Posts Tagged ‘National League’

Dodgers-Clayton-Kershaw-Tigers-Max-Scherzer-claim-Cy-Youngs

Last summer, the National League West was the scene of the most drastic 180 in all baseball. Coming into the year, it was fully expected that the Dodgers would grab it early on for themselves and not let up, however that was far from the case. As a matter of fact, due to a mix of injuries and uncertain day-to-day lineup production, LA found itself in the cellar of the division in early May, and no other club really stepped and away either. The defending World Series champs in San Francisco were dealing with a host of injuries and down seasons, and the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres didn’t make the opportunistic push that they could have. Soon enough, they would grow to regret this.

2013 Finish

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (92-70)

2. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)

3. San Diego Padres (76-86)

4. San Francisco Giants (76-86)

5. Colorado Rockies (74-88)

In mid-May, the Dodgers came around and ran away with the West. Sparked by the promotion of Yasiel Puig and returns of Carl Crawford, Hanley Ramirez and (briefly) Matt Kemp, they ran away with the division, finishing with the biggest divisional margin of victory in the Majors. Pulling ahead to this summer, they will enter with the same expectations. However, the division enters in a much better place overall that won’t allow for any temporary slips that the last time around allowed.

The Diamondbacks showed the most growth of any team that did not make the postseason last year, sparked by the coming of age of MVP runner up Paul Goldschmidt, and they made some smart additions to continue the process. The Giants never stay down for long, and with a strong core and a few additions to mend their fall of last year, they project well again too. And the Padres and Rockies both are the type of teams that can rock a boat while keeping their hand on it as well.

What does this all mean? And can it continue to be the aggressive mix of a division that has not had a repeat champ since 2009?

All-Division Team

1. Yasiel Puig -RF—Dodgers

2. Carlos Gonzalez-LF—Rockies

3. Troy Tulowitzki-SS—Rockies

4. Buster Posey-C—Giants

5. Paul Goldschmidt-1B—Diamondbacks

6. Matt Kemp-CF—Dodgers

7. Chase Headley-3B—Padres

8. Marco Scutaro-2B—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke—Dodgers

Starting Pitcher: Madison Bumgarner—Giants

Starting Pitcher: Matt Cain—Giants

Right Handed Reliever: Joaquin Benoit—Padres

Lefty Handed Reliever: Rex Brothers—Rockies

Closer: Kenley Jansen—Dodgers

Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

With five current or former All-Stars comprising their everyday lineup, without accounting for Puig, the Dodgers have a undeniably balanced offering that still could do even more than it has to date if they can get a better shake regarding health. Following their addition of Mark Trumbo, the D’Backs are the only NL team running out two 30-home run hitters from a year ago, with Goldschmidt as well. The Rockies always produce, but if Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki can join NL-batting champ Michael Cuddyer and new addition Justin Morneau with some regularity, they should lead the NL in runs scored again.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years and 20 homers in each campaign.

The Rockies potential is greatly improved when it has its former batting champ in Gonzalez available. He has cleared .300 three of each of the last four years.

Heart of the Lineup

1. Dodgers

2. Rockies

3. Diamondbacks

4. Giants

5. Padres

The Hanley Ramirez/Adrian Gonzalez/Matt Kemp trio that the Dodgers could yield is a pure terror, as is the Gonzalez/Tulowitzki/Cuddyer mix in Colorado. However, the Giants could see a big upswing around Buster Posey if Pablo Sandoval’s re-conditioned approach pays out, Brandon Belt continues to develop and Michael Morse can rediscover his 2011-12 form, where he hit .297 with 49 homers over the run.

Table Setters

1. Dodgers

2. Padres

3. Giants

4. Rockies

5. Diamondbacks

The decision to put Puig at the top of the lineup by Don Mattingly is partially due to a lack of a true leadoff hitter, but it is also a case of getting his most diverse talent as many at-bats as possible. If he develops more patience, he could be among the best leadoff options in the NL (.391 on-base % in 2013). The Padres are a throwback of an attack, that has plenty of dash and run options. Before he lost the end of his season due to a Biogenesis-related suspension, Everth Cabrera was on pace to lead the NL in stolen bases again, and still managed to swipe 37. He is backed up by the chronically underrated Will Venable.

Depth

1. Diamondbacks

2. Giants

3. Dodgers

4. Rockies

5. Padres

Kirk Gibson has a very deep offering, with the enviable option of alternating between Chris Owings and Didi Gregorius at shortstop, and will eventually have the versatile Cody Ross available as well. San Francisco’s Gregor Blanco is one of the better 4th outfielders in the game, and Andre Ethier is currently the best 4th outfielder in baseball—for as long as he lasts in LA.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer.

Bumgarner has steadily risen up both the Giants rotation and the ranks of NL pitchers, reaching his first All-Star Game last summer in route to a 13-win, 199 strikeout campaign.

Rotation

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

For all of the depth of their everyday lineup, it is rotational depth that is the real strength of the Dodgers. Behind their big two, they have a rotation and a half, with a mix of Hyun Jin-Ryu, Dan Haren and options of Paul Maholm, Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley as well. However, the Giants are not far behind them, with Tim Hudson, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogel song providing a solid supporting group.

1-2 Punch

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Padres

5. Rockies

The West is home to two of the elite starting duos in the game, in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Grienke and Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. Kershaw and Greinke combined for a  31-13 record with a 2.23 ERA and 380 strikeouts  last year, with Kershaw winning his second Cy Young in three years. In SF, Cain had a down year, before rebounding with a superb second half, while Bumgarner posted a 2.77 ERA in route to earning this year’s Opening Day nod. Arizona suffered a huge loss in their top guy Patrick Corbin being lost to Tommy John surgery this spring, while the Padres have a blooming star in Andrew Cashner atop their order.

