ST. LOUIS — It was a season where teams were either really, really good, or were really, really bad.
There were four 100-victory teams this season, tying a major-league record.
There were four 100-loss teams, also tying a major-league record.
The expanded postseason took the drama of races, but if not for the third wild-card spot, the Philadelphia Phillies would be home right now instead of celebrating a two-game sweep in St. Louis that sent them to the National League Division Series.
The greatest September drama (and the first few days of October) were the fabulous home run chases of Albert Pujols (703 career) and Aaron Judge (62 regular-season) .
With the best-of-five Division Series beginning Tuesday, it’s time to look at the regular season one last time with our annual awards.
Yell or pour coffee on your keyboard, but here we go:
1. Aaron Judge, Yankees: The Yankees are a wild-card team, at best, without Judge, who carried this team all season with one of the greatest offensive performances in history: .311/.426/.686, 62 home runs and 131 RBI. And, oh yeah, he plays tremendous defense, too.
2. Shohei Ohtani, Angels: He’s the best player in the game, but then again, so was Barry Bonds, and the baseball writers didn’t give him the MVP award 20 consecutive years. The Angels, the last we looked, finished 33 games out of first place. If Ohtani kept them in contention, this award race might be a different story.
3. Jose Ramirez, Guardians: Sure, he didn’t even have the best all-around season on his own team with second baseman Andres Gimenez’s stellar year. Yet, the Guardians are sitting home and watching the playoffs on TV if Ramirez hadn’t picked up a pen and signed that team-friendly seven-year, $141 million contract. He made his teammates believe they can win the AL Central. The man chose to stay in Cleveland rather than be traded to the Padres – who were prepared to give him a much more lucrative contract extension. Pretty cool to be a Guardians fan these days.
1. Justin Verlander, Astros: He’s 39 years old, coming off Tommy John surgery, pitching just six innings in the last two years, and then has one of the most sensational seasons in history. He produces a 1.75 ERA, the lowest by an American League pitcher in a full season since Hall of Famer Pedro Martinez in 2000. Maybe Verlander really can become the next 300-win pitcher. You going to bet against him?
2. Dylan Cease, White Sox: He was a one-man show all season, putting on one of the greatest pitching clinics in White Sox history. He permitted no more than one earned run in 23 of his 32 starts. And he set an MLB record by yielding one or zero earned runs in 14 consecutive starts from May 29-Aug. 11 (0.66 ERA). He somehow did not make the All-Star team.
3. Alek Manoah, Blue Jays: Go ahead, you can ask the Yankees, Red Sox and everyone else in the AL East, and they’ll tell you that he’s best pitcher they saw all year. The All-Star just got better as the year went along, going 4-0 with a 0.88 ERA in six September starts, yielding a .162 batting average. He finished the year thid in the AL in wins (16) and ERA (2.24).
1. Julio Rodriguez, Mariners: The Mariners had high expectations for the 21-year-old kid, but couldn’t believe what they were seeing all season. He struggled in April, hitting just .206 without a home run, and proceeded to finish with 28 home runs, along with 25 steals. He hit .394 with seven homers in September when the Mariners needed him the most. He’s the Mariners’ greatest young player since Alex Rodriguez and the Mariners believe in him so much that they gave him a $209.3 million contract that might turn out to be a steal.
2. Adley Rutschman, Orioles: It’s a shame he wasn’t up all year. Rutschman could have been the difference in the Orioles making the playoffs. He’s certainly a star in the making, hitting .254 with an .806 OPS, leading all rookies with 35 doubles, and ranking second in walks, on-base percentage and OPS.
3. Steven Kwan, Guardians: He had a sensational rookie season, hitting .298 with 19 stolen bases and 52 RBI, and was one of the top defensive left fielders in the game. But because he plays in Cleveland, nobody really noticed. He’s a key reason the Guardians will be playing the Yankees in the AL Division Series.
1. Terry Francona, Guardians: This may be the closest race of all of the awards that will be announced in November. Yet, this may be Francona’s greatest season in his Hall of Fame career. When you take the youngest team in baseball to the postseason, you deserve the greatest honor.
