Tag Archives: Terry Francona

What the Phillies should do with Gabe Kapler for 2020

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The Phillies have gone 161-163 during two seasons under manager Gabe Kapler

 

The Major League Baseball postseason begins on Tuesday night with the Washington Nationals hosting the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Wildcard Game.

For an eighth consecutive October, there will be no playoff baseball drama and excitement at Citizens Bank Park. That seemed an almost ludicrous possibility when the season opened back in late March with a home sweep of the division-rival Atlanta Braves.

This was the second year for the club under 44-year-old manager Gabe Kapler. He still has one year remaining on the three-year deal given when he signed to take over a team believed to be in the final stages of a rebuilding program for the 2018 season.

Under Kapler’s guidance, the Phillies surprisingly fought their way to the top of the National League East Division during his first summer at the helm. They were in first place as late as August 12.

From that point on, the club collapsed to a 15-30 finish over the final seven weeks of the 2018 campaign. Still, the ultimate 80-82, third place finish was better than many had expected when the season began.

Everything changed during the winter prior to the 2019 season, however. The Phillies, spurred by owner John Middleton, opened up their wallets in free agency and became more aggressive in the trade market.

The result was a far more experienced and dynamic starting lineup entering the 2019 season thanks to the additions of Bryce Harper and Andrew McCutchen on the outfield corners, shortstop Jean Segura, and catcher J.T. Realmuto.

Those four would join a returning core of first baseman Rhys Hoskins, center fielder Odubel Herrera, third baseman Maikel Franco, and second baseman Cesar Hernandez.

Once again, the Phillies got off to a strong start. Following an 11-4 victory over the Saint Louis Cardinals on May 29, the club sat a season-high 11 games over the .500 mark and held a 3.5 game lead in the division.

As late as June 11, the Phillies remained in first place. But then it all suddenly fell apart. Losses in 11 of 13 games were low-lighted by a seven-game losing streak.

It all coincided with a winning stretch by the defending division champion Atlanta Braves. By the time the losing skid was over, the Phillies had not only lost their division lead, but had fallen 6.5 games behind the surging Braves.

From June 8, the last time that the Phillies reached 10 games over the .500 mark, until the end of the season, the team played to a 44-54 mark.

On Independence Day, they fell out of second place for the first time, passed by a red-hot Washington Nationals club. On August 10, the New York Mets slipped past them, dropping the Phillies to fourth place.

Still, the Phillies managed to hang around in the race for the second and final National League Wildcard playoff berth. As late as September 10 they were just two games off the pace.

Unfortunately, they could never sustain enough of a winning streak to seriously push themselves back into the race. They never won five games in a row all year long, and finished up by losing nine of their final dozen games.

The 2019 Phillies spent just one day all season – September 26 – below the .500 mark. Aside from that June swoon slump, they never fell into a deep enough skid to get knocked completely out of the race. Until the final two weeks that is.

There are a number of reasons that the Phillies finished the 2019 season just one game better than the 2018 season. The first and most obvious is key injuries.

McCutchen was lost for the season as June got underway. Jay Bruce stepped into the starting lineup and provided a power lefty bat and veteran presence. Until he was injured, missing roughly 50 games over the final three months.

Herrera didn’t get injured, he injured someone else, getting himself arrested in Atlantic City following a domestic assault on his 20-year-old girlfriend. He would ultimately be suspended for the season by Major League Baseball.

His replacement, Roman Quinn, did what Quinn does. He looked dynamic until he got hurt, playing in just 44 games all year and ending the season on the IL, to no one’s surprise.

But it was the bullpen where injuries struck hardest, quickest, and most often. Tommy Hunter, David Robertson, Seranthony Dominguez, Pat Neshek, Victor Arano, Adam Morgan, and Jerad Eickhoff would all succumb to various injuries.

The rotation was healthy for much of the year, they just were never consistently effective. Aaron Nola, the presumptive ace who was a 2018 Cy Young Award finalist, was simply very good for much of the year, pitching more like a solid #2 starter.

The rest of the rotation members enjoyed what can only be described as a roller-coaster campaign. Veteran Jake Arrieta, in the second year of a big free agent contract, was pitching like a back-end starter before going down for the year after 24 starts.