Bullpen

1. Dodgers

2. Diamondbacks

3. Padres

4. Giants

5. Rockies

LA boasts a dominant Kenley Jansen at the end of their pen, with two former closers on one-year deals auditioning for a return to the role in Chris Perez and Brian Wilson setting up for him. That’s a mix that leads to some very short games behind their already potent starting staff. The D’Backs have a similar mix, with J.J. Putz, David Hernandez and Brad Ziegler all capable of shutting the door in front of Addison Reed. The Padres annually have a superb pen, and saw to it that it continues to be so by making a big commitment to former Tigers closer Joaquin Benoit to setup for Huston Street.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

While his winning two-thirds of the NL Triple Crown got the headlines, Goldschmidt also turned in an excellent defensive campaign in route to winning the National League first base Gold Glove.

Defense

1. Diamondbacks

2. Padres

3. Rockies

4. Giants

5. Dodgers

Led by all-universe defender Gerardo Parra and the Gold Glover Goldschmidt, the D’Backs can pick it, especially with a healthy Miguel Montero captaining it all behind the plate. The athletic Padres are built to make cover the spacious grounds in Petco Park, with Chase Headley a former Gold Glover and Venable, Chris Denorfia, Yonder Alonso and Cabrera all very good defenders as well. In Colorado, Carlos Gonzalez is the best defensive outfielder in the NL, as is Hunter Pence in right for the Giants.

Manager

1. Giants

2. Padres

3. Diamondbacks

4. Dodgers

5. Rockies

Bruce Bochy has played a major role in the regular success of the Giants, and with two World Series titles under his belt in the last four years, he’ll have them ready for a rebound. Bud Black doesn’t get enough credit for the job he does in getting the cash strapped, young Padres to a respectable finish each year either. Don Mattingly also proved his chops last year, by corralling the spiraling Dodgers back into the race—and saving his job in real-time as well.

Finances

1. Dodgers

2. Giants

3. Diamondbacks

4. Rockies

5. Padres

The Dodgers can have whatever they want, it is just a reality of the game that everybody in the market has to adjust to. They are squarely in ‘win now’ mode and will acquire whatever they can to make that a reality. The other teams in the division are more modest with their resources, so what is in tow now is likely to be close to what they compete with, although the D’Backs do have some attractive young prospects they could bargain with.

Impact Additions

1. Mark Trumbo (Diamondbacks via trade)

2. Tim Hudson (Giants via free agency)

3. Addison Reed (Diamondbacks via trade)

4. Dan Haren (Dodgers via free agency)

5. Justin Morneau (Rockies via free agency)

The D’Backs mortgaged away some of their young potential to add slightly more proven young Major Leaguers in Trumbo and Addison this winter, to add much needed power in Trumbo, and late inning depth in Reed.  The Dodgers and Giants both made smart, ready-to –win contributions in Haren and Hudson to offset each other’s addition of the other.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL's most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Once he found a place in the starting rotation, Cashner became one of the NL’s most dominant starters, especially at home where he sported a 1.95 ERA.

Leap Forward

1. Nolan Arenado—Rockies

2. Andrew Cashner—Padres

3. Brandon Belt—Giants

4. Jedd Gyorko—Padres

5. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

Arenado’s rookie year got swept away by the some of the more famous ones around the NL, but he made his own instant impact as well, winning the NL Gold Glove at third base. Look for him to make a more regular impact at the plate this year, as his .311 career minor league average indicates. Cashner could be the breakout starter in the NL this year, as the eccentric, flame throwing righty posted a 2.14 second half ERA, with a .194 average against.

Rookies/Propects To Watch

1. Archie Bradley—Diamondbacks

2. Eddie Butler—Rockies

3. Jonathan Gray—Rockies

4. Chris Owings—Diamondbacks

5. Austin Hedges—Padres

The West is home to a group of the premier pitching prospects in the game, with two oddly enough being headed towards Colorado in Butler and Gray. Gray was the 3rd pick in last spring’s Draft, posting a 1.93 ERA in two stops after signing. Butler started 28 games in the minors last year, and dominated to the tune of a 1.80 ERA and 143 strikeouts. If they can carry over their success to Coors, it could signal a change of tides for the long-suffering Rockies pitching. Bradley is the top pitching prospect in the minors (12-5, 1.97 ERA at Double A in 2013), and should see action in the desert fairly early in the year due to Corbin’s injury.

PREDICTIONS

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

2. San Francisco Giants

3. Arizona Diamondbacks

4. San Diego Padres

5. Colorado Rockies

The prognosis for the West seems to be for it to be much more competitive than it was a year ago, even while it stands to be host to one of baseball’s most dominating clubs, it is also compromised of a few teams that are either growing into postseason form or returning to it. The Diamondbacks look to continue their growth into a postseason contender, and despite the loss of their top arm in Corbin, they still have what it takes to continue their push into the wild card picture. They will need to get help from their on-the-verge prospects throughout the year, and may need to add an arm later in the year, but they are close. The same can be said for the Giants, who are only two years removed from being the best team in baseball, and are at a crossroads with their established core. If it has one more run in it, and a consistent offering from its rotation, they will push for the post season.

The Padres are a wild card in the fact that they have the understated cohesiveness to make a difference in the division, even if they are a few years (and a legit offensive star away) from being a factor in the wild card race. The Rockies are still a one-sided affair; potent offensively, but offer very little in the way vital pitching to compete with their division mates.

But in the end, it is the Dodgers division to negotiate their way through from the very beginning. It is about not winning the West, but getting over the NLCS hump that is their task for the year. After a season where they pushed to the brink of the World Series despite never being healthy, it is definitely within reason to expect them to do better entering the year in markedly better shape than they were at any point last year. Making reality meet what paper shows is a completely different thing however, but their prime competition is not from within the West, but from the top of the other divisions.

