Looking back over the 2015 season, it seems odd now that so many prognosticators were high on teams that have been basically non-factors the whole year. After adding Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to an already potent lineup, veryone thought the Red Sox would contend in a weaker AL East. Plenty of people tabbed the Mariners to win the AL West after addressing their right-handed power dearth by adding Nelson Cruz. And the Washington Nationals, fresh off a 96 win campaign in 2014, looked to be the darlings of the NL after inking Max Scherzer to a mega-deal in January.
Boy, do those predictions look bad now.
I was high on all three of those teams, like everybody else. But I also saw a few things coming back in the spring.
- I predicted the Dodgers would win the NL West.
- I predicted the Cardinals would win the NL Central.
- I predicted the Pirates would be a pesky threat to the Cardinals all season. From my NL Central Preview: “If there’s a team in this division that could push the Cardinals, it’s not the Cubs; it’s Pittsburgh.”
- I predicted the Blue Jays would be in the playoff hunt. (Who knew they were going to go out and get David Price AND Troy Tulowitzki AND go on such an epic late-season run?)
But this season has been so unique. I never thought the Royals would replicate their success from last season, at least not to the degree that they have. Heading into the season’s final weekend, they’re playing for home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I didn’t think the Yankees had enough juice to be a contender, but I was wrong there, too. No matter what you think of him, it will be a travesty if Alex Rodriguez does not win Comeback Player of the Year. And the Astros and Twins fighting for a playoff berth in the season’s final three games? I never would’ve believed it if you told me in the spring.
And that’s just in the American League. Over in the NL, Washington’s total fail is likely going to cost Matt Williams — the 2014 NL Manager of the Year — his job. All of which opened the door for a young and hungry Mets team, led by the dynamic pitching of Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, and Noah Syndergaard. And lest we forget about him, as of this writing, the team leader in innings pitched is 42 year old Bartolo Colon. The Metropolitans changed their everyday lineup and — most importantly — their season when they acquired Yoenis Cespedes at the trade deadline. No, he’s not the NL MVP (as some will claim), but he has energized a lineup that has come alive in the season’s final two months.
The National League’s Central division plays host to the three best teams in the majors: the 100-win (and counting) St. Louis Cardinals, the 96-win Pittsburgh Pirates, and the 94-win Chicago Cubs. I predicted these clubs would finish 1-2-3, but I never expected Chicago to emerge this quickly. We all thought the kids would need another year to marinate, but we were wrong. Kris Bryant has played at an MVP level all season (but he’s not the selection either). Addison Russell has solidified the Cubs middle infield. And Kyle Schwarber was a mid-season revelation as a catcher-turned-outfielder. The Jon Lester signing brought depth to the rotation but the growth of Jake Arrieta has been nothing short of extraordinary. I’m glad the Pirates have to face him in the Wild Card game. That guy has been absolutely dominant down the stretch and he’s my choice in the three-headed race for the NL Cy Young Award.
But the Cardinals season has been truly special. Scouts have raved for years about the Cards stockpile of young talent, so a 100-win campaign should come as no surprise for such a storied and well-run organization. But as someone who follows the club on a daily basis, the 2015 iteration of the team has endured a spate of injuries to key contributors, yet the team continues to excel. To wit:
- Opening Day starter Adam Wainwright spent five months on the shelf after suffering a torn left Achilles in April.
- Starting left fielder and #3 hitter Matt Holliday has missed over 80 games this season with quad injuries.
- Setup reliever Jordan Walden has not thrown a pitch since April.
- Highly touted prospect Marco Gonzales has missed most of the 2015 season.
- Starting 1B and cleanup hitter Matt Adams has appeared in only 58 games as of this writing.
- All-Star / Gold Glove catcher Yadier Molina is currently out with a partially sprained ligament in his thumb.
- All-Star SP Carlos Martinez is sitting with a right shoulder injury and will not pitch again in 2015.
- Jaime Garcia, Randall Grichuk, Jon Jay, and Holliday each had multiple stints on the disabled list this season.
And yet, here they sit with the best record in baseball. Best of all, all the prognosticators seem to be overlooking them. You’ll hear all about the Toronto run-differential; the co-aces in Los Angeles; the Mets young power pitchers. But nobody has much to say about the only 100-win team in the majors this season. But that’s the way we like it. Here’s hoping the #12in2015 is burning up my Twitter feed in late October.
Now for some thoughts on individual awards.
National League Most Valuable Player
This is really simple. It’s Bryce Harper. Case closed.