Kapler began the season using a mostly set lineup in the early going when the team was winning. But it seemed that as soon as there were struggles, he abandoned that, returning to his troubling rookie managerial season habit of a new lineup nearly every day.

Not only did Kapler come up with some new configuration on a game-by-game basis, but he also was juggling players in and out. He continued to shuffle Scott Kingery all around the diamond. And Franco just seemed to fall completely out of favor with the skipper at one point, getting sent to the minor leagues.

So, where does all of this leave Kapler? Frankly, in my opinion, there is no way that you can possibly pin all – not even most – of the Phillies struggles in 2019 on him.

Kapler managed the 25 players, a few more in September, who he had available to him on any given night the best that he could. This is where the big question comes in – is Kapler’s best good enough?

Back in mid-August, with the Phillies struggles to put together a consistent winning stretch becoming more apparent with each passing week, Kapler appeared in a revealing radio interview at local sports talk 94 WIP FM. In that interview he stated the following:

“…the life of a baseball manager is that you manage until the day that you get fired and almost everyone gets fired at some point. I guess I’d say this, I’m not going to manage scared. I didn’t play scared. I fought and gave everything I had every single day. You’re going to manage in the same way. So, if I get fired I do and it’ll be a hard day for me to deal with, but I’m not going to waste a single ounce of my mental or emotional energy thinking about myself when I could be thinking about how I could help us win tonight’s game. The players, those 25 men battling out there, those are the ones that matter.”

When I see what happened to the 2019 Phillies and think about a managerial change, one question that comes to mind is, could anyone else have done better, based on the circumstances?

Two days ago, I ran a poll at my Twitter feed, asking fans who should be the Phillies manager in 2020. I gave four choices: Kapler, Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon, or “Other”, asking fans to comment if they had a different preference.

Over 18 hours, the poll received 463 votes, and results were as follows:

The comments yielded other names: Mike Scioscia (4), Clint Hurdle (2), Dusty Wathan (2), Buck Showalter, Raul Ibanez, and even Charlie Manuel.

So, I am left to consider whether experienced big-league skippers like Girardi, Maddon, Scioscia, Hurdle, and Showalter or any of the other names could have done better this year than Kapler.

Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that they could. Every one of these men is out of a job right now, and there are any number of reasons for that fact. Mostly because they simply weren’t getting it done where they were.

Kapler rubs many Phillies fans the wrong way. They dislike what is often seen as a Pollyanna style of backing his players in public, rarely willing to criticize those players even when they repeatedly fail.

He has also battled from behind from the very beginning for many of those fans due to his physical fitness, his personal blog which described his preference for coconut oil during certain activities, and especially his heavy reliance on analytics and statistics.

I was asked frequently over the last month what I thought should happen with Kapler in 2020. I repeatedly said that I was waiting until the season was over before revealing my opinion.

The fact is that I had my own bottom line. The Phillies had to finish with a winning season in order for Kapler to return in 2020. A total collapse to a losing season and there was no doubt that I would be recommending a change.

But neither happened. The Phillies finished at .500, the only team in Major League Baseball to finish with a dead-even 81-81 record this year.

I publicly criticized Kapler’s often head-scratching lineup choices on a frequent basis over the last few months. But his “style” never bothered me the way that it seemed to bother many other fans.

When evaluating Kapler, I harken back to Terry Francona, who was fired after four years as the Phillies skipper on this very date in 2000.

The Phillies were Francona’s first managerial opportunity, just as they are Kapler’s first chance to lead from the dugout in the big-leagues. After being fired in Philly, Francona went on to become one of the best and most respected managers in Major League Baseball.

His teams won 744 times over eight seasons with the Boston Red Sox. He guided them to the playoffs five times and won two World Series titles. Francona has now won 638 games over the last seven years with the Cleveland Indians, with four playoff appearances and an AL pennant.

I think Francona was a good manager in Philadelphia, albeit a bit inexperienced. But he was one without a lot of experienced, championship-caliber talent. I see no reason that he wouldn’t have eventually won here as the talent improved.

