|Paul Molitor, Minnesota Twins manager
(Photo by Paul Morse via Wiki Commons)
|Phillies GM Klentak squarely on the hot seat this off-season|
|IBWAA members submitted 2017 MLB Awards ballots|
With the four Major League Baseball Division Series each heading towards their climactic moments, this marks a good time to take a quick look back at the regular season.
As a lifetime member of the IBWAA (Internet Baseball Writers Association of America), the end of each MLB regular season means that my awards ballot is due.
The IBWAA asks each of its members to vote on five categories in both the National and American Leagues. Those five are the MVP and Cy Young, as well as each league’s top reliever, rookie, and manager.
As with the vast majority of voters in the IBWAA, my own selections were certainly based on performance. However, also as with every other voter, subjectivity comes in to play.
There are almost always multiple individuals deserving of awards consideration. That was most definitely the case this season. I found this past 2017 MLB season to be one of the toughest ever for which to fill out an awards ballot.
For the MVP Award, I always consider that middle word carefully: valuable. In addition to tremendous statistical seasons, I want my Most “Valuable” Player to have provided his team invaluable performances defensively and at clutch moments, as well as providing leadership.
For me, when two players each have great statistical seasons, but one of those players is with a winning/contending club, the contender is going to finish ahead on my ballot most times.
Hit 50 home runs, or win 25 games on the mound, for a 4th place team that finishes a dozen or more games out of the playoffs? To me, your losing team could have done that without your “valuable” performance.
I don’t ignore great statistical performances from players on losing ball clubs. You’re just not going to get my first place MVP vote in the vast majority of seasons.
The IBWAA asks each voter to rank their top ten finishers in each MVP race, the top five finishers for the Cy Young Award, and the top three in each of the other categories.
The IBWAA will announce the winners in November. Follow the IBWAA Twitter feed for awards results, as well as regularly for great baseball writing by our members.
With all that said, here is the ballot that I submitted for the 2017 MLB Awards.
National League Most Valuable Player
|Twins visit the Yankees for the 2017 AL Wildcard Game|
On Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, the New York Yankees will host the Minnesota Twins in the American League Wildcard Game.
The Yanks are skippered by Joe Girardi, who has never experienced a losing season in his 10 years at the helm.
Girardi has accumulated a 910-710 record, and led the team to three AL East Division crowns. He also guided baseball’s marquee franchise to their most recent World Series championship back in the fall of 2009.
Girardi accumulated 1,100 hits across 15 seasons in the big leagues, which included four in Yankee pin stripes. Those four years, from 1996-99, coincided with the franchise’ most recent dynastic run. Girardi would win three World Series rings as a player with those Yankees teams.
Over in the visiting dugout, the Twins will be guided by Paul Molitor. One of the greatest hitters of all-time, the Hall of Famer amassed 3,319 base knocks over a storied 21-year career. He was a 7x All-Star and a 4x Silver Slugger Award winner.
Molitor was the MVP of the 1993 World Series while a player with the Toronto Blue Jays, and was also runner-up for both the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year and 1993 AL Most Valuable Player awards.
As the Twins manager, the Saint Paul native has compiled a 227-259 record over three seasons. Two of his three years have resulted in winnings campaigns. But a year ago, his Twins club finished at 59-103, the worst record in baseball.
This season, Girardi’s Yankees finished at 91-71, just two games behind the arch-rival Boston Red Sox in the AL East. Molitor’s Twins team was one of baseball’s most unlikely stories, and finished 85-77, good enough to capture the second AL Wildcard spot by five games.
During the first decade of this century, the Yankees ousted the Twins from the American League Postseason four times. New York defeated Minnesota in the ALDS in 2003, 2004, 2009 and 2010, the last two coming in three-game sweeps.
The host Yankees will enter the game as favorites, and prohibitive ones to many prognosticators. However, there are very good reasons to believe that each of these teams can win, moving on to a date with the defending AL champion Cleveland Indians in the ALDS.
Taking the mound for New York will be the club’s youngest starter, but perhaps it’s most talented. 23-year old Luis Severino went 14-6 with a 2.98 ERA and 1.040 WHIP in his first full season in the big league rotation. Severino went to the All-Star Game for the first time this year. He allowed just 150 hits over his 193.1 innings, with a 230/51 K:BB ratio.
