The season’s final weekend typically is the time to do some number-crunching to formulate a few educated guesses on the BBWAA’s annual awards.
This year, however, is a little different.
First off, let’s open with a round of applause for Major League Baseball, which actually managed to get through most of a 60-game schedule, despite my repeated skepticism in this space. I certainly wasn’t alone in expressing those doubts. But even with frequent interruptions in play, MLB still got to the final Friday in September riding a streak of 26 consecutive days without a player testing positive for COVID-19 (and 34 of the last 35).
Cheers to that, since this year’s coronavirus protocols have prevented clinching teams from celebrating with the traditional champagne showers. Otherwise, the 2020 season did achieve a surprising level of normalcy, or maybe we just became conditioned to empty ballparks, cardboard fans and drone delays.
Bottom line? The regular season lasted only two months, but it was still baseball, with performances to be rewarded, so let’s roll out the winners. And for accountability’s sake, I even included my preseason predictions, for those who like to keep score (disclaimer: I don’t have a ballot this year as the votes are rotated among members, so these picks exist for entertainment purposes only and will not be counted in the BBWAA tally).
Most Valuable Player
Jose Ramirez, Cleveland
The third baseman’s candidacy could also include comeback player of the year after last season’s surge ended with a fractured hamate bone in his wrist. This time, Ramirez finished the job, hitting .288 (through Friday) with 17 homers, 46 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and a .981 OPS. Down the stretch, he hit six home runs in a seven-game span, providing the exclamation point with Tuesday’s walk-off blast in the 10th inning to clinch a playoff berth.
Preseason pick: Francisco Lindor, Cleveland
At least I got the team right. The high-octane shortstop usually is the engine for Cleveland, but he took a backseat this year, despite playing in every game. His .767 OPS was a career low as Lindor looks ahead to free agency after the 2021 season.
Shane Bieber, Cleveland
Not much of a debate here. Bieber was far and away the No. 1 among aces, going 8-1 over 12 starts with an MLB-best 1.63 ERA, a 0.87 WHIP (2nd in AL) and .167 OBA (first in AL). He also was third in innings (77 1/3) and his 14.20 K/9 ratio was second only to the Rays’ Tyler Glasnow.
Preseason pick: Gerrit Cole, Yankees
OK, so I did go with the $324 million chalk here. And if the Yankees matched up Cole with Kyle Higashioka from Opening Day, maybe he would have won it. Still, he wasn’t too shabby, with a 2.84 ERA (sixth in AL) and 0.96 WHIP (fourth).
Rookie of the Year
Kyle Lewis, Mariners
Lewis, 24, was the best player on the Mariners, not an easy feat for a rookie but a no-brainer choice as he was leading the team in batting average (.271), home runs (11), runs (37) and walks (33). If Lewis finishes at the top of those categories, he’ll be only the second rookie since 1969 to lead a club in those four, joining the A’s Mark McGwire (1987).
Preseason pick: Luis Robert, White Sox
Robert got all the attention entering 2020 for the quick-rising Sox and only a late-season fade dropped him below Lewis, as he matched him with homers (11) and was ahead in RBIs (30). But an 0-for-26 skid this month cooled Robert, dropping his average to .222 from .255.
Manager of the Year
Kevin Cash, Rays
Cash deserves consideration for this award every year — he finished third in 2019 — but this was an especially tight race given what Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was able to do in keeping the vagabond Jays on track for the playoffs while relocating in Buffalo. But Cash gets the nod for helping the Rays stay focused through injuries to 10 members of their pitching staff and other key position players, as well as going 8-2 against the Yankees to deliver the first AL East crown since 2010. Bonus points for throwing colorful barbs at his Bronx rivals, too.
Preseason pick: Dusty Baker, Astros
Baker had his work cut out for him, not only in managing the most-hated team in baseball, but doing it amid a global pandemic that he was especially vulnerable to at the age of 71. Losing Justin Verlander (Tommy John surgery) after one start didn’t help, and many of the Astros underachieved, but Baker still got the defending AL champs back to the playoffs.
Most Valuable Player
Freddie Freeman, Atlanta
Freeman gets the nod over Juan Soto for two reasons: he was a driving force in getting Atlanta a third straight NL East title and also played in 13 more games, which comes out to nearly 22% of this season. Freeman missed the start of summer camp with a serious case of COVID-19 but rebounded with 13 homers, 53 RBIs, an 1.105 OPS and a .431 average with runners in scoring position (third in the NL). After four previous top 10 MVP finishes, this should be his trophy.
Preseason pick: Juan Soto, Nationals
Like I mentioned, this was a tough one. Soto tested positive for COVID-19 on Opening Day, then missed more than a week, only to think it may have been a false positive. He returned to lead the NL in three key categories: batting average (.351), on-base percentage (.487) and slugging (.703) while hitting 13 homers in only 44 games.
Trevor Bauer, Reds
With a few unfettered roars, Bauer may very well have clinched the award with Wednesday’s performance, striking out 12 in eight innings on three days’ rest, a one-run tour de force that dropped his NL-leading ERA to 1.73 and put him seventh on the innings board with 73 in 11 starts. Bauer also is second in WHIP (0.79) and fifth with 12.33 K/9.
Preseason pick: Jacob deGrom, Mets
With deGrom coming off back-to-back Cy wins, I was going with the Mets’ ace until somebody stops him. In this case, deGrom sabotaged himself, as he seemed to be cruising to a third Cy until Sept. 16, when he allowed three runs in two innings in a start cut short by a hamstring spasm. That bumped his ERA to 2.09 from 1.67, and it rose again to 2.14 before his final start Saturday, which happened too late to alter this vote.
Rookie of the Year
Jake Cronenworth, Padres
Of course the versatile Cronenworth, who also pitches, was a draft pick of the crafty Rays. But general manager AJ Preller was able to trade for him last winter and he’s jumped from Padres prospect to impact player almost immediately, hitting .299 with an .870 OPS while playing 50 games at four positions (36 at second base).
Preseason pick: Gavin Lux, Dodgers
The Lux hype train got derailed early when the 22-year-old second baseman showed up late for summer camp and was dispatched to the Dodgers’ alternate site before the regular season began. Since his call-up, he’s batting .180 (11-for-61) with three homers and 18 Ks in 17 games.
Manager of the Year
Don Mattingly, Marlins
In a season unlike any other, the Marlins experienced all kinds of crazy, and Mattingly somehow piloted them to their first playoff berth since winning the World Series in 2003 — incredibly after losing 105 games the previous year. The Marlins were shut down for eight days following the season’s first weekend when 18 players tested positive for COVID-19. Overall, they used 61 different players — 37 pitchers — and clinched a postseason berth in the Bronx, Mattingly’s former home and where the Marlins became world champs in ’03.
Preseason pick: Jayce Tingler, Padres
Slam Diego is one of the most exciting teams in baseball, and the rookie manager deserves credit making sure the young, super-talented roster stayed on course to capture the Padres’ first playoff berth since 2006. Tingler lost points, however, when he didn’t have Fernando Tatis Jr.’s back for the "crime" of hitting a home run on a 3-and-0 pitch. Got to protect your stars, Jayce.