It has been four years since a team repeated in the West, but it is time for it to happen again. The Dodgers will once again pull away with the division, although by not the same amount of games, in route to posting the National League’s best record. However, expect the Giants and Diamondbacks to compete for one of the Wild Card spots throughout the year, with the Padres being a surprisingly competitive club as well.

For more on the season to come in real-time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

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Jhonny Peralta

It was not a jaw dropping off-season in particular for any National League team this season. While their American League counterparts went to war on the free agent battlefield, the NL clubs played it slower, instead choosing in many cases to make the subtle move over the splashy one. As a result, headed into spring it does not appear that this year’s races will be much different than the one’s that just concluded last September.

However, that would a complete error in judgement to assume, because the tortoise is just as adept as the hare in many cases. There flat out were not many teams that needed to have huge offseasons to get much better. The majority of the senior circuit is made up of balanced, well adjusted rosters that have what they need to succeed in place already, it is just about being consistent on a day to day basis. The elite competitors, it is about either eliminating their few blaring weaknesses or setting up their future to stay intact. For the middle tier, the name of the game was making the smart move to get in firing range of the upper class, because as last year showed, the race is never over until it is completely over. And for the few bottom rung teams, it is about honoring the process of the rebuild, and not falling straight on their face trying to get the job done too quick.

With the exceptions of a few clubs, each team achieved these measures by the standards of what was expected coming into the winter. And while a good winter far from guarantees anything much more than good sentiment headed into Opening Day, it does give a read on intent and where a team is looking to land. And in the air tight 2014 NL, every advantage helps out.

Here’s how the 15 NL clubs made out (to date) headed into the new year…

1.) St. Louis Cardinals: A few years ago, if one was to say the Cardinals are going to lose Chris Carpenter, David Freese, Rafael Furcal and Carlos Beltran all in one offseason, it would seem asinine to think they had a successful winter in any way. However, not only did all of those things happen—they were actually encouraged.

They did not have many needs to fill, but they addressed all of them and did so both aggressively and concisely. By moving the out of place Freese to Anaheim, they received the rangy Peter Bourjos to man centerfield and improve a limited defensive outfield. Adding Jhonny Peralta at shortstop may be the single-largest upgrade any team makes from 2013 to ’14 offensively, as he replaces Pete Kozma who was rated the worst offensive regular in either league last season. Considering these are the National League Champions, this was the ultimate “final touch” effort made good on.
2.) Washington Nationals: The steal of the offseason may be the Nats grab on Doug Fister, who was moved out as part of the Tigers payroll restructuring effort, and only at the cost of reliever Ian Krol and utility man Steve Lombardozzi. The addition of Nate McLouth gives the Nats the deepest outfield group in the NL, quietly even more than the Dodgers.
3.) Philadelphia Phillies: They stuck to their usual method of pulling in veterans with big contracts, but they also addressed many of their most frustrating gaps as well, by bringing in Marlon Byrd to be an offsetting right handed bat and AJ Burnett to be the needed middle of the rotation arm that had been lacking the previous two years with the downturn of the now retired Roy Halladay.
Carlos Ruiz was retained as well and the gamble taken on young Cuban power throwing righty Miguel Gonzalez could be the move that pulls them back up with the likes of Atlanta and Washington if all goes as right as it possibly can.
4.) San Francisco Giants: They continued their ways of retaining their own guys over making massive splashes in the free agent market by giving substantial extensions to Hunter Pence and Tim Lincecum, as well as retaining Javier Lopez and Ryan Vogelsong. However, they still made room to add Michael Morse and Tim Hudson to round out a roster that is only one underachieving summer removed from a World Series title.
5.) Arizona Diamondbacks: They wanted to make a big splash by landing the likes of a Masahiro Tanaka to pull their rotation to the next level, but they still made out well via a series of smaller moves. They mortgaged a few of their top prospects to land Mark Trumbo and Addison Reed, but both should play a solid part in pushing them completely into the postseason competitive mix.

The Braves committed $228 million to four of its best in-home grown talents, with the bulk sum going to its All-Star first baseman Freeman

The Braves committed $228 million to four of its best in-home grown talents, with the bulk sum going to its All-Star first baseman Freeman

