A team has finally emerged that can beat this year’s Los Angeles Dodgers.
Of the 18 players nominated for Major League Baseball’s major awards — three finalists apiece for MVP, Cy Young, and Manager of the Year in the two leagues — five are former Dodgers.
Mookie Betts is the only current Dodger to make a list, and they had to steal him from the Boston Red Sox to win their first World Series in 32 years.
How good would the Dodgers have been had they re-signed American League Cy Young finalists Kenta Maeda and Hyun Jin Ryu from last year’s team? Or if they’d kept National League MVP finalist Manny Machado from their 2018 squad?
Perhaps not as good.
For chemistry, give me Justin Turner over Machado at third base any day — although also give me the chemistry for a vaccine that would let me hug him after the next World Series.
The Dodgers sent Maeda to Minnesota as part of the Brusdar Graterol trade. That may not look so great with 2020 vision, but it looks fantastic through a telescope. At 22, Graterol is 10 years younger than Maeda, and with light years more upside.
Ryu has been one of the best pitchers in the MLB ever since he left Korea for La La Land in 2013, winning 59 games with an earned run average of 2.95. But at 33, he’s even older than Maeda.
His departure through free agency allowed the Dodgers to develop 26-year-old Tony Gonsolin and 23-year-old Dustin May this season. That will build up a mound that has a firm foundation already with Walker Buehler, 26, and Julio Urias, 24.
The Baseball Writers’ Association of America picked Ryu second in last year’s NL Cy Young Award voting and he’ll be a bridesmaid again when they reveal their vote on Wednesday.
I stopped paying my BBWAA dues when one of my daughter’s college tuition came due years ago. Casting my well wishes for Cleveland ace Shane Bieber, however, has nothing to do with the three years he pitched at UCSB. He is the choice of anyone who can count beyond their 10 fingers and thumbs.
In 12 starts, Bieber became the first pitcher to lead all of MLB in wins (eight), ERA (1.63) and strikeouts (122) since Johan Santana in 2006.
He is also just as self-effacing today at age 25 as he was at 18 during the fall of 2013 when he had to earn a spot on the Gaucho roster as a walk-on.
“You know me, I’m not going to get caught up in this stuff,” Bieber replied when asked about his Cy Young chances. “But I guess I would just say (I’m proud of) consistency. It’s been nice to be able to go out there and have that consistent confidence going in, day in and day out.”
My vote for NL MVP, however, will buck the oddsmakers who expect to hear the name of Atlanta first baseman Freddie Freeman called on Thursday. His numbers do make a strong case: 13 home runs, 53 RBIs, and .341 batting average.
Las Vegas is also banking on us writers preferring a good story line. Freeman became one small part of the world’s biggest story this year by overcoming a difficult bout of the coronavirus. It limited him to a .190 average over the first 13 games, and then he hit .378 with 12 homers the rest of the way to lead the Braves into the playoffs.
Some of Betts’ regular-season numbers weren’t quite as gaudy (.292 average and 39 RBIs) although he did hit more homers (16), score more runs (47), and steal more bases (10) as the Dodgers’ leadoff man.
But he also led in a way that lifted the Dodgers past all obstacles — mental, physical, and even Freeman’s powerful Braves — to their first World Series since 1988.
“I think that he strives to be perfect,” pitcher Clayton Kershaw explained, “strives to be excellent every single time out there… and that focus and that consistency, I don’t know how much better it made other guys in this clubhouse, but I know it did.”
Betts set the tone for excellence during the team’s first series in Arizona when he fielded a hit in right field, threw out a runner at third base, and then trotted back to his position with nary a nod.
“(He) just didn’t seem that excited about it — it felt very pedestrian to him, right?” Buehler said. “But we were all kind of dumbfounded and he was just, kind of, ‘alright, another out.’
“He’s one of those guys that everything he touches just kind of turns to gold. I know he’s almost a pro-level bowler. And we play a lot of ping pong in spring training, he’s pretty good at that. I played golf with him, he’s pretty good at that.”
My other non-official vote for MVP goes to Jose Abreu of the Chicago White Sox. He led the American League in hits (76) and RBIs (60), was second in homers (19), and fourth in batting average (.317). Without him, the Southsiders’ bid for their first postseason in a dozen years would’ve gone south really fast.
Cincinnati’s Trevor Bauer is a slight favorite for NL Cy Young. My preference is for Yu Darvish of the Chicago Cubs, and it has nothing to do with his membership in the Dodger Alumni Association. Bauer may have posted a better ERA (1.73 to 2.01) and more strikeouts (100 to 93), but Darvish’s eight wins tied Bieber for the most in all of baseball.
Bauer barely broke even with a win-loss record of 5-4, and isn’t winning the name of the game?
Which leads me to the final category: managers of the year.
I’d like Tampa Bay’s Kevin Cash to get the AL award on Tuesday. I liked it when he replaced unhittable Blake Snell after just 73 pitches to give the Dodgers the chance to rally in decisive Game Six of the World Series, but that shouldn’t deny him the award. He has improved the Rays every season the last four years, leading to an AL-best mark of 40-20 this season.
That’s also why I like another Dodgers alum — Don Mattingly, who managed them from 2011 to 2015 — for NL manager of the year. He overcame his own COVID-19 crisis which sent 18 Miami players to the injured list to guide the Marlins to their first postseason since 2003.
Not bad, considering the City of Miami wanted to quarantine the entire team after it went 57-105 in 2019.
“He’s a great human being before being a baseball player or a manager,” Marlins shortstop Miguel Rojas said. “The communication that he has with the players, the confidence that he gave the players is unbelievable.”
Dave Roberts’ reputation as a player’s manager didn’t help him in this year’s BBWAA vote. He curiously failed to even make the list of NL finalists despite winning his first World Series.
Maybe his chances with us writers would’ve improved had the Dodgers fired him for botching previous postseasons.
There’s nobody we like better this year, after all, than a Dodger alum.