Manuel was not embraced at first by Phillies fans, but grew to become beloved. (Keith Allison)

As Kapler gains experience with another year at the helm, could a Phillies pitching staff improved by some key off-season additions this winter and just a little more luck with health in 2020 make his perceived eccentricities more palatable to the fan base?

I remember when Manuel was first hired with the Phillies. The majority of fans wanted former Pirates and Marlins skipper Jim Leyland to get the job. They saw Manuel as some country hick who would never last in Philadelphia.

Today, Manuel is the beloved ‘Uncle Charlie’, the man who guided the Phillies to five consecutive NL East titles, two National League pennants, and the 2008 World Series championship. He is a Wall of Famer who will be popular with fans until the day he dies and beyond.

Now, I don’t know whether Gabe Kapler will ever accumulate the kind of records that either Francona or Manuel have in the future. What I do know is that fans were far too quick to go negative on those two managers.

This isn’t going to be a popular opinion, based on what I am reading on social media and hearing on the radio. But emotions aside, I don’t think that any of the alternative names above can necessarily be counted on to do a better job.

I think that Kapler should come back for the 2020 season as the manager of the Philadelphia Phillies. I firmly believe that he does everything within his power to win every game.

It appears to me that he does everything in his power to keep his players looking ahead. I have no problem whatsoever with his trying to keep the atmosphere as positive as possible, no matter the circumstances.

Kapler has one year left on his contract. See how things go next year. Give him the final year on his deal to see if he can be a part of turning things around.

Now, if in the coming days, the Phillies decide to go in another direction, that is fine. But the real problems with the organization lie higher on the food chain for me. If they simply fire the manager without making changes higher up, nothing will really change as far as long-term contention.

Jimmy Rollins officially retires as a member of the Philadelphia Phillies

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JRoll officially retires as a member of the Phillies

Prior to Saturday night’s big division rivalry game with the Washington Nationals, the host Philadelphia Phillies will hold a ceremony to honor long time shortstop Jimmy Rollins on the occasion of his official retirement from Major League Baseball.

Rollins, who turned 40 years of age back in November, played with the Phillies for the first 15 of his 17-year career in the big-leagues.
Born in Oakland, California, Rollins was the Phillies 2nd round pick in the 1996 MLB Draft out of Encinal High School in Alameda, California.
After getting his feet wet with the Rookie-level Martinsville club in the Appalachian League during that first pro summer of 1996, Rollins developed into an all-around offensive threat who could field the shortstop position brilliantly.
Over the 1997-99 seasons, he collected 110 extra-base hits and stole 94 bases. Spending most of the 2000 season with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Rollins hit .274 with 51 extra-base hits and 24 steals, earning his first big-league promotion for a 14-game cup of coffee with the Phillies that September.
His first appearance in a Phillies uniform in an official MLB game came on Sunday afternoon September 17, 2000 at Veteran’s Stadium. That day he hit second in manager Terry Francona‘s lineup and provided an immediate spark. Rollins delivered two hits including a triple, drew a walk, stole his first base, and scored twice to contribute towards a 6-5 win.
Rollins started in the leadoff spot for the first time the very next day at The Vet against the Pittsburgh Pirates. he again delivered two hits and also recorded the first RBI of his career with a base hit in the bottom of the 6th inning to score Tom Prince.
He would play in 14 games that first month, 11 of those as the starter at shortstop. Seven times he produced a multi-hit game, setting himself up as the starter at the position to open the 2001 season.
Under new manager Larry Bowa, the Phillies began emerging for the first time in years as a contender, and Rollins was a primary reason. On May 2, 2001 at Veteran’s Stadium, Rollins led off the bottom of the 4th inning against Colorado Rockies starter Brian Bohanon and blasted the first home run of his career.
These were just the first milestone moments of what would become one of the most storied careers in the history of the franchise. By the time it was all over, Rollins had become the franchise all-time Hit King with 2,306 hits for the Phillies.