Harper has clearly been the premier bat in the National League this season — and possibly the entire major leagues. Let’s put it this way: Harper is mere percentage points away from leading all major league batters in the triple slash categories: batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. Sure, the Nationals have struggled to meet expectations this season, but you can’t lay the blame at Harper’s feet. (Unless, of course, you’re Jonathan Papelbon, who seems to think Harper has kept the Nats from playoff contention by refusing to run out every popup.)
Anthony Rizzo deserves mentioning here. And I suppose you could make a case for Cespedes if you emphasize the “valuable” part of the MVP debate rather than taking the “league’s best player” angle. (For that matter, where’s the MVP love for Jake Arrieta, Matt Carpenter, Zack Greinke, or Clayton Kershaw?)
But in the end, this is Harper’s well-deserved award.
American League Most Valuable Player
The story of the Blue Jays’ 2015 season will likely revolve around the acquisitions of David Price and Troy Tulowitzki, impact players who vaulted the Jays into the stratosphere as the best team in the league. But these moves should not overshadow the season long excellence of Josh Donaldson, your 2015 AL MVP.
It may seem strange to select Donaldson when he is surrounded by the likes of Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion in the Jays lineup. You could make the case that Toronto would be a mashing mess of sluggers even without Donaldson’s 41 HR, 123 RBI, 122 runs scored and .300 average. But Donaldson’s offense, in addition to his stellar defense and Toronto’s success, makes him a solid choice.
It seems strange that Mike Trout is somehow the boring choice in this debate. How could you go wrong with a talent like Trout, whose numbers are certainly MVP-worthy. But in this case, I’d take Donaldson.
National League Cy Young
It’s a three-horse race here. Jake Arrieta. Zack Greinke. Clayton Kershaw. Really, it’s flip a coin. Kershaw, the incumbent, has 16 wins and nearly 300 strikeouts. Greinke is 18-3 with a microscopic 1.68 ERA. (And can you imagine the prospect of facing that kind of nastiness over the course of a short playoff series?) But I give the slight edge to Arrieta, who has been nothing short of brilliant down the stretch.
I’m not going to mount some sort of apologetic for Arrieta over the other two, because honestly you could make a case for all three. But while Kershaw has a 1.36 ERA over 106 second-half innings, Arrieta has actually been better, posting a mind-blowing 0.80 ERA over 101 second half innings. To put it differently, Arrieta has allowed 9 earned runs in the second half, or the same number of earned runs Dallas Keuchel (a contender for the AL Cy Young) gave up in a Sept. 16 start against the Rangers. That’s unreal. Throw in 21 wins and I give the slight edge to Arrieta.
American League Cy Young
In the AL, it’s basically a two horse race: David Price, the Toronto-via-Detroit ace, and Dallas Keuchel, the Astros #1. Keuchel has been fantastic all year, particularly at home where he is 15-0 with a 1.46 ERA. For a young pitching staff, Keuchel has been a revelation, leading the league in innings pitched and carrying the upstart Astros to the brink of playoff contention.
But Price’s dominance has been a difference maker in the AL playoff picture, vaulting Toronto to a tie with Kansas City for the league’s best mark. I have a suspicion that will tilt the vote in his favor. Again, you could honestly flip a coin with these two (it’s scary how similar their numbers are), but I think Price will win by the narrowest of margins.
National League Rookie of the Year
This is probably the easiest of the awards to forecast. Kris Bryant has been every bit as good as the scouts told us he’d be. He’s flashed big time power all year, he’s driven in 100 runs despite missing the season’s first couple of weeks, and he’s played all over the diamond for the playoff-bound Cubbies. There’s really no other contender that can even make a legitimate claim. Bryant is the most deserving candidate by far.
American League Rookie of the Year
Yet again, we have a two-horse race. Indians SS Francisco Lindor has been one of the AL’s best kept secrets since debuting mid-summer. Languishing in near anonymity in Cleveland, the 21-year-old Lindor has mashed the ball since his call up in June, hitting .319/.357/.491 with 21 doubles, 12 homers and 51 RBI in 96 games. But Carlos Correa, the Astros’ similarly gifted SS wunderkind, has grabbed most of the headlines. Maybe that’s due to the Astros’ surprise resurgence; maybe Correa simply passes “the eye test” and displays a flashier set of skills. At the tender age of 20, Correa has mashed 22 HR (in 97 games), slugged .520, stolen 13 bases, and brought gravitas to the Astros lineup. Correa looks like a Jeter – Ripken hybrid at short. If I had a vote, I’d give it to him, hat tip to Lindor.