2. Brandon Hyde, Orioles: They were the most surprising team in baseball, the first team since at least 1900 to lose 110 games one year and have a winning season (83-79) the next. They stayed in contention until the final week. Even when the front office gave up on the team, trading away their All-Star closer Jorge Lopez and team leader Trey Mancini at the deadline, Hyde made sure his players didn’t quit, too. Hyde has this team believing they will be in the playoffs in 2023.
3. Scott Servais, Mariners: Things looked as gloomy as the Seattle sky in May, but they turned it around, going from 10 games under .500 to 11 games over .500 in two months. The Mariners never looked back. Servais pushed all of the right buttons and now has a team that could be a force for years to come. On Saturday, they became the third team in history to overcome a seven-run deficit in the playoffs, advancing to the ALDS.
1. Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: Sure, he hit just .245 with two homers and 10 RBI in September, but he was the one who carried the Cardinals to the finish line, wrapping up the division title with weeks to spare. He ranked among the top five in 11 offensive categories, leading the NL with a .981 OPS.
2. Manny Machado, Padres: The Padres kept trying to get help for Machado, even making the monstrous deal to get Juan Soto and Josh Bell from the Washington Nationals. They were massive disappointments in the regular season, with Machado still having to be a one-man show with no protection. No matter, he delivered, again and again, and has emerged as the team leader. The Padres don’t make the playoffs, or even come close, without Machado.
3. Nolan Arenado, Cardinals: Arenado and Goldschmidt are the Mantle-Maris of the Midwest. They feed off another, bringing out the greatest in each of them. And for all of those who questioned whether Arenado could put up the same great numbers outside Coors Field, take a look: .293, 30 homers, 102 RBI, .891 OPS.
1. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins: He’s an old-school pitcher in 2022, a modern-day Bob Gibson. He could care less about pitch counts, thrives in pressure situations, and is as fierce a competitor as any pitcher in the game. He had more complete games (6) than any team in baseball, while throwing a major-league leading 228 ⅔ innings.
2. Julio Urias, Dodgers: Simply, he’s the most underrated pitcher in baseball. He’s 37-10 with a 2.57 ERA the past two years and once again won’t win the Cy Young award. He’s dwarfed in attention by future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw, along with three other MVPs on the team, but he’s quietly been their top pitcher.
3. Edwin Diaz, Mets: He produced one of the most dominant seasons by a closer since the steroid era. He had 32 saves and a stunning 118 strikeouts in 62 innings. No player was more responsible for the Mets’ resurgence than Diaz.
1. Michael Harris, Atlanta: He was called up in late May and Atlanta’s season took off a few days later. He was just what the team needed to kick-start its resurgence, hitting .297 with 19 homers and 64 RBI. No rookie position player had a greater impact. Atlanta was 22-24 before Harris arrived, and went a major-league best 79-37 the rest of the season.
2. Spencer Strider, Atlanta: If not for his own teammate, Strider would win the award. He was one of the most dominant rookie pitchers the game has seen, the quickest to strike out 200 batters in history. He also is the first pitcher to finish the year with 200 or more strikeouts while permitting fewer than 100 hits. He averaged a ridiculous 13.8 strikeouts per nine innings (202 in 131 ⅔ innings). Yet, because he’s a pitcher, and not an everyday player like Harris, he’ll be the runner-up.
3. Brendan Donovan, Cardinals: He played virtually everywhere for the Cardinals, starting at six different positions. He’s the first player since at least 1900 to start four different infield positions in his first four MLB games. He led all rookies with a .394 on-base percentage, and ranked second in the NL with 110 hits and 64 runs.
1. Buck Showalter, Mets: How in the world was this guy out of baseball for three years? He changed the entire culture of the Mets organization, just as he’s done everywhere he’s gone. Before he retires – write it down – he will win a World Series.