Phillies are wearing a special patch on their jerseys tonight for Jimmy Rollins’ retirement night:

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Rollins current place on the Phillies all-time leaderboards:
  • Hits: 2,306 (1st)
  • Runs: 1,325 (3rd)
  • Games: 2,090 (2nd)
  • At-bats: 8,628 (1st)
  • Doubles: 479 (1st)
  • Triples: 111 (3rd)
  • Home runs: 216 (9th)
  • RBIs: 887 (8th)
  • Stolen bases: 453 (2nd)
  • Walks: 753 (6th)
  • Total bases: 3,655 (2nd)
  • Extra-base hits: 806 (2nd)
“JRoll” also produced 46.4 WAR with the Phillies. He finished 3rd in the 2001 NL Rookie of the Year voting behind Albert Pujols and Roy Oswalt. Rollins was the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player and received NL MVP votes in four other seasons.
He was a three-time NL All-Star, a four-time NL Gold Glover at shortstop, and was the 2007 NL Silver Slugger Award winner at shortstop for a season in which he became one of just four MLB players in history to record a 20-20-20-20 season: at least 20 homers, doubles, triples, and stolen bases.
Rollins had numerous tremendous, memorable plays during his career, and fans can argue for days about which was the best or most important. For me, two stand out.
Defensively, Rollins diving stop and perfect shuffle to Chase Utley began a double-play that clinched the 2008 National League East Division crown on the final day of the regular season. The Phillies would go on to win the World Series that year.
With the bat, it has to be his clutch two-out, two-strike, walkoff double into the right-center field gap at Citizens Bank Park off Los Angeles Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton to give the Phillies a 6-5 come-from-behind victory and a 3-1 lead in the 2009 NLCS.

There is no doubt that Rollins will be enshrined on the Phillies Wall of Fame sometime early in the 2020’s. He will make for an interesting argument in a few years as a nominee for the Baseball Hall of Fame. But for tonight the Phillies legend will settle for a joyous celebration in front of more than 40,000 adoring fans.

ALDS Prediction: Cleveland Indians over New York Yankees

Progressive Field in Cleveland hosts first two ALDS games

No disrespect meant to the most decorated organization in the history of Major League Baseball, but I think they are in over their heads in their ALDS matchup with the Cleveland Indians.

Let’s begin the preview with who the Yankees are coming into the series. Joe Girardi’s squad took control of the top AL Wildcard spot in September, and even made a run at the Boston Red Sox for the AL East Division crown before falling two games short.

That pushed the Yanks into the AL Wildcard Game. In that contest, held on Tuesday night, the Yankees spotted the Minnesota Twins a 3-0 first inning lead. The Bronx Bombers then bombed away, out-scoring the Twins 8-1 the rest of the way.

The Yankees (91-71) big hitters did the damage in that one-game playoff. Aaron Judge went 2-4 with a monster home run (what else is new), and scored three runs. Gary Sanchez and Brett Gardner each had two hits, with Gardner and Didi Gregorius each blasting a home run.

Those three are going to have to contribute heavily if the Yankees are to have any hope of overcoming the defending AL champion Indians. The Tribe won five of the seven meetings between the two teams this season, and I just don’t see it happening in a playoff series.

Girardi is scheduled to send big trade acquisition Sonny Gray to the mound in the opener. He’ll be followed by veteran lefty C.C. Sabathia in Game Two. Right-hander Masahiro Tanaka gets the nod for Game Three on Saturday back at Yankee Stadium.

For the Indians (102-60) and manager Terry Francona, it was a surprise to many to see righty Trevor Bauer get the call for the opener. But Francona and the Tribe have a great deal of trust in Bauer, who started Game One of the ALDS a year ago vs Boston, and who also made two starts in the World Series vs the Chicago Cubs.

He will be followed by ace Corey Kluber in Game Two, and then veteran Carlos Carrasco on Saturday. Bauer and the Tribe pen pitching their way to a first-game victory would be huge, with AL Cy Young contender Kluber going on Friday.

Part of the reason that Francona doesn’t fear sending Bauer out in the opener is confidence in his relief corps. Perhaps no manager in this year’s MLB postseason is more experienced in the “bullpenning” concept.

Francona will turn to righties Bryan Shaw, Joe Smith, Danny Salazar, and Mike Clevinger. From the left side it would be Danny Olson and the multi-inning weapon Andrew Miller. The regular closer is right-hander Cody Allen.

