The clock is ticking down on the MLB season and with the exception of two tight races for the last wild card playoff spots in the AL and NL (and maybe the races for the AL East and NL Central crowns), playoff teams are all but set.
On individual levels, we have seen some amazing and astounding performances in a season where Major League Baseball set a new record for total homers. It was set when Kansas City’s Alex Gordon slammed the 5,694th dinger off Toronto’s Ryan Tepera on Tuesday night.
The races for the major league’s major awards have also had some drama and on Wednesday night Boston’s Chris Sale became the first American League pitcher in 18 years to strike out 300 in a season, with 13 Ks in a 9-0 win over Baltimore. To say he’s a Cy Young candidate would be an understatement.
With Sale’s feat in mind, we got to wondering who would cop baseball’s major awards this year. Some of them we even had to consult the crystal ball for.
AL Relief Man Award – Craig Kimbrel, Boston Red Sox
Tampa’s Alex Colome may lead the AL in saves by a wide margin with 45, but Kimbrel, who has 33, has better overall numbers. He’s got the best WAR at 3.4 (Colome is 0.7), best WHIP among relievers at 0.66 (Colome’s is 1.19) and best ERA of 1.38 (Colome’s is 3.17). As well, Kimbrel has blown just four save opportunities, while Colome has six. Adding to his near slam dunk as the AL Relief man is the fact he has struck out 121 batters (most by a reliever) in just 65 innings, while walking only 14 and allowing a paltry 29 hits. He hasn’t allowed a run against in his last nine outings (9 IP, two hits, 18 Ks) as the Red Sox surge to the AL East title. And he’s only been tagged for four earned runs since the beginning of August. Little wonder the two-time Relief Man winner’s nickname is ‘Dirty Craig.’
NL Relief Man Award – Kenley Jansen, Los Angeles Dodgers
Jansen won his first Relief Man award with the Dodgers last year and we see no reason he shouldn’t repeat in 2017. The fireballing native of Curacao currently sits tied for second in saves with Arizona’s Fernando Rodney at 38 (Colorado’s Greg Holland leads with 40). A look at his other numbers, though, suggests that the Relief Man award is his to lose. Jansen currently owns the best WHIP (0.74) and ERA (1.27) among National League relievers and is second in strikeouts only to Milwaukee’s Corey Knebel, who is also a Relief Man candidate (101 to 119). In addition, Jansen has blown but one opportunity in 39 and has issued just seven walks in 63.2 innings. He’s been perfect in save opportunities since his lone blown save on July 23 (14 in a row).
AL Hank Aaron Award – Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
The Hank Aaron award is given to a player based on hits, homers and RBI and is voted on by baseball broadcasters and color analysts, as well as fans. If aggregate means anything, Baltimore’s Schoop has a very good shot at it. With 174 hits, 32 homers and 105 RBI, his combined total is 311, which is four higher than his closest competitor, Chicago’s Jose Abreu. In terms of his placement in all three categories in the American League, Schoop tied for fifth in hits, tied for ninth in home runs and is second in RBI. Put into perspective, last year’s winner, the retired David Ortiz had an aggregate of 334 (169 hits, 38 HR, 127 RBI). Schoop may not eclipse that, but he still has nine games to play. We like his chances.
NL Hank Aaron Award – Charlie Blackmon, Colorado Rockies
In addition to a possible batting title, Colorado’s Charlie Blackmon should have a leg up for the NL Hank Aaron award. He leads all major league hitters with 201 hits and is first in the senior circuit in average at .331. The seven-year veteran and two-time all-star is easily having his best overall season, with 34 doubles, a NL leading 14 triples, personal best 35 homers and 95 RBI. By comparison, the 2016 NL Hank Aaron winner Kris Bryant had 176 hits, 39 homers and 102 RBI. Blackmon’s aggregate is 331 to Bryant’s 317 and is only three behind aggregate leader and teammate Nolan Arenado (also a candidate for Hank Aaron). With nine games to go, Blackmon is surely tracking.
