A 60-game season, it turns out, will not spawn any unsightly asterisks.
Ted Williams retained his standing as the last .400 hitter in history and Bob Gibson’s 1.12 earned run average in 1968 remains the gold standard of the modern era. Precious statistical milestones were not blemished by pandemic baseball.
Nor will there be any major award winners who will look out of place among the lists of MVPs and Cy Young Award winners.
As this strange season comes to a close, here is one unofficial ballot for the major awards:
AL Most Valuable Player — Jose Ramirez, Indians. His walkoff home run against the White Sox on Tuesday night clinched a playoff spot. That certainly helped his case.
That Ramirez was the most productive hitter on a team that has relied on its pitching aids his cause, too. White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu and shortstop Tim Anderson are worthy, but Ramirez carried the Indians' offense largely on his own.
That the Angels have two candidates in Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, but are headed for a fifth consecutive losing season, speaks to the issues with the rest of their roster.
Luke Voit likely won’t win. But he has a good chance to be the first Yankee to lead the majors in home runs since Alex Rodriguez in 2007.
NL Most Valuable Player — Freddie Freeman, Braves. In a season colored by the pandemic, Freeman tested positive for COVID-19 in early July and had a dangerously high fever. But he recovered and went into the weekend with a 1.084 OPS and 51 RBIs over 57 games for a division winner. He would be a fitting winner.
That Mookie Betts was the best player on the best team gives him a good shot. This will surely be the fifth consecutive season he finishes in the top eight in the voting.
Fernando Tatis Jr. carried the Padres early before Manny Machado took over.
Juan Soto has Williams-style numbers (.351/.487/.703) but didn’t play until Aug. 5, and the Nationals were one of the worst teams in the National League.
AL Cy Young — Shane Bieber, Indians. This is the easiest call of the bunch. He was 8-1 with a 1.63 ERA and struck out 122 over 77⅓ innings in his first 12 starts.
The Indians have managed their rotation so well, making trades knowing the 25-year-old Bieber was ready to emerge. He should receive every first-place vote.
NL Cy Young — Trevor Bauer, Reds. His 1.73 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings will impress voters who know a 5-4 record doesn’t remotely indicate how well he pitched.
“Gimme dat,” Bauer tweeted after allowing one run over eight innings against the Brewers on Wednesday while pitching on three days' rest.
If Bauer wins, he’ll be the first Reds pitcher with a Cy Young. They’ve had three runners-up, including Tom Seaver in 1981.
Excellent cases can be made for Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, and two-time defending winner Jacob deGrom.
AL Rookie of the Year — Kyle Lewis, Mariners. His offensive numbers have tailed off this month. But the 25-year-old center fielder has produced at the plate and been a game-changer defensively.
Seattle hasn’t had a Rookie of the Year since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. The Mariners’ last Rookie of the Year not to have played in Japan prior was Alvin Davis in 1984.
NL Rookie of the Year — Jake Cronenworth, Padres. He had an .885 OPS through 50 games with 22 extra-base hits. Alec Bohm of the Phillies has impressed, too. But Cronenworth played nine more games.
Lefthander David Peterson of the Mets was 6-2 with a 3.44 ERA.
AL Manager of the Year — Rick Renteria, White Sox. Chicago is in the postseason for the first time since 2008 and has its first winning record since 2012.
Renteria deserves some recognition. He managed the Cubs in 2014 and was fired only because Joe Maddon became available. Renteria took over the White Sox in 2017 and inherited a full rebuild that resulted in 284 losses in his first three seasons.
The White Sox targeted this season to emerge and they accomplished that goal.
NL Manager of the Year — Don Mattingly, Marlins. The Marlins have used 61 players this season, at one point rebuilding much of their roster after a series of positive COVID-19 tests.
Miami didn’t play from July 27-Aug. 3 and has since played seven doubleheaders. The Marlins overcame those obstacles to earn their first playoff berth since 2003 after losing 105 games last season.
The understated Mattingly deserves credit for keeping his players together under tough circumstances.
GOING, GOING GONE?
Bradley may be done with Sox
Jackie Bradley Jr. said earlier this season he was eager to explore free agency and learn what other teams think of him. His actions in recent days made it clear that hasn’t changed.
Before the final home game of the season on Thursday, Bradley posted a short video of Fenway Park on Instagram with the caption, “Got here a lot earlier than normal today.”