6.) Atlanta Braves: They added nothing from outside of the organization, but in the last few weeks made it an offseason could help to define the future course of the franchise, securing Craig Kimbrel, Freddie Freeman, Julio Teheran and Jason Heyward through their arbitration years. Sometimes, less is more, especially down the road.
7.) Milwaukee Brewers: For the second straight year, they played the slow hand on the free agent pitching market and came out with a nice deck. They addressed one of their prime needs in landing Matt Garza to solidify a rotation that was nearly constantly in flux a year ago. It remains to be seen however if Mark Reynolds can add the type of power they need to replace the departed Corey Hart at first.
8.) Los Angeles Dodgers: The big move of the offseason was the Clayton Kershaw extension, which was clearly the top priority for the team, but otherwise it was a winter based on potential in LA. IF Juan Uribe and Alexander Guerrero pan out, it was a successful winter, just like IF Brian Wilson and Chris Perez can find their vintage form over the course of a full season they made may have constructed a powerful bullpen group. To be continued all around.
9.) New York Mets: They had a one foot in, one foot out type of winter. On one hand, they made a headline signing in Curtis Granderson, but then were tentative in pursuing Stephen Drew, who would be an instant improvement on their entire roster. Bartolo Colon is good bookmark for their young rotation while Matt Harvey rehabs in 2014 however.
10.) Miami Marlins: It is always hard to read what the Marlin’s intentions truly are, but by all accounts, it looks like they don’t want to be a blantantly terrible as they were a year ago. Jarrod Saltalammachia, Rafael Furcal, Garrett Jones and Jeff Baker are all solid veteran adds that should make the team relatively more competitive—or at least enough to show Giancarlo Stanton they are “trying”…for now.
11.) San Diego Padres: Questionable winter for the Pads, trading one of their best arms in Luke Gregorson for a platoon outfielder in Seth Smith, only to in turn spend major money on essentially the same type of pitcher in Joaquin Benoit to pitch the eighth. Josh Johnson is a coin flip signing, that if he stays healthy is great, but that rarely happens.
12.) Colorado Rockies: It was a hurricane of a winter in Colorado, but it is still uncertain if all the bluster made a difference. They added Justin Morneau and Brett Anderson, two of the most undependable, upside reputation carrying assets in baseball, to boost their lineup and staff respectively. All while dealing one of their most consistent sure bets, Dexter Fowler, for little in return. It feels like Colorado just ran really, really fast on the treadmill this winter.
13.) Pittsburgh Pirates: Tough to say they took a step back, but without a doubt it feels like they should have done more, especially after being one of the most aggressive teams in the game at the trade deadline last season. In the end, they lose A.J. Burnett, Marlon Byrd, Justin Morneau and Garrett Jones, and only add in return a resigned Clint Barmes. Hard to say that’s a quality winter for a team that is firmly on the edge of breaking through—or topping off.
14.) Chicago Cubs: The deliberate rebuild continues, and they used the winter to patch up their rotation with the additions of Jason Hammel and Jason McDonald, while truly improving their bullpen with Jose Veras and Wesley Wright. But it feels like it is time for Theo and company to make a legit move add some credibility to the only team that is clearly on the outside looking in in the NL Central.
15.) Cincinnati Reds: I’m not sure what the goal was here, unless it was to just write off 2013 as a mulligan and go at it again. At any rate, the losses of Shin-Soo Choo, Bronson Arroyo and Ryan Hanigan resonate much louder than the additions of Skip Schumaker and Brayan Pena. Perhaps the full-on investment in Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips was a much heavier cross to carry than they even realized, because they seem frozen from a personnel movement standpoint—and will soon owe Homer Bailey an answer on his future as well.

The AL grades will come down later in the week (because the picture is still painting itself over there), but until follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan. For more content, head to The Sports Fan Journal and I70 Baseball.

There have been many great men to guide other men to find their own greatness, but perhaps none is still above Cornelius McGillicutty. The long-time manager of the great Philadelphia Athletics, the man better known as Connie Mack won over 3,700 games and five World Series, while making the names of Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, Home Run Baker and Mickey Cochrane all reach Cooperstown while under his guise.

Fast forward to 2013, when the times of managers wearing the three-piece suits that Mack made famous are long gone, and find two men that pulled off two of the more impressive resurrection jobs in all of the game. In the National League, the longest drought in the history of pro sports finally came to a close, while in the American, a season that started with a trade for his services, saw him pull a revival act unlike any one could have forecasted just a year ago.

And with that, it is time to honor the “Macks” of the year, the top managers in all of baseball this last time around.

2013 National League Connie Mack Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates

MLB: NLDS-St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

Coming into 2013, the ice was beginning to thin underneath the footing of Clint Hurdle. Despite pulling the Pirates to two of its most encouraging finishes within the last two decades over the past two seasons, late summer collapse began to make it seem as if there was only so much that he could do in regards to finally getting the team over the hump. Armed with a talented young roster with emerging stars such as Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez, the talent was there, but the timing just had not met yet.

The ingredient that was missing was experience, which cannot be rush and cannot be taught; sometimes, you just have to walk through the fire. Ownership made the right decision to stick with Hurdle again, as everything finally clicked in his third year on the bench and he was able to guide Pittsburgh to its first winning record in 21 years. The team finished with 94 wins and return to the playoffs for the first time since the early 90’s. Yet, a winning record was far from the goal, it was nearly the byproduct of the Pirate emergence. They nearly won the NL Central title, and exorcised any and all of the ghosts that could have potentially haunted the club after it tanked to a second half record that finished 15 games under .500.

The mark of an effective manager is being able to carry a team through the unknown, and being able to put the right player in the situation that is best for him. While the Pirates as a club made the right additions and continued maturing as individuals, it was the decision to stick with man that brought them to the brink of success that was truly the move of the year. Sometimes less is actually more.

Runners Up:

2. Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals

3. Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks

2013 Connie Mack American League Manager of the Year: John Farrell, Boston Red Sox

John_Farrell

To say the Red Sox were in ruins when John Farrell returned to Boston last October. It was on the heels of a last place finish, and clubhouse fallout that caused a second managerial change in as many years and a turnover of nearly 50% of the roster from the season before. Farrell was acquired from the Toronto Blue Jays to put an end to this, but to also bring a familiar face to the Boston culture to rebuild the chemistry that seemed irreplaceably damaged. The team’s former pitching coach from 2007 through 2010 was just the man for the job.

The Sox went into an understated, yet aggressive rebuilding phase and brought in team that was low on ego, but high on potential. But more than anything else, it was a team with plenty to prove, both as individuals and as a franchise. Farrell put this mix to work, and it led to a 24 game, last to first turnaround in Beantown. And amid what continues to be the toughest division in all of baseball, that is quite a feat. The Red Sox went on to finish tied for the best record in baseball at 96-66, and took the East by 5.5 games, a year after finishing 26 games in the back of it.

The resurrection of the Red Sox behind standard bearers David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, combined with the life injected by Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli, was undeniable. It was a team that was buoyed by being the source of inspiration, distraction and, eventually, pride for the city of Boston. It was the perfect storm of events coming to pass, and Farrell’s return to the town was the glue job that made it all possible.

Runners Up:

Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays

Alright, so today was to be the day that the National League Stan Musial winner was announced as well, but the Mack Award deserves its own day and the Musial will have its own shine too. The final day of the MLB Award Tour for 2013 is upon us in the CHEAP SEATS, before the march to 2014 gets under way with the updated, offseason countdown of the Top 70 Free Agents in play.

