By Mike Ivcic
We’re down to the final seven days of the 2013 MLB regular season, which means the playoffs are almost upon us. It’s time to hand out some end-of-season awards – both real and fictitious – before nailing down our final 10 playoff teams. And if you’re a baseball fan in Boston, Cleveland, Atlanta, Tampa, Dallas, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore, St. Louis, Oakland, New York, Los Angeles, or Kansas City, you’re rooting for a team that’s either already clinched a playoff spot or is still fighting hard to earn said spot. That’s 14 out of 30 fan bases still actively following their team’s postseason hopes in the final week of the regular season. Anyone who says the second wild card isn’t helping the sport is just flat-out wrong.
American League MVP – Miguel Cabrera, Detroit Tigers
With apologies to Chris Davis, I really don’t think this is even a debate. Cabrera is playing at a level that’s just higher than everyone else’s. His .349 average and 136 RBI’s lead the AL, while his 44 homeruns place him second to Davis (51). He’s also unquestionably the most feared hitter in the game right now, and sometimes the pitchers will tell you who the best hitter is just by the way they react to having to face a certain hitter. I would venture that a lot of pitchers don’t like facing Davis, but there just isn’t anyone that strikes fear into opposing hurlers like Miguel Cabrera.
National League MVP – Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
There have been a number of good hitter in the NL this season – Paul Goldschmidt, Michael Cuddyer, Andrew McCutcheon, and Jay Bruce have all had good years and deserve some recognition, but no offensive player has stood out like Kershaw has on the mound for the Dodgers. His 1.88 ERA is remarkable, but it’s his 0.92 WHIP, 224 strikeouts, and .195 opponents batting average against that truly makes his season MVP-worthy. If you’re the type of person that believes the MVP should always go to a position player, then my vote would be for McCutcheon, but I just don’t see how this goes to anyone other than the LA southpaw.
American League LVP – Josh Thole, Toronto Blue Jays
I hate picking on a former Met, but Thole has a season to forget for the Jays. One of the key pieces Toronto received along with R.A. Dickey in exchange for John Buck and prized prospects Noah Syndergaard and Travis d’Arneaud, Thole managed only 107 at-bats and hit just .150 on the year with four extra base hits and 7 RBI’s. He also never materialized as a personal catcher for Dickey – something any Mets fan already knew but was apparently news to the Toronto front office – which decreased his value to the organization even further. The left-handed hitting catcher still should have some value, but he definitely picked a terrible season to have the worst year of his career.
National League LVP – B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
It’s a stat line that’s downright awful – 388 AB, .186 average, 9 HR, 26 RBI, 150 strikeouts, .270 OBP, .291 SLG, -1.7 WAR. For that, the Braves are paying him $12.45 million this year – which escalates another $1 million each of the next four seasons. He would probably have been the LVP regardless of his contract, but anytime a position player is averaging just about $1.4 million per homerun, he’s a shoe-in for this award.
American League Cy Young – Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers
National League Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
AL Manager of the Year – Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians
This was the single hardest award for me to determine. There are three men that, in any given year, would be virtual locks to win this award, but Bob Melvin’s Athletics made the playoffs last year, so a repeat playoff appearance isn’t totally unbelievable, and John Farrell had a front office that deserves just about as much of a role in turning the Red Sox around as he did on the bench, so this award belongs to the former Boston manager, Francona. Fired by the Sox for the “fried chicken and beer” collapse in 2011, he spent one year in the ESPN Sunday Night Baseball booth before captaining the Indians to within a week of their first playoff berth since his own Boston team rallied from a 3-1 deficit to win the 2007 ALCS. Considering the biggest (and really only) major offseason acquisition for Cleveland was Nick Swisher, it’s amazing to see how this team has battled through 156 games to even be in consideration for the playoffs in the final week. I do reserve the right to change this pick to Melvin if Cleveland surrenders one of the wild card spots against the White Sox and Twins, but for now this is Francona’s award.
NL Manager of the Year – Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Look, I get that Mike Matheny, Dusty Baker, and Don Mattingly all did wonderful jobs with the Cardinals, Dodgers, and Reds respectively. I get that Freddi Gonzalez presides over the Braves, the best team in the entire National League. But when you manage the team that breaks the longest streak of consecutive losing seasons in the history of major American professional sports and snaps a 20-season playoff drought, you get to be Manager of the Year. End of story.
And now, the final playoff teams in my predicted order of seed…
1) St. Louis Cardinals
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Los Angeles Dodgers
4) Cincinnati Reds
5) Pittsburgh Pirates
We’ll start with the easier of the two leagues. The top three teams have already clinched playoff spots – the Dodgers and Braves also clinching their respective divisions – and both the Pirates and Reds are any combination of two wins or two Nationals losses away from also joining the playoff parade. The key here is who will win the Central, where the Cardinals have a two-game lead over both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati. As mentioned multiple times, the Pirates and Reds finish the season with three in Ohio, so St. Louis definitely has the edge – and because they’re still being chased from behind, they’ll be forced to play out the string either way and should ultimately pass Atlanta for the top overall seed. I think the Reds will be able to win enough games against the Mets and Pirates in the final week to host the one-game playoff, though I’m probably pulling harder for Pittsburgh to win the NL pennant than I am for anyone else.
1) Boston Red Sox
2) Oakland Athletics
3) Detroit Tigers
4) Cleveland Indians
5) Tampa Bay Rays
The division winners are all but assured – Boston’s already won the East, Oakland’s magic number is 1 in the West, and Detroit’s is 2 in the Central. There are also two games separating each of those three teams in the standings as well, meaning any order of the top three that isn’t as it’s listed above would be a big surprise. Tampa currently holds a half-game lead over Cleveland for the top wild card spot, while the Indians are 1.5 games clear of Texas, 3.5 games up on Kansas City, 4 games ahead of the Yankees, and 4.5 games better than Baltimore. The final three teams are all but eliminated, while the Rangers are 5-15 in April and will need to probably win at least five, if not more, of their final seven games against the Astros and Angels. Assuming that doesn’t happen, it leaves the Rays and Indians playing for the right to host the other in the one-game playoff. Cleveland has two at home against the Twins before finishing in Minnesota for four, while the Rays will finish their home slate Monday afternoon against Baltimore before finishing with six on the road – three in the Bronx and three in Toronto. Because of the easier closing schedule, I’ll give the advantage to the Indians for the four spot in the AL.
That means our final playoff “dead” list looks like this:
Playoff “Dead” List
September 23 – Texas Rangers
September 23 – New York Yankees
September 16 – Baltimore Orioles
September 16 – Washington Nationals
September 9 – Arizona Diamondbacks
September 2 – Kansas City Royals
August 26 – San Francisco Giants
August 19 – Philadelphia Phillies
August 12 – Colorado Rockies
August 5 – Los Angeles Angels
July 29 – Toronto Blue Jays
July 22 – San Diego Padres
July 15 – Minnesota Twins
July 8 – Chicago White Sox
July 1 – Milwaukee Brewers
June 24 – Seattle Mariners
June 17 – Chicago Cubs
June 10 – New York Mets
June 3 – Houston Astros
May 27 – Miami Marlins
Let’s see if I can go 10-for-10 for the first time since 2010!
Thank you for reading my weekly column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday all season long at ultimatecapper.com. Check back next Monday for “The Tenth Inning – Playoff Edition” as we preview the two wild card games and each potential first-round series.
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