easily be his fifth Cy Young instead of his second.
Why Verlander over Cole? In a coin flip of a debate, Verlander held two minor edges over Cole: He threw 10⅔ more innings and he held batters to a .171 average versus Cole’s almost-as-ridiculous .185. Verlander also had a slightly lower walk rate, giving him another small edge in OBP allowed. While Cole was dominant over the final four months, winning his last 16 decisions, he wasn’t great the first two months, and Verlander was more consistent with an ERA of 2.51 or lower in five of six months. Throw in a no-hitter, 21 wins and his first 300-strikeout season, and Verlander finally won a close vote. — David Schoenfield
Why deGrom won the Cy Young Award (again):
For much of the season, it seemed like this was Hyun-Jin Ryu’s award to lose … and then the Dodgers ace lost it thanks to a 7.48 August ERA, opening the door for deGrom to win his second straight Cy Young. The Mets ace wasn’t quite as good overall as he was during his incredible 2018 season, but he was pretty close during the second half of the season when he went 7-1 with a 1.44 ERA and help opposing hitters to a .179 batting average after the All-Star break. — Dan Mullen
Whose second Cy Young is more impressive, deGrom’s or Verlander’s?
I’ve got to go with Verlander here. He’s 36 and already a lock Hall of Famer, but this is a big notch for his legacy. Just eight different pitchers (11 total times) have won the award at his age or older, and even though I’m not totally convinced he was the best pitcher on the Astros this season (Cole was really good), that’s the kind of fact that will look really good on his plaque in Cooperstown one day. Oh, and perhaps most importantly, he saved us from another year of angry Kate Upton awards analysis tweets. — Mullen
Dan stole my punchline. I’ll also go with Verlander, considering he had much tougher competition with teammate Cole than deGrom did in the NL. Cole won 16 decisions in a row, fanned 326 batters, set a record with nine consecutive double-digit strikeout games and bested Pedro Martinez’s single-season record for strikeout. That’s how good Verlander was: He was better than THAT. As for deGrom, Ryu and Scherzer both had bad Septembers and Scherzer also missed time with an injury, opening the door for him to win again. — Schoenfield
Quick take: Trout’s September injury opened the door for a close race with Bregman. The big question is how much of a boost voters will give Bregman for playing on a winning team and appearing in 22 more games than Trout in 2019.
Quick take: A strong case could be made for any of the three finalists. Bellinger might be the favorite after Yelich’s season ended in mid-September and with much of Rendon’s best work coming in October. Remember, this is a regular-season award.
Rookie of the Year: Yordan Alvarez and Pete Alonso
Yordan Alvarez’s ability to clobber the long ball in the middle of the Astros’ lineup awarded him the 2019 AL Rookie of the Year.
Why Alvarez won AL Rookie of the Year:
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. was the overwhelming choice as top rookie heading into the season, but this was an easy call for voters, even though Alvarez didn’t make his debut until June 9 — yes, he homered — and spent most of his time at DH. He hit .313/.412/.655 with 27 home runs in 87 games. Prorate his numbers over 150 games, and you get 47 home runs and 134 RBIs. Among players with at least 300 PAs, he ranked behind only Christian Yelich and Mike Trout in wOBA and behind only Trout in wRC+.
It was one of the great rookie offensive performances in the game’s history. Alvarez’s .655 slugging percentage was the highest by a rookie with at least 300 PAs, and only Shoeless Joe Jackson in 1911 had a higher adjusted OPS. Alvarez’s fellow finalists, Brandon Lowe and John Means, both made the All-Star team. Maybe Guerrero or Bo Bichette is the player you would most want for the next decade, but no AL rookie impressed this season like the young Astros slugger did. — David Schoenfield
Why Alonso won NL Rookie of the Year:
Year of the Home Run or not, hitting 53 homers as a rookie is a pretty good way to state your Rookie of the Year case. Alonso wasn’t just the best rookie in the league this year; he was the best offensive first baseman in baseball.
Fellow finalists Mike Soroka and Fernando Tatis Jr. both showed that they’re well on their way to stardom as well, and it would have been interesting to see how ballots would have looked if Tatis stayed healthy all season, but it’s no surprise that Alonso ran away with the voting here. — Dan Mullen
Which Rookie of the Year would you rather have for the next five years?
Sign me up for Pete Alonso. Yordan Alvarez’s numbers in just over half a season project very close to what Alonso did for a full season, and I think the Astros slugger might have even more potential at the plate, but this isn’t just about the numbers. There was an “it” factor to everything Alonso did this season that I’m buying for the face of my franchise. He handled everything that comes with being a Mets phenom in New York while showing a magnetic personality at every chance.