AL Manager of the Year – Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
Many venerable prognosticators, including those from USA Today, Bleacher Report and ESPN, gave the New York Yankees virtually no chance of finishing first in the AL East. In fact, most picked the Bronx Bombers to finish around .500 and in fourth place. How those predictions have been way, way off. A big reason for the Yankees ascendance in the standings this season has been the guidance of manager Joe Girardi. As of Thursday, the Yanks sported a record of 85-67 and were 7.0 games clear of Minnesota (78-74) for the last wild card spot and only three games behind Boston for top spot in the AL East. While Yankees sluggers like Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez have surely helped the surge, Girardi has managed a considerably younger Yanks team to a great season. He has also been deft with a pitching staff that has been without starter Michael Pineda for a month and a half and capably platooned Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the closer role.
NL Manager of the Year – Torey Lovullo, Arizona Diamondbacks
Like the Yankees, the D-Backs got little love from the baseball eggheads before the season began, picked mostly to finish around .500 and well out of first place in the National League West (some even picked the horrible San Francisco Giants to finish first). Torey Lovullo, a former journeyman infielder turned manager, has the Diamondbacks in the first wild card position in the senior circuit with a record of 88-65, 5.5 games ahead of second wild card spot holder Colorado. All this, too, in his very first season as bench boss in the big leagues. Lovullo has gotten his team to use speed (94 stolen bases, seventh in baseball) and power (204 homers, 13th) to score the eighth most runs in the bigs with 755. He’s also gotten good mileage out of a pitching staff that has the major’s third lowest ERA (3.61). He’s got our vote.
AL Rookie of the Year – Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
For a while after the all-star game, it looked like super-sized rookie Aaron Judge had come back to earth, giving Boston’s Andrew Benintendi an inside track on AL Rookie of the Year honors. The big man, though, has come back from a month and a half swoon to put himself back into the conversation as a slam dunk winner. He has 45 homers to lead the AL, which is just four off the all-time record (held by Mark McGwire, who had 49 in 1987). While he has been a prolific free swinger (199 strikeouts), Judge is no one-trick pony, hitting for average (.277) and getting on base regularly (116 walks, .412 on base percentage). In addition his WAR is an off-the-charts 6.8 and his OPS a rookie best 1.003. Judge has also proven to be a capable right fielder, sporting a .981 fielding percentage, with five assists. Not only is he Rookie of the Year material, but he will get votes for MVP, too.
NL Rookie of the Year – Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
It doesn’t hurt that super freshman Cody Bellinger plays in one of baseball’s biggest markets, having his exploits regularly televised in La-la land. But, he has made a name for himself, regardless of all the talking heads gushing over him. Bellinger seems to be the consummate “five tool” player, hitting for good average (.275), power (66 extra base hits, including 38 homers) and production (90 RBI), while utilizing speed (10 stolen bases) and good defence in three different positions (a collective .994 fielding percentage playing first base and two outfield positions). The playoff bound and likely NL West champion Dodgers owe much to where they are in the standings to the kid’s outstanding first season. He also tops all NL rookies in WAR at 4.1 and iis second in OPS at .958.
AL Cy Young Award – Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
On his 300 strikeouts alone, Sale could be a Cy Young winner in a walk. In his last outing against Baltimore Wednesday, he was dominant, allowing just four hits while striking out 13 in eight innings en route to a 9-0 victory. Those Ks pushed him to that lofty total, which hasn’t been seen in the American League since 1999. The lanky six-time all-star is in line for his first ever Cy Young and was an all-star for the sixth consecutive season. He leads the American League in wins with 17 (17-7 record) and innings pitched (209.1), not to mention strikeouts (48 more than closest competitor Corey Kluber, who is also a candidate). Sale is second in the AL in WHIP (0.95) and is second in ERA among starters (2.75). On top of that all, he is just plain dominant, leading the majors in quality starts with 23 (out of 31 starts total).
NL Cy Young Award – Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
The NL East Champion Nationals have an embarrassment of riches, when it comes to their starting rotation. They have four starters with double digit wins and three who, arguably, could all be Cy Young winners. But, we are tabbing Max Scherzer to win it over teammates Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez, along with the usual suspects in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. Overall, Scherzer is second to Gonzalez in quality starts (22 to 21) and leads the NL in strikeouts with 253 (he was strikeout king last year, too and took home the Cy Young). His 15 wins put him tied for second with three other starters and he leads the league in complete games with two. For the analytical set, his WAR of 6.6 is second only to Gonzalez and his 2.59 ERA is also second to Kershaw (2.26). This will be a close vote, in our estimation, but we feel Scherzer has the ‘X’ factor and should repeat.