But before we get there, here’s a recap both what has been and what’s to come:

November 6: NL/AL Goose Gossage Relief Pitcher of the Year—Koji Uehara and Craig Kimbrel

November 7: NL/AL Willie Mays Rookie of the Year—Jose Fernandez and Wil Myers

November 8: AL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year—Max Scherzer

November 11: NL Walter Johnson Pitcher of the Year—Clayton Kershaw

November 12: AL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player—Miguel Cabrera

November 13: NL/AL Connie Mack Managers of the Year—Clint Hurdle and John Farrell

November 14: NL Stan Musial Most Valuable Player

The National League was full of clearly dominant teams in 2012, but the guiding hand behind them was ever changing. It was a league that had its statistical batting champ, Melky Cabrera, disqualified via the first official, unofficial asterisk ever issued by the MLB. Saw the best player of his generation in Albert Pujols jump ship from the defending World Champions…and that team produce more MVP candidates than ever before in his absence. It saw the rise of a dead in the water Pittsburgh Pirates team, centered on a diversely talented, if not misfit offering of players.

Like many other seasons, it came in shifts. At different point throughout the summer a former MVP in Joey Votto put an assault on the all-time doubles record. David Wright made hitting .400 look like easy work. Andrew McCutchen made EVERYTHING look easy all at once. Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday and then Yadier Molina all took shifts in pushing the dynamic St. Louis Cardinals’ offense. Later on, Chase Headley and the defending MVP in Ryan Braun put on a crush to pull their teams up the standings, and their own numbers up the leaderboard.

But in the end, the biggest difference maker was a guy that’s not new to the position, because he’s been doing it since the moment he touched the Majors. He just decided to not be subtle about it this time around, because he played with a sense of urgency that no one else could match.

2012 NL Stan Musial Award—Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Over his three year career, no player’s presence has meant more to his team’s place in the game than Posey’s. As a rookie in 2010, his promotion sparked the Giants on run that landed himself a Rookie of the Year, and his club a World Championship. Last year, his season was ended early with a broken leg, which simultaneously tossed San Francisco down into third place for the remainder of the year. Coincidence? Absolutely not.

By definition, a most valuable player is one that is the most indispensable to his team’s success, due to his performance. For Posey, it goes a step further, because of the attitude and presence he brings as the catcher to one of the best rotations in the game. He calls a fantastic ballgame, which propels the entire pitching staff of the Giants to an even higher level than their substantial talent already ranks them. He is a no-nonsense competitor that refused a full-time split arrangement as a first baseman also this season due to the message it would send to his teammates. He’s a gamer, and that’s only half the equation in understanding his importance.

He’s simply one of the most talented catchers in the game when the overall ability behind the plate is quietly approaching an all-time high. Agree with how it came to be or not, his .336 average won him the National League batting title and made him the first catcher to do so since 1942. He achieved this via a ridiculous .433 average vs. left-handers and a .385 second-half average, both MLB bests as well. Along the way he set career highs in every category, including topping 100 RBI for the first time with 24 homers and 39 doubles as well.

However, the most important number of his year? 94, the number of wins the Giants total in recapturing the West with the return of their MVP, and now, the National League’s as well.

 Best of the Rest

2. Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers: A year that started with accusations, and late the absolution, of PED use, Braun had a better year than he did in winning the MVP a year before. Even without the protection of Prince Fielder, he led the NL in home runs (41), runs scored (108) and total bases (356).

3. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals: The best glove in the game added took his offense to the next level as well. He was fourth in the NL in batting average at .315 and topped 20 homers as well. He also threw out 48% of runs that attempted to steal on him, for good measure.

4. Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates: He did everything he could to break the Pirates sub-.500 streak. While he couldn’t accomplish that, he did lead the NL in hits with 194.

5. Matt Holliday, St. Louis Cardinals: He inherited the third spot in the Cards’ lineup, and responded by hitting .340 or better in three separate months.

6. David Wright, New York Mets: Health was finally Wright’s friend again, and in response he topped both 40 doubles and 20 home runs, while also hitting .308.

7. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres: You could win a good bar bets by asking who led the NL in home runs and RBI in the second half. The answer is Headley, who knocked in 73 of his NL leading 115 RBI post-ASG.

8. Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds: He could have shattered the all-time record for doubles in a season if not mid-season knee surgery. He still finished with 44, tied for second best in the NL despite having 230 less at-bats than the guy he tied with.

9. Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals: His first half was so good (20 homers, 65 RBI) he literally made the loss of Pujols somewhat of a non-factor.

10. Martin Prado, Atlanta Braves: One of the best-rounded contributors in the game, was most essential everyday player in the A. Splitting time between left field and every infield position, he was fourth in hits in the NL with 186 and hit .301 as well.

Later today, the ballot for AL’s Stan Musial Award will be revealed…

 

October 9—Connie Mack/Manager of the Year Award: Davey Johnson & Buck Showalter

October 10—Willie Mays/Rookie of the Year Award: Bryce Harper & Mike Trout

October 11—Walter Johnson/Pitcher of the Year Awards: Clayton Kershaw & Justin Verlander

October 11—Goose Gossage Reliever of the Year Awards: Craig Kimbrel & Fernando Rodney

October 12—Stan Musial/Most Valuable Player Awards: Buster Posey

For more on each ballot and the mania that is October baseball, in real time, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

There’s been a lot of stories to be had this season, but what’s really ran the course of the season is the youth movement that’s being served. Yet another highlight of it was served when the Chicago Cubs made a long-term deal with Starlin Castro, putting away the 22-year-old until nearly his 30th birthday last week. That follows on the heels of the rise of the Washington Nationals, Oakland A’s and Pittsburgh Pirates, all pushed by young pace-setters that have shook up the establishment in both leagues this year.