Girardi has no problem going to a bullpen game either, as he demonstrated in the Wildcard Game. When starter Luis Severino was knocked out by the Twins in the first inning, the Yankees skipper paraded out a quartet of relievers. Over the ensuing 8.2 innings they combined to allow just one run on five hits, and the offense rallied to victory.

That New York relief group includes righties David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Chad Green, all of whom went in the Wildcard Game. Right-handers Dellin Betances, Jordan Montgomery, and Adam Warren are also available. From the left side the options are Jaime Garcia and closer Aroldis Chapman.

The Indians lineup features a pair of American League MVP candidates in shortstop Francisco Lindor and third baseman Jose Ramirez.

Talented veteran second baseman Jason Kipnis missed big chunks of the season, playing in just 90 games. But he returned to the lineup in mid-September and hit .321/.394/.536 over his final nine games. He may be set for a big October.

Another huge addition to the Indians lineup since last year has been Edwin Encarnacion. The veteran DH signed away from the Toronto Blue Jays infused Francona’s lineup with 38 homers and 107 RBI, and he has a knack for coming through in the big moments.

The Indians postseason experience a year ago, their variety of offensive threats, and the depth of their pitching staff all add up to a series victory for me. The Yankees have enjoyed a strong season, but they are a little short on talent against this opponent, and I’m calling it a 3-0 sweep.

Indians, Astros battle for AL’s top record and home field advantage

Houston routed Boston at Fenway Park on Thursday 

The Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros have long ago clinched their respective divisional crowns.

But as Major League Baseball’s regular season opens its final weekend, the two teams find that there is still an important battle to be fought.

With a record of 100-59, the Tribe have the top record in the American League. The Astros at 99-60 are just a game behind.

Should the two teams eventually meet, which would likely only happen in an ALCS matchup, then Cleveland would be awarded home field advantage, were the season to end today.

Of course, the 2017 season does not end today. The Astros and Indians still have three games each to play. Those games will determine which actually finishes with that best overall mark.

Terry Francona and his Indians will be at home this weekend, hosting the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field. At 66-93, the Chisox have the second-worst record in the league.

The Astros and their skipper, A.J. Hinch, are up in Boston, where they opened a four-game series with a 12-2 rout on Thursday.

John Farrell and his Bosox team are trying to nail down the AL East crown for themselves. Boston is three games up on the traditional arch-rival New York Yankees with three to play.

Despite the loss to Houston, the Red Sox ‘Magic Number’ dropped to just 1 in order to clinch a second straight division title. That happened when the Yanks were taken down 9-6 by the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday.

New York skipper Joe Girardi will be home this weekend at Yankee Stadium. There they will host the Toronto Blue Jays, still with a longshot hope to force a playoff for that AL East title. The Yankees would need a sweep, combined with a Boston sweep at the hands of Houston.

The likelihood is that at some point this weekend, Boston will indeed clinch that divisional crown, leaving the Houston-Cleveland fight for the top spot in the American League as the spotlight battle.

Should the two teams finish in a tie, the tie-breaker favors the Indians. During the regular season, Cleveland dominated Houston, winning five of their six head-to-head matchups.

The Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League have clinched the top overall mark in the senior circuit. The ‘Magic Number’ for the Dodgers to clinch home field in a potential World Series matchup is down to just 2 for Cleveland and 1 for Houston.

While the 2017 MLB season draws to a close for the majority of clubs this weekend, a handful still have something to play for, and it will be interesting for fans of the game to watch as final playoff berths and seeding are determined.

The MLB Postseason officially opens on Tuesday, October 3, with the American League Wildcard Game. That matchup is likely to find the Minnesota Twins facing New York at Yankee Stadium.

The National League Wildcard Game will be held the following day, on Wednesday, October 4. The Colorado Rockies are on the verge of clinching the final spot. Should they do so, they would visit the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field.

If any tie-breaker games are necessary, and those are still mathematically possible in the AL East and NL Wildcard, then those would be played on Monday, October 2, with locations to be determined.

As you can see, there are still a few details to be finalized. But we are now on the verge of October baseball. As temperatures cool down over the next four weeks, the drama and excitement will only heat up in America’s pastime.

Twins Paul Molitor should be the AL Manager of the Year

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.