ALCS MVP – Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians
It says right here that the Indians will win the American League pennant again this season. That ridiculous recent 22-game win streak, finally stopped last Friday by Kansas City, has been followed by another four-game streak. During that never-ending streak, big free agent acquisition Edwin Encarnacion did his part, going 19-for-71 (.267) with five homers, 15 walks and 15 RBI. For the season, the playoff-tested veteran is hitting .254 with a .377 on base percentage, 36 homers and 97 RBI. Since the streak ended, Encarnacion has belted two more homers in four wins, with seven more RBI. We think that the AL Central champs will be hungry come playoff time and “Edwing” will rise to the occasion. He has a flair for the dramatic, having clubbed a game-winning three-run homer in the 2016 wild card game against Baltimore. Overall he has a .280 post-season average in 20 games, with four homers and 14 RBI.
NLCS MVP – Daniel Murphy, Washington Nationals
Can lightning strike twice for Washington’s all-star second baseman Daniel Murphy? We wholeheartedly think so. In 2015, the slugging second sacker went on a tear for the New York Mets, cranking four of his seven post-season homers and driving in six runs to cop NLCS MVP honors against Chicago. He is a playoff dynamo, sporting a .351 average in 19 games, with seven dingers and 17 RBI. The Nats have already clinched the NL East and come the NLDS, Murphy should have overcome some recent hamstring tightness to put his big bat to use. He has followed up a stellar 2016 season (.347 average, NL leading 47 doubles, 25 homers and 104 RBI) with another great one. In 135 games, Murphy has a .317 average, 41 doubles, two triples, 22 home runs and 89 RBI. One to watch for.
World Series MVP – Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians
The Chicago Cubs may have beaten the Cleveland Indians for a long awaited championship in 2016, but they didn’t beat Indians’ staff ace Corey Kluber. If the 2014 Cy Young winner could have pitched all seven games in the Fall Classic, the Tribe would have celebrated ending their own long drought. Kluber stymied the Cubs in games 1 and 4 of the 2016 World Series, winning both starts and limiting Chicago to nine hits and one earned run in 12 total innings (six per start), while striking out 15 and walking just one. He had a no decision in the wild game 7, and was probably pooped, going four innings and giving up four earned runs before being pulled in an eventual 8-7 loss. This year, Kluber is again a Cy Young candidate, sporting a 17-4 record, with league leading 2.35 ERA and three complete game shutouts. If the Tribe make it back, expect him to get the ball in the World Series opener and never look back.
NL MVP – Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
Yes, he plays in homer friendly Coors Field, but no player in the National League has been as important to his team’s fortunes as Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado. And that tired argument that Coors has inflated his considerable stats this year doesn’t hold water, as he has as many homers on the road (17) as he does in the friendly confines and only seven more extra base hits overall. As of Thursday, the fifth-year veteran was leading the NL in doubles with 42 and RBI with 125, along with seven triples, 34 homers, a .304 batting average and .579 slugging percentage. The two time Silver Slugger award recipient also sported a .946 OPS. He has also aided the Rockies in their playoff hunt (they are one game up in the last wild card spot race on Milwaukee), by playing good defence at the hot corner. He is in line for a third straight Gold Glove, with a .978 fielding percentage.
AL MVP – Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
It’s been nine years since a second baseman won the AL MVP (Dustin Pedroia, 2008) and for his efforts this season, Houston 2B Jose Altuve is deserving. The diminutive Venezualan was close in 2016, finishing third to Mike Trout and we think he has the overall game to cop his first MVP this season. The little guy with surprising pop in his bat and superior defensive skills has played a huge role in Houston’s AL West domination and will factor in during the playoffs, too. Altuve leads all of baseball in hitting with a .348 average (AL leading 195 hits) and should win his third batting crown and second in a row. Of his hits he has 66 extra base hits, including 38 doubles, four triples and 24 home runs. The five-tool all-star has also stolen 31 bases and has an OPS of .967. As part of a great middle infield with SS Carlos Correa, Altuve was carrying a .981 fielding percentage into Thursday night’s action. Our pick for AL MVP.