However, when it’s broken down, who really are the best of the best when it comes to baseball’s precocious youngsters? While previous early bloomers such as Ryan Braun, Robinson Cano, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto and Justin Verlander are moving out of the youth movement stage and into perennial standard bearers, the more recently debuted ballplayers are arguably making the biggest impact of any age group across the game. So in my most recent leap of ranking-based faith, here are the 25 best players 25 years or younger in the game today.

Mike Trout has gotten off to as big of a debut as anyone ever, but is it enough to take him even to the top of his peer group yet?

Before we get started, here’s a few guys just claimed by their 26th year but who would’ve definitely found a spot on this list a year ago: Felix Hernandez, Mark Trumbo, Yoenis Cespedes, Yu Darvish, Evan Longoria, Todd Frazier, Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmermann.

 

25. Brett Anderson (24): There’s a reason he’s still been consistently considered the ace of the A’s despite missing most of the last two years. When he’s out there, he’s as good as it gets, as the one run surrendered in his first 20 innings back healthy shows. He has won all three starts since his return.

24. Mike Moustakas (23): The raw power of the Moose is clear, and he’s still figuring it all out. He’s come back from a light rookie year with 19 homers headed into the last month of the year for Kansas City.

23. Austin Jackson (25): The perfect centerfielder for the enormous outer territory of Comerica Field, Jackson has the highest average on balls hit in play over the last three years (.374) playing for the Detroit Tigers.

22. Alcides Escobar (25): It’s easy to not be noticed at being the best at something when you play in Kansas City, but Escobar has a rightful claim to the title of best glovesman at shortstop in baseball.

21. Wade Miley (25): The Diamondbacks’ surprise rookie lefty hurler has gone from last pitcher to make the rotation to being an All-Star and 20-win candidate in a few months.

20. Manny Machado (20): The second youngest player on this list, it’s eerie how much the Oriole resembles A-Rod at the same age in both frame (6’3, 185) and early impact (extra bases on 8 of first 15 hits).

Machado’s surprise promotion has been a big catalyst in the O’s shocking the world this summer.

19. Jeremy Hellickson (25): Last year’s AL Rookie of the Year doesn’t have a ton of wins, but still has nasty stuff that will let him pitch for a long time, which his 3.18 career ERA for the Rays is a preview of.

18. Eric Hosmer (22): There’s been a lot of worry about how his second year has gone (.240, 12 homers, .310 on-base %), but settle down. Being the by-far best player on an MLB squad at 22 is a tough haul on anybody, and the prophecy of The Hos as the leader of the Royal revival will be fulfilled.

17. Anthony Rizzo (23): He’s been everything he was billed as being as the Red Sox’s, Padres’ and Cubs’ top prospect over the last two years. After being traded for all the right reasons over the past two years, he’s finally settled in one place, where he’ll stay for awhile: third in the Cubs’ lineup.

16. Jason Heyward (23): In year three, his average is up over 50 points, and he’s pushed his homer total up 10 from a year ago. What’s more: The Brave has just as many home runs and doubles as the much more heralded Andrew McCutchen.

 

For the top 15 of the list, including what may seem like a shocker at the top, considering what’s going on this summer, head over to THE CHEAP SEATS at The Sports Fan Journal here: http://www.thesportsfanjournal.com/sports/baseball/youth-movement-baseballs-top-25-25-and-under/

 

And for more on the day-to-day of the game, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan

The NL Central was baseball’s strangest division in 2010. In the first half, it was home to a crazy, four-way run at the top of the division, even including the long suffering Pittsburgh Pirates outdoing it’s champion by five games the year before in the Cincinnati Reds. In the second half, the Milwaukee Brewers pulled away and locked up the division rather easily…all while the St. Louis Cardinals were in the midst of beginning the most indomitable run the game has ever seen. And that was just the beginning.

2011 Standings

  1. Milwaukee Brewers (96-66)
  2. St. Louis Cardinals (90-72)
  3. Cincinnati Reds (79-83)
  4. Pittsburgh Pirates (72-90)
  5. Chicago Cubs (71-91)
  6. Houston Astros (56-106)

In the end, the Cardinals took out a Brewers team that had owned them for much of the season in the National League Championship Series, before capping their incredible run by winning the most thrilling World Series title in a generation. However, the highlights didn’t end there as in the winter, no division was more impacted by subtractions. Albert Pujols and Tony LaRussa left St. Louis, Prince Fielder left Milwaukee, Carlos Zambrano left Chicago. Well, the last one wasn’t bad at all, but you get what I’m saying. In between it all, league MVP Ryan Braun battled and avoided a steroid suspension, Theo Epstein came to Chicago to start baseball’s longest rebuilding project and the Astros were sent to the American League after this year. To just call it a busy winter in the Heartland is the understatement of the year.

The Cardinals turned rocky start into a historic finish last year, but much has changed since last October under the Arch.

So what does 2012 hold? Will the Cardinals’ new era carry the success over from the one that just end so high, and so suddenly? Can the division’s last two champions in Cincinnati and Milwaukee ground on the out of the blue champions from their division, or will one of the less heralded clubs make another unexpected run and finish it up this year? One thing for certain is it will be a neck to neck….to neck fight all the way through.

All-Division Team

Catcher: Yadier Molina, Cardinals

First Baseman: Joey Votto, Reds

Second Baseman: Brandon Phillips, Reds

Third Baseman: Aramis Ramirez, Brewers

Shortstop: Starlin Castro, Cubs

Left Field: Ryan Braun, Brewers

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen, Pirates

Right Field: Jay Bruce, Reds

Greinke had a strong National League debut, including an 11-0 mark at home.