Theoretically, every arm on the active staff is available for this loser-goes-home game. But Girardi has an excellent variety of regular bullpen options in righties David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Chad Green, Adam Warren, and Dellin Betances, and lefties Jaime Garcia and Chasen Shreve.
At the end of games, Aroldis Chapman provides an overpowering closing option. Chapman struggled some at times this season, but allowed just 37 hits over 50.1 innings with a 69/20 K:BB ratio.
Severino provides a strong start in front of a juiced-up home crowd at Yankee Stadium, and the talented bullpen holds a lead. Judge and company provide offensive fireworks reminiscent of Octobers past in the Bronx. That’s the recipe for a Yankees victory, and it is what most would see as the most likely scenario to play out in this AL Wildcard Game.
WHY THE TWINS WILL WIN
The Yankees aren’t the only effective offensive attack in this game. Minnesota finished seventh in MLB, fourth in the American League, with 815 runs scored. Their clutch lineup finished sixth in RBI in all of baseball this season.
30-year old 2nd baseman Brian Dozier may be the best all-around player on the team, and is one of the most underrated in the game. Dozier led the club this year with 34 homers, 93 RBI, 106 runs scored, and 68 extra-base hits. His 16 stolen bases were second on the club.
Center fielder Byron Buxton is both dynamic and enigmatic. His 29 stolen bases led the Twins, and he also provided 16 home runs. One of the fastest and most exciting base runners in the game today, Buxton is a premier defender as well, and could prove to be a difference-maker in one game.
“He just has a lot of ways to impact the game,” Molitor said per Jake Seiner with the AP. “He might not get a hit and might be the most important player on the field, and there’s not a lot of people who can fill that bill.“
34-year old veteran Saint Paul native Joe Mauer is a local legend. The Twins first round selection way back in the 2001 MLB Draft out of high school has spent his entire 14-year big league career in a Twins uniform.
Mauer produced his best season in years, hitting .305 with a .384 OBP, 36 doubles, and 71 RBI. He has been a part of four Minnesota playoff teams, none of which has ever advanced past the ALDS. He is also another Twins player with the potential to take over and win one game all by himself.
“I’m really excited for this group to experience this,” Mauer said per Seiner. “There’s a lot of guys in our clubhouse that this is their first go-round. I was just real happy. It’s been a special year to see these guys kind of grow.“
Rather than one or two big bats, the Twins tend to nickle-and-dime teams to death. They receive clutch production up and down their lineup from those already noted, but also from players such as left fielder Eddie Rosario, shortstop Jorge Polanco, and third baseman Eduardo Escobar.
The Twins have a huge hole in their lineup for this Wildcard Game. The regular third baseman, Miguel Sano, crushed 28 homers and drove in 78 runs in just 114 games this season. Problem is, Sano fouled a ball of his shin back in August, causing him to miss more than a month. He was activated from the Disabled List just this past weekend, and went 1-8 in limited action.
The Twins considered activating him right up until today, and in fact Molitor himself believed his slugger would at least be available to pinch-hit as recently as Monday. However, late word is that Sano will not be available for this game in any capacity.
Starting on the mound will be 34-year old Ervin Santana. The veteran righty went 16-8 with a 3.28 ERA, allowing just 177 hits over a staff-leading 211.1 innings pitched this season.
Molitor’s bullpen is not nearly as strong as that of his counterpart Girardi. 26-year old righty Trevor Hildenberger may be his best option. He will also turn to righties Tyler Duffey, Ryan Pressly, and Matt Belisle and lefty Taylor Rogers.
Don’t be surprised to see the skipper turn to one of his key starters instead. Rookie righty Jose Berrios might be the most talented arm on the staff. The 23-year old was used out of the pen over this past weekend in order to keep him sharp and get him prepped for just such a possibility.
Santana keeps the Twins in the game for five innings. Berrios provides three big ones out of the pen. The Twins hunt and peck at the plate, chipping away for a couple runs here, a couple there, and pull out a tight victory. That’s the most likely recipe for an upset road victory, and a date with the division-rival Indians in the ALDS.
