NL Manager of the Year Watch: NL Central skippers among the favorites
The NL Manager of the Year race is wide open. Not coincidentally, so is the NL wild-card race.
To conclude our week of examining where the major BBWAA postseason awards stand, let's check out the managers.
Manager of the Year seems to have a different set of criteria than the individual player awards, because the measure is usually which skipper has the team that has most exceeded expectations. Nowadays that seems to mean leading a small-market team to the postseason via a wild-card spot.
As a reminder, we're not making personal picks but instead are gauging how the vote would land based upon historical BBWAA voting tendencies. Let's break down the National League Manager of the Year race.
[Managers listed alphabetically within categories]
Clint Hurdle, Pirates
The Pirates won 94 games last season and pushed the Cardinals to the brink in the NLDS, the team's first postseason berth in two decades, but it appeared they were poised for a letdown in 2014 after an inactive offseason. An 18-26 start didn't exactly assuage any concerns, but Hurdle's team has gone 46-31 since, the best record in the NL during that time. They've done that even though ace Gerrit Cole has made three starts since the end of May due to injuries and NL MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen recently broke a rib. The Pirates are currently a half-game up on the second wild-card spot and climbing. Hurdle is looking to become only the second man to be named Manager of the Year in consecutive years, joining Bobby Cox (2004-05).
Ron Roenicke, Brewers
Despite an overworked bullpen and key injuries to Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun, the Brewers have been no worse than tied for first place in the NL Central since April 5, five games into the season. Their current two-game lead isn't as big as it once was (topped out at 6½ games on four occasions) but they continue to sit atop the standings and are in position to return to the postseason for the first time since 2011. All this comes after they went 74-88 last year, finishing in fourth place in the division. If the Brewers hang on to that NL Central lead and win the division for only the second time in the past 30 years, Roenicke will get a ton of Manager of the Year support and deservedly so.
|In the mix|
Mike Matheny, Cardinals
The Cardinals currently sit in the first wild-card spot, a half-game up on Pittsburgh. They've remained in postseason contention despite a wholly underperforming offense and devastating long-term injuries to Yadier Molina and Michael Wacha, not to mention underperformance by Shelby Miller and the since traded Allen Craig. St. Louis could overcome those problems and sneak into the postseason, but, even if they do, I think there's a sense the team should be better than this, and that might work against Matheny.
Don Mattingly, Dodgers
The Dodgers have the best record in the National League at 70-53, and they've opened up a comfortable 5½-game lead in the NL West. Remember, they were as far as 9½ games back at one point. Mattingly benefits from a sky-high payroll, no doubt about it, but it's worth noting Los Angeles is the only top-four payroll team currently in postseason position. Money hardly guarantees success. Mattingly's case will be hurt by the payroll though, because his team is supposed to be this good.
|On the periphery|
Mike Redmond, Marlins
Redmond is a long shot, but his Marlins are 60-61 and only four games back of the second wild-card spot at this moment. They would be even closer to the Pirates and Cardinals (and Giants) had Jose Fernandez not blown out his elbow in mid-May. Joe Girardi was named 2006 NL Manager of the Year (and was fired that offseason) after leading the Fish to a 78-84 record and a fourth-place finish, so there is precedent for a Marlins skipper winning the award for simply exceeding expectations.
Matt Williams, Nationals
The Nationals have the biggest division lead (six games) and best run differential (plus-89) in the National League, yet it still feels like they've underperformed this year. The burden of expectations, I guess. Williams' treatment of Bryce Harper -- benching him for a lack of hustle while turning a blind eye when other players on the team do the same, specifically -- could either help or hurt his case depending on how the voters feel about Harper.