The game was potentially Bradley’s last as a Sox player at Fenway and he wanted to soak in the atmosphere.
Erin Bradley then posted a photo with her husband and their daughter in front of Fenway Park captioned, “What could be our last as members of the Red Sox.”
View this post on Instagram
Today could very well be this mans last game at Fenway Park as a Red Sox. We wish that we could be there with him today to celebrate what today means for him and our family. The opportunity that the @redsox gave him so many years ago has been our life’s path since 2012(2011 for him). Boston has been a huge part of our life and no matter where we end up the memories made here, the people we met, the friends we made, the organizations we gave our time to, the birth of our daughter, and from the struggles to the championships won this place will always hold such a special spot in our hearts. Here is our first picture together at Fenway as boyfriend and girlfriend to our last as “the old married couple on the team” and soon to be family of four. Thank you @redsox for everything. I wish I could be there with you today @jackiebradleyjr to celebrate you and the man and ball player you have become. Just know that we will always be there with you in heart.
Chaim Bloom has said the Sox value Bradley. But center field prospect Jarren Duran could be ready sometime in 2021 and would be a much cheaper alternative.
As the Red Sox rebuild, Bradley may prefer a contending team or one closer to his home in Florida. As the 2018 team gets gradually broken up, Bradley looks like the next to go.
Other observations about the Red Sox:
▪ Plenty of fans (and some in the media) criticized Chris Sale for not undergoing Tommy John surgery last summer when he went on the injured list. He instead tried to rehab his injury, only to suffer ligament damage when he faced hitters in March.
On a more condensed timetable, that’s what happened with Justin Verlander. The Astros ace first felt pain on July 24, but the decision to have surgery wasn’t made until Sept. 19, after he faced hitters and his elbow gave out.
Elbow surgery isn’t something a pitcher does as a preventative measure because there isn’t a guarantee it will work and the rehabilitation period is long and arduous.
Plenty of pitchers — Masahiro Tanaka being one example — have rehabbed a ligament strain and returned to form.
Where the Red Sox made a mistake was giving Sale a five-year, $145 million extension before the 2019 season. Since his college days, Sale’s mechanics have suggested he was an injury risk.
▪ Mookie Betts had some interesting comments while appearing on the R2C2 podcast with CC Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco.
He said the Red Sox also considered a deal with the Padres before sending him to the Dodgers. He also praised the Sox front office for “doing a great job” by keeping him informed of the developments.
“I thought [being traded] was going to hurt. It didn’t hurt initially,” Betts said. “But a couple of days later it was kind of sad a little bit.”
Betts also discussed his decision to sign a long-term contract with the Dodgers.
“The misconception was that I was just looking for this huge payday … that wasn’t really the case. I was just looking for fair market value,” he said. “The Dodgers came with a fair offer.”
Betts said he didn’t like Los Angeles in his previous visits, but he and family have come to love it. He also purchased a home that is a 20-minute drive from Dodger Stadium.
▪ Sabathia also revealed on the podcast that he essentially invented a beef with Bradley to motivate himself when he faced the Red Sox during the final years of his career.
For years, nobody could figure out why Sabathia would glare at Bradley on the field or yell at him. It went back to Bradley first’s major league plate appearance in 2013, when he drew a walk off Sabathia to help fuel a four-run inning.
“All he did was have a good at-bat,” Sabathia said.
▪ The Pawtucket Red Sox faded from existence on Friday when a short simulated game was played before the players were allowed to head home. Nick Yorke had the final at-bat, facing Seth Blair.
The team is moving to Worcester after 50 years in Rhode Island. The Red Sox will have a better facility and central Massachusetts a new attraction in Polar Park.
But for people in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts, it’s a big loss. For a lot of us who grew up around there, summer wasn’t complete without at least one trip to McCoy Stadium.
Landing Wallace seen as a coup
University of Connecticut baseball coach Jim Penders was taking a break between fall workouts with his players the other day when he returned a call to discuss the Red Sox acquiring his former closer, Jacob Wallace, from the Rockies as the player to be named later for Kevin Pillar.
“I don’t know if Chaim Bloom was wearing a mask, but that was highway robbery,” Penders said.
For what will be no more than 24 games from Pillar this season, the Sox received a 22-year-old former third-round pick who allowed three runs in 21 innings in his first taste of pro ball last summer and struck out 29.
“You can’t ask for a better person,” Penders said. “He’s one of our favorites and would be even if he wasn’t such an outstanding player. He’s completely selfless.”