THE MATCHUP AND PREDICTION
The teams met six times during the regular season, with the Yankees taking four of the six games. The Twins captured two of three in Minnesota back in mid-July. The Yanks then swept a three-game set in the Bronx just two weeks ago.
Santana started and lost the opener of that September series in his only appearance against New York this season. Though it was a narrow 2-1 defeat, he did not pitch all that well, surrendering two runs on seven hits over 5.2 innings.
Severino pitched even worse in his September start against the Twins, his lone appearance against Minnesota this year. He gave up three earned runs on five hits over just three innings.
Another poor effort from Severino could prove disastrous for the hosts. But I believe he bounces back, pitching well enough to keep his team in the game. The bullpen then shuts Minnesota down. Meanwhile, big Yankees bats do damage.
“We’re just going to try to treat it like we have the whole season coming here,” Judge said per CBS New York. “We played well at home. I think once Severy throws that first pitch and we get the game rolling, it will all be the same. I think the buildup before the game is nerve-racking, but once we step out on the field, it’s the same game we’ve been playing since we were little kids.”
I’ll predict the Yankees to win by something like a 7-3 final score. That should set up quite an interesting matchup with the Indians in one ALDS beginning on Thursday night.
|Molitor has guided surprising Twins to verge of postseason|
The Minnesota Twins downed the repeat AL Central Division champion Cleveland Indians on Tuesday by an 8-6 score at Progressive Field.
With the victory, Minnesota lowered it’s ‘Magic Number’ to just 1 in order to clinch the final American League Wildcard playoff berth.
It appears to be a forgone conclusion at this point. A year after finishing 59-103, the worst record in all of MLB, the Twins are going to the playoffs.
There are many reasons that one can point to when looking for reasons as to how this happened. They have developed a versatile lineup. There is a chance that they finish with five hitters who each slam 20+ home runs, and 4-5 players who could steal bases in double digits.
On the mound, rookie Jose Berrios has been everything that the organization hoped as he climbed through their system to become a top prospect.
Berrios has gone 13-8 with a 3.93 ERA. The 23-year old righty has allowed just 129 hits over 144.1 innings in his 25 starts. His emergence has given the Twins a legit 1-2 rotation punch with veteran Ervin Santana.
They are receiving strong leadership and somewhat of a turn-back-the clock season of production from veteran Joe Mauer.
The popular St. Paul native is enjoying his best season since 2013, when he was honored with the last of his six career AL All-Star appearances and his fifth career Silver Slugger.
But possibly the biggest reason for Minnesota’s success has been the performance of yet another homegrown product, manager Paul Molitor.
Molitor is another St. Paul native. Like Mauer, he was a product of Cretin High School and Cretin-Derham High School. Unlike his first baseman, who was drafted right out of those high school ranks, Molitor also attended the University of Minnesota.
Following a 21-year career that ended with three final seasons playing for the Twins from 1996-98, Molitor was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
He finished that playing career with 3,319 hits as well as a career .304 average and 504 stolen bases. This made him one of just five players in history to finish with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 average, and 500 steals.
Molitor had been the 1978 AL Rookie of the Year runner-up, was a 7x AL All-Star, and a 4x Silver Slugger. In 1993, Molitor was the runner-up in the AL Most Valuable Player voting. Also that year he helped lead the Toronto Blue Jays to their second straight World Series crown, becoming MVP of the Fall Classic.
Following his retirement as an active player, “Molly” was hired as the Twins bench coach to longtime skipper Tom Kelly, serving three years in that position before joining the Seattle Mariners as their hitting coach.
Molitor returned to the Minnesota organization after just one year in Seattle, and spent the next nine years coaching throughout the Twins minor league system. In 2014 he was brought back to help coach the big leaguers.
Finally in 2015, Molitor was offered and accepted the chance to manage the Twins. His first season resulted in a winning 83-79 record, the club’s first winning campaign in five years. That was followed by last season’s worst-in-baseball debacle.
Kelly has seen this before in Minnesota, first-hand. The Twins skipper from 1986-2001, he led the franchise to it’s only two World Series championships in 1987 and 1991. That ’91 Twins club went from being the AL’s worst team in 1990 to world champions the following season.