A rookie slugger becoming the Polar Bear, outlasting Vlad Jr. for the Home Run Derby crown, ripping off his shirt during pennant-race celebrations and tearing up on the field after his record-setting 53rd home run — those are some of the best memories of the entire MLB season, and the guy who produced them in his first year in the Big Apple is the guy I want going forward. — Mullen
Dan is spot-on about Alonso having the “it” factor. The way he won over New Yorkers with his enthusiasm, genuineness, prodigious power and bare-chested interviews was impressive and immediately made him one of the faces of the sport. But I’ll take Alvarez over the next five years, even if he is mostly limited to DH (though I think he has enough athleticism to be not awful if he had to play left field on a regular bases). Of course, Alonso isn’t exactly a Gold Glover at first base.
Anyway, the big difference between the two: Alvarez is more than two years younger, so there is still some growth potential with his bat. Alvarez also has an elite hit tool, as evidenced by his .313 average. He hit more line drives and fewer grounders and popups than Alonso, and he had a slightly lower strikeout rate and higher walk rate. Both are going to mash a lot of home runs, but Alvarez is more likely to post the higher batting averages and higher OBPs. — Schoenfield
Manager of the Year: Rocco Baldelli and Mike Shildt
AL: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins
Runners-up: Aaron Boone, New York Yankees; Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
Why Baldelli won AL Manager of the Year:
In his first season as Twins skipper, the 38-year-old Baldelli guided the Twins to 101 wins, the second-most since the franchise moved to Minnesota in 1961 (the 1965 team won 102 games). It was a 23-win improvement from 2018, and it gave the Twins their first division title since 2010. The Twins bashed an all-time-record 307 home runs as five players hit 30-plus home runs, and Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano had excellent comeback seasons after disappointing years in 2018.
Baldelli’s best work probably came in coaxing excellent work out of a no-name bullpen. He deployed Taylor Rogers first as a high-leverage setup guy, then as the closer. Trevor May and Tyler Duffey joined Rogers with sub-3.00 ERAs. The Twins held the division lead since April 10 and built their lead to 10 games, but the Indians rallied and caught them on Aug. 9. Baldelli kept the team together, and the Twins finished strong, going 31-15 down the stretch and pulling away by eight games. — Schoenfield
NL: Mike Shildt, St. Louis Cardinals
Runners-up: Craig Counsell, Milwaukee Brewers; Brian Snitker, Atlanta Braves
Why Shildt won NL Manager of the Year:
Shildt’s Cardinals were 44-44 at the All-Star break before they rode a strong second half to St. Louis’ first NL Central crown and playoff berth since 2015. If one series can win you this award, the Cardinals’ four-game sweep of the Cubs in September at Wrigley — with all four victories coming by one run — might have done just that for the second-year skipper.
Shildt’s Cardinals committed the fewest errors in the National League, led the NL in stolen bases and got strong starting pitching — especially from ace Jack Flaherty — as they edged the Cubs and Brewers in a tight NL Central race. — Mullen
Which active manager would you most want in charge of your team?
You know what’s funny? No manager who won 100 games has won a manager of the year award since Lou Piniella in 2001, when the Mariners won 116 games. My point is that sometimes we overlook the managers who have the most talent — AJ Hinch, Dave Roberts, Aaron Boone, Alex Cora, Dave Martinez, Terry Francona (Boston days) — and give extra credit to the guys who seemingly do a lot with less — Kevin Cash, Bob Melvin, Craig Counsell, Terry Francona (Cleveland days). All those guys are good managers. Any of them can run my fictional team.
The manager role today is much different than that of the managers of 30 or 40 years ago. Earl Weaver rarely spoke to his players. Communication with players now is arguably the most important part of the job, along with communicating the organization’s goals and vision to the media. All those guys are good at that. Forced to pick, I’ll go with AJ Hinch. He has experienced failure (he was fired in Arizona), which I think is important. He has developed young players, which is important as today’s game gets younger and younger. He is polished and smart with the media, and when the Astros were suffering an organizational meltdown at the start of the World Series after the clubhouse incident in the ALCS, Hinch was the one guy who immediately said, “This is wrong.” He commands respect, with a physical presence that reminds me of Joe Torre. Oh, he has also won 100 games three years in a row. — Schoenfield
Let’s see. If I’m managing a team, these are the characteristics I value most: ability to communicate the team’s message internally and to the media/public, ability to manage a pitching staff, ability to combine analytics and traditional scouting, ability to handle adversity.
A lot of managers check some of the boxes. But Craig Counsell is the one guy I know who can do everything here because he has been asked to and has succeeded, with back-to-back playoff appearances in Milwaukee. — Mullen
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