Wallace, who played at Methuen High, left scholarship money from another school on the table to pay his own way to UConn as a freshman. His fastball was in the mid 80s at the time, but pitching coach Josh MacDonald liked the way the ball came out of his hand.
Wallace’s fastball now sits at 94-95 and climbs to 97.
“He loves high-pressure situations,” Penders said. “His stuff plays. When we played Oklahoma State [in the 2019 NCAA tournament] they were one of the best offensive teams in the country and he made them look silly.”
Wallace faced seven hitters in that game and struck them all out to extend UConn’s season.
Penders predicted Wallace would make a quick climb through the minors, something relievers can accomplish more readily than starters. He’s headed to Florida this coming week and will take part in the fall program the Sox will host in Fort Myers.
“The trade was a great thing for Jake and his family,” Penders said. “He’ll have [UConn product] Matt Barnes around to help him out, too. I give the Sox a lot of credit for bringing him in.”
Hall should recognize scouts
Players, managers, executives, umpires, writers, and broadcasters are all eligible for recognition at the Hall of Fame after careful consideration.
Shouldn’t the same be true for scouts, coaches or others who have made significant contributions to the game?
The recent death of Gary Hughes, who scouted for 54 years, should cause the Hall to consider it. Hughes worked for 11 teams, earned five World Series rings, and was a mentor to so many in his profession.
During his time with the Red Sox, Hughes would be assigned to travel with younger scouts working games in Arizona and Florida so they could soak up his knowledge.
“That was huge for them,” pro scouting director Gus Quattlebaum said. “Two hours in a car with Gary on the way to a game was educational.”
Hughes, who was with the Red Sox from 2012-19, took on all tasks. He’d represent the team at the amateur draft, evaluate trade candidates from other teams or wade into the farm system to offer fresh perspective on the prospects.
“He’d go anywhere,” Quattlebaum said. “He had experience in every arena. Gary was a big part of everything we did.”
So, whether it’s Hughes, ballpark architect Janet Marie Smith, or a famed coach such as Dave Duncan or Leo Mazzone, the Hall should have a platform to honor people who shaped the game.
“It’s hard to grade proprietary work,” Quattlebaum said. “Nobody ever really sees what a scout does. But when somebody was an ambassador of the game the way Gary was, it absolutely makes sense.”
The Padres could leave Mitch Moreland off their postseason roster. He had only a .498 OPS in his first 17 games with San Diego, failing to give the offense a boost. With Eric Hosmer back in the lineup after missing 11 days with a fractured finger, Moreland’s value off the bench dropped a bit. But Moreland’s 48 games of playoff experience shouldn’t be discounted … If the Angels move on from general manager Billy Eppler, Dave Dombrowski is a good candidate to come in. Owner Arte Moreno is in win-now mode with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon, and Dombrowski has shown he can make that happen if you’re willing to pay for it, and Moreno is … The Cubs laid off 25 percent of their business staff on Thursday after making cuts in baseball operations last month. The Cubs, like many teams, are preparing for a 2021 season that may only be played to half capacity, if that … MLB holds a celebrity softball game in conjunction with the All-Star Game every season. Rapper and occasional actor Machine Gun Kelly told Howard Stern this past week that he played the game in Cleveland last year while high on LSD. He homered, too. Shades of Dock Ellis … The Cubs started 13-3, then went 19-22. They have secured a playoff spot but need Javy Baez and Kris Bryant to give them much more offensively … Baltimore’s Trey Mancini finished chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer this past week. The hope remains that he could play next season … Life as a reliever suits Drew Pomeranz. He converted to the bullpen last season and allowed seven earned runs on 19 hits over the 49⅓ innings that followed with 17 walks and 80 strikeouts. He went into the weekend having not allowed a run in 18 innings for the Padres this season … Dusty Baker of the Astros is the first manager to guide five teams to the postseason. He and Billy Martin had been the only ones with four … The Rays have 12 pitchers with at least one save, a major league record they managed in 53 games … Happy birthday to Mike Miller, who is 31. Miller played one game for the Sox, on June 27, 2016, at Tampa Bay. He replaced Dustin Pedroia at second base in the eighth inning, then grounded out in the ninth. Miller stayed in the organization until last season, when he was released and signed with the Twins. Pedro Ciriaco, who played well during the dismal 2012 season, is 35 and done with pro ball.