“I think Mr. Molitor and the staff have gotten a lot out of the players this year,” said Kelly per Sid Hartman of the Star Tribune. “…Paul has gotten an awful lot out of these guys and they’re playing the game well. I think Paul has done a very good job, without question.”
When your pitching staff ranks 22nd in all of baseball in ERA, 26th in Batting Average Against, and just 29th in MLB in strikeouts, yet you are on the verge of a playoff berth, the skipper is doing something right.
Outside of Santana, Berrios, and 3-4 others, there are few consistently reliable arms. Molitor has done a fabulous job of juggling what he has available, mixing and matching to near perfection.
“He’s done a good job of using information that’s available,” said Mauer per Pat Borzi at MinnPost. “Nowadays sometimes there’s a lot more information than you might need, but I think he’s good at deciphering, trying something out, hearing things, and then applying it where you can.”
There are certainly other strong candidates for the honors as American League Manager of the Year. Other leading contenders include A.J. Hinch of the Houston Astros, Joe Girardo of the New York Yankees, and Terry Francona of the Cleveland Indians.
But I could make an easy argument with you by simply scanning their rosters. Each of those men operates with a more talented roster than Molitor does in Minnesota. That’s not a slight to the Twins, but instead a nod to those other organizations overall talent.
For my money, the Twins aren’t sniffing a postseason berth, let alone on the verge of playing meaningful October baseball, without the job that Molitor has done at the helm. He is absolutely deserving of being honored as the 2017 AL Manager of the Year.
|Gibson’s solid outing helped Twins draw closer to playoffs|
It’s become monotonous to call them the “surprising” Minnesota Twins. After all, it’s been five months now that Paul Molitor’s club has been a solid contender in the American League.
The Twins have been in control of the second AL Wildcard berth for weeks now. Last night behind an excellent start on the mound from Kyle Gibson and the timely hitting of Brian Dozier, Byron Buxton, and Max Kepler, they drew closer to clinching a place in the postseason.
Minnesota downed the depleted and demoralized host Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park by a 7-3 score. Meanwhile, their nearest pursuers in the playoff race all lost. The LA Angels were shut out by Houston 3-0, the Texas Rangers dropped a 4-1 decision at Oakland, and the Kansas City Royals were edged 7-6 by the Chicago White Sox.
The result of all that Friday night action is that the ‘Magic Number’ has dropped to just 6 for Minnesota to clinch the franchise’ first playoff berth since being swept out of the ALDS in both 2009 and 2010.
Gibson went seven strong innings, allowing three earned runs on five hits. The 29-year old right-hander struck out six and walked two in raising his record to the 12-10 mark. Those dozen wins leave him one shy of his career high of 13 set back in the 2014 season.
“These two games were big for us and the next two are as well,” Gibson said per MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger after the Twins second straight victory in Detroit. “Coming off a rough series in New York, we definitely wanted to get one or two there and getting zero hurt a little bit. But these games were big to get the ship going in the right direction and hopefully we can keep it going.“
Kepler banged his 19th home run of the season, a solo shot, in the top of the 3rd inning off Tigers starter Daniel Norris (4-8) to tie the game.
After falling behind again 2-1, Buxton lined a two-run double to left in the top of the 4th to push the Twins on top. He then scored on a base hit by Kepler, making it a 4-2 lead for Minnesota after four innings.
Run-scoring hits by Eduardo Escobar in the top of the 5th and Robbie Grossman in the 6th stretched that lead out to a 6-2 margin. In the bottom of the 6th, Ian Kinsler tagged Gibson for his 21st homer of the year, the solo shot cutting the Twins lead down to 6-3 at that point.
In the top of the 9th, Dozier got that one back by cracking his 32nd home run of the year. Matt Belisle came on to retire three of the four batters he faced in the bottom of the 9th to close out the victory.
“I think the guys played a fairly loose game,” Molitor said per Bollinger. “We know we’re in for a fight and these guys have played us tough the last few years, and probably dominated us in some regards. There’s a lot on the line and we have to find a way to keep playing good baseball.“
His team will continue the series in Motown on Saturday and Sunday. Then it’s off to Cleveland for a real test against the defending AL champion Indians, who have the best record in the American League. The Twins wrap the regular season next weekend back home at Target Field with three more against the Tigers.