Starting Pitcher: Zack Greinke, Brewers

Starting Pitcher: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals

Starting Pitcher: Yovani Gallardo, Brewers

Starting Pitcher: Matt Garza, Cubs

Relief Righty: Francisco Rodriguez, Brewers

Relief Lefty: Bill Bray, Reds

Closer: John Axford, Brewers

Top 10 Players

  1. Ryan Braun, Brewers
  2. Joey Votto, Reds
  3. Matt Holliday, Cardinals
  4. Brandon Phillips, Reds
  5. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
  6. Yadier Molina, Cardinals
  7. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
  8. Zack Grienke, Brewers
  9. Lance Berkman, Cardinals
  10. Starlin Castro, Cubs

Castro will be the talent the Cubs rebuild around, as he became the youngest hits king in NL history last year at 21.

Lineup

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs
  6. Astros

The Reds lineup features two of the best young batters in the game in Votto and Bruce, with the versatile Phillips capable of being both a prolific leadoff hitter and cleanup guy as well. The Cardinals bring back a new type of lineup, but still is the most versatile group in the division, with Carlos Beltran making the lineup more versatile, if not better, than it was a year ago.

Votto is now hands down the class of NL first baseman, and brings a .313 career average into '12.

Rotation

  1. Brewers
  2. Cardinals
  3. Reds
  4. Cubs
  5. Astros
  6. Pirates

The Brewers staff remained intact and has the potential to boast two Cy Young candidates in Greinke and Gallardo, along with strong backing in Shaun Marcum and Randy Wolf. The Cardinals staff as a whole could eclipse them if Chris Carpenter makes a quick return. Veterans AJ Burnett and Eric Bedard bring needed experience along with suspect injury records, to Pittsburgh.

1-2 Punch

  1. Brewers (Grienke & Gallardo)
  2. Cardinals (Wainwright & Garcia)
  3. Reds (Cuerto & Latos)
  4. Astros (Rodriguez & Norris)
  5. Cubs (Garza & Dempster)
  6. Pirates (Bedard & Karstens)

A full healthy Wainwright and Carpenter combo puts the Cardinals at the top of this list, but until that’s a reality, the Brewers’ duo reigns supreme. Bud Norris is an ace in waiting in Houston, whether Wandy Rodriguez is finally dealt or not. If Latos can regain his All-Star consistency of 2010, the Reds will finally have a front line starter to lean on.

Wainwright's return gives the Cardinals annual Cy Young contender, and the largest impact addition of any NL club.

Bullpen

  1. Cardinals
  2. Brewers
  3. Pirates
  4. Reds
  5. Cubs
  6. Astros

The Reds bullpen was primed to be one of the best in the division after gaining Sean Marshall and Ryan Madson this winter, but Madson is lost for the year due to Tommy John surgery and it throws their pen into disarray. The Brewers feature the division’s best 8-9 combo in K-Rod and Axford, who led the NL in saves a year ago with 46. The Cardinals bullpen came into its own down the stretch a year ago, and it is most prepared top to bottom to be strength this season.

Tablesetters

  1. Cardinals (Furcal & Beltran)
  2. Reds (Phillips & Cozart)
  3. Brewers (Weeks & Morgan)
  4. Pirates (Tabata & Presley)
  5. Cubs (DeJesus & Barney)
  6. Astros (Schafer & Lowrie)

There are no true burners in any of the leadoff positions in the Central, but they still will be highly productive in other ways. Weeks could lead the Majors in leadoff homers, while if Furcal & DeJesus have rebound seasons at the plate, could provide long needed sparks to the top of St. Louis & Chicago’s lineup. Jose Tabata is an underrated leadoff talent in Pittsburgh.

Heart of the Lineup

  1. Reds (Votto/Rolen/Bruce)
  2. Cardinals (Holliday/Berkman/Freese)
  3. Brewers (Braun/Ramirez/Hart)
  4. Pirates (McCutchen/Walker/Jones)
  5. Cubs (Castro/LeHair/Soriano)
  6. Astros (Martinez/Lee/Bogusevic)

A good year from Scott Rolen was a big difference between last year’s 79 win club, and the 91 win one the year before. He’s the balance the team is built on. Same goes for Berkman in St. Louis, who held together a team that had a rollercoaster summer & fall. The Pirates lack a true power hitter, but have a lot of promise in their lineup. Castro led the NL in hits a year ago, and now will be counted to be the primary run creator for the rebuilding Cubs.

Braun won his first MVP last season, beat a PED suspension in the winter, and now returns to lead the Crew without Fielder for the first time.

Bench

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs
  6. Astros

Ryan Ludwick, Miguel Cairo and hot prospect Devin Morasco lead a versatile Reds bench, which will bleed into the everyday lineup to diversify the Cincy attack. Allen Craig and Skip Schumaker are starters on a lot of clubs, and once healthy will be counted on heavily in St. Louis. Carlos Gomez is a Gold Glove caliber centerfielder that also puts plus speed on Milwaukee’s bench.

Defense

  1. Reds
  2. Cardinals
  3. Pirates
  4. Astros
  5. Brewers
  6. Cubs

In a subpar defensive division, the Reds still standout as the best defensive team in the NL. Rolen is arguably the best to ever do it at third base, and still hasn’t lost many steps. Phillips & Votto are both Gold Glovers from a year ago, while Bruce both covers ground and has the best outfield arm in the NL. Furcal shored up the St. Louis infield defense tremendously, and Berkman moving to first and Beltran taking over right will improve the overall St. Louis guard. Molina may be the best defender at any position in the game.

Speed

  1. Pirates
  2. Astros
  3. Brewers
  4. Reds
  5. Cardinals
  6. Cubs

Another area the division is not great in; it actually gives the Pirates a source of clear strength. McCutchen has 20/20 capability, while Tabata, Presley and Barmes all are good base runners as well. Jordan Schafer could be solid threat out of the Houston leadoff position, and Drew Stubbs is a threat for 30 steals for the Reds.

McCutchen was handed a six-year extension to continue to blaze the Pittsburgh outfields for the foreseeable future.

Manager

  1. Dusty Baker, Reds
  2. Ron Roenicke, Brewers
  3. Clint Hurdle, Pirates
  4. Dale Sveum, Cubs
  5. Mike Matheny, Cardinals
  6. Brad Mills, Astros

With Tony LaRussa gone, Baker has the biggest gap in both experience and ability from his divisional contemporaries of any manager in the game. The ability to steal a few games and win them from the dugout is crucial, and Baker has that ability. No manager has had to shoulder a more immediate burden than Matheny will, how he reacts will be major on how the Cardinals push through the summer.

Finances

  1. Cubs
  2. Cardinals
  3. Reds
  4. Brewers
  5. Astros
  6. Pirates

The Cubs always have a good amount of resources on hand, and are constantly being freed of the glut of terrible contracts that have been an anchor for the last few years. New team president Theo Epstein and new GM Jed Hoyer won’t spend recklessly, but they are in position to make some big additions if needed. The Astros could look to make a few moves soon to prepare for their AL debut next year.

Impact Additions

  1. Mat Latos (Reds from Padres)
  2. Carlos Beltran (Cardinals from Giants)
  3. Aramis Ramirez (Brewers from Cubs)
  4. Sean Marshall (Reds from Cubs)
  5. David DeJesus (Cubs from A’s)

This category could just as easily be dedicated to everything that was lost from the division this winter, but life goes on. The Reds traded a world of talent to land Latos, so they are truly all in on his ability to stabilize a pitching staff that was among the league’s worse last year. Beltran was the Cards’ big signing in the wake of losing Pujols, just as Ramirez was for the Brewers after Prince Fielder booked. Both will have to play vital roles if both teams are to continue to compete at their level from a year ago.

Breakthrough Candidates

  1. Jason Motte, Cardinals
  2. Mat Gamel, Brewers
  3. Bryan LeHair, Cubs
  4. Bud Norris, Astros
  5. Tyler Greene, Cardinals

The Cardinals blew 24 saves a year ago, second worse in baseball, before Motte finally provided an answer late. If he can continue his shutdown ways into this year, he could be the breakout late innings man in the league. Bryan LeHair tore Triple A apart last year, and now will be counted on to keep it going at the top level.

Norris is a great up and coming talent in Houston, he's just not surrounded by much that lets it turn into many wins.

Rookies/Prospects to Watch

  1. Zack Cozart (Shortstop, Reds)
  2. Devin Morasco (Catcher, Reds)
  3. Anthony Rizzo (First Baseman, Cubs)
  4. Brett Jackson (Center Field, Cubs)
  5. Shelby Miller (Pitcher, Cardinals)

Cozart made a big impact in short amount of time last year, hitting .324 in 11 games before Tommy John surgery ended his year. He’s got the talent to be a front runner for the Rookie of the Year this season. Rizzo has been traded twice in two years, but mostly because of the major talent he holds. If he gets a chance to make it to Chicago this year, it could be the chance he gets to show it.

2011 PREDICTION

  1. Cardinals
  2. Reds
  3. Brewers
  4. Pirates
  5. Cubs
  6. Astros

It’s as close a divide between the top three teams in the Central as any division in the game. There are guarantees from each squad; the Brewers will pitch well, the Reds will hit and the Cardinals will do a bit of both well to balance it out. However, there are more guarantees from the guys in St. Louis than the other two. The Cardinals will enter the season not at full strength, due to three key injuries tailing in from Spring Training. However, they will regain Carpenter, Schumaker and Craig into the season, as well as Wainwright out the gate, who finished in the top 3 of the Cy Young races in ’09 and ’10.

The Reds have just as much balance as the Cardinals do, as well as nearly as many elite players as well. They have a great deal of depth, and will have no problem scoring runs. But the rotation is far from proven and has talent, yet no definite stopper. Also, the bullpen has the unenviable task of figuring itself out midseason after losing it’s newly signed closer for the entire year. Roenicke also has his share of issues to sort out in the runs producing department outside of Braun, in addition to finding new depth for a bullpen that lost multiple key contributors.

The Pirates have the talent, and can put together a run, but their pitching is already banged up and there’s little time to waste getting back in the race. The Cubs are still in contract unloading mode, and have stated a desire to rebuild from within, which takes time and makes for rough years. The Astros are baseball’s youngest team and play like it. Another finish at the bottom of baseball could be the landing spot.

While some parts won’t return, the vast majority of the hottest team baseball history will in St. Louis, and they’ll only get better as the year goes. In the end, shared experience, assured stability, a momentum carry over and a few big additions will pull the Cardinals to the top of the Central for the first time since 2009 and in position to have a chance to repeat as champs.

That’s it for the division-by-division previews this year in the CHEAP SEATS, but tomorrow I’m bringing it all together and take a look at all the in-between the lines predictions and finish up with some World Series picks just in time for the first game of the year. Til then, follow me on Twitter at @CheapSeatFan.

Headed into a new week of St. Louis Cardinals , here’s a trip around the diamond with the Redbird’s week that was…and to come.

LEADING OFF – Turnabout Is Fair Play: The Cardinals pulled off a rare feat for them this weekend: they won on the road in the division. More so than that, they won a series on the road (and came within a pickoff of a sweep, which would have been their first of the season on the road). Much has been made of Pittsburgh’s turnaround, and rightfully so. However they have stalled recently…

Flipping Rasmus' for a bottom of the rotation free agent to be or relief pitcher could be a sign of panic regarding his future.

More on the Cardinals reclaiming the Central crown, The Birds find the road back home…finally, Colby Rasmus’ apparent trade value and a record setting performance of the undesirable type in this week’s spin around Cardinal Nation via St. Louis Sports 360, right now.