2. Brian Snitker, Atlanta: He’s the new Bobby Cox. It was his team meeting that woke up the team on June 1 on a sleepy morning in Phoenix, and they went on one of the finest runs in baseball history. They have won five consecutive division titles under Snitker, who may be making his own Hall of Fame case.
3. Rob Thomson, Phillies : Hey, why not keep it all in the NL East? He took over a team that was lifeless, hadn’t been to the postseason in 11 years and led them to a 65-46 record and playoff berth. He’s the calming force behind the Phillies’ resurrection.
– The San Francisco Giants will pursue not only Yankees star Aaron Judge in free agency, but also Dodgers All-Star shortstop Trea Turner.
If the Yankees won’t pay the $300 million Judge wants, he could wind up in San Francisco – just two hours away from his hometown.
Turner is open to staying in Los Angeles, but is believed to prefer the East Coast and may be the No. 1 target for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Yet, money may be no object, with the Giants willing to do anything for a return to the postseason, winning 26 fewer games than a year ago.
“We do have the flexibility to be involved in every possible option on the table,” Giants president Farhan Zaidi said.
– The Los Angeles Angels will be sold for at least $3 billion, a record price for a baseball franchise, several MLB owners believe. The negotiations are brisk, and the sale is expected to be consummated within the next few months.
– The Chicago White Sox want to hire a veteran manager to replace Tony La Russa, not wanting to take a chance on someone with no experience.
Some managers who fit the bill: Bruce Bochy, Mike Shildt, Ron Washington, John Gibbons, Bo Porter, Joe Girardi, Joe Maddon.
Bochy, Washington and Shildt are considered the leading candidates.
– The Orioles will be paying awfully close attention to the Rookie of the Year balloting this year. If catcher Adley Rutschman finishes in the top two, he’ll receive a full year of service time, permitting him to be eligible for free agency after six years under the new collective bargaining agreement. If he doesn’t finish in the top two, his free agency will be delayed until 2028 because he wasn’t called up until 40 games into the season.
– Just how strange was it seeing Max Scherzer’s stinker in Game 1 of the wild card series?
It was only the second time that a pitcher coughed up four homers and seven runs in the same postseason game, joining Cincinnati Reds starter Gene Thompson in Game 3 of the 1939 World Series. Scherzer had done it only once in his entire regular-season career, spanning 421 starts.
While Scherzer may insist he’s healthy, several scouts are convinced he’s playing through oblique pain.
– Giants third baseman Evan Longoria wants to return for one final season, but the Giants have no plans to pick up his $13 million option and will instead pay a $5 million buyout.
The only teams Longoria would consider playing for are the Giants, Tampa Bay Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks.
– The White Sox loved having Jose Abreu the past nine years, and he has been nothing but a class act and valuable hitter, but they plan to part ways with him. Simply, they need to shake up their team, and are making virtually everyone but Dylan Cease and Andrew Vaughn available in trades.
– The Giants are hoping to trade infielder Tommy La Stella this winter. He had surgery on both Achilles tendons last winter and struggled this season. He’s owed $11.5 million next season.
– Angels manager Phil Nevin, who was given a one-year contract for 2023, has seen a lot of baseball since he was the No. 1 draft pick over Derek Jeter and everyone else in the 1992 draft.
But after watching Shohei Ohtani for just one season, he says: “He’s the best baseball player I think anybody has ever seen, to be honest. I really believe that. All around. I don’t think there’s any argument you can make that he’s not the best baseball player that’s played the game.”
The Angels, by the way, have no intention of trading Ohtani after signing him to a one-year, $30 million contract, averting arbitration.
– Nelson Cruz, 42, says he has no plans to retire after his worst season in 16 years, hitting .234 with 10 homers, 64 RBI and a .651 OPS.
Yet, he may have no choice, depending on if anyone really wants him. He’ll have made $15 million from the Nationals for 2022 and would have to take a massive pay cut if anyone wants to give him one last chance.
– The Diamondbacks, will bring struggling veteran Madison Bumgarner to spring training, hoping he can pitch well enough to trade him. He’s owed $37 million over the next two seasons, and the D-backs would likely have to eat most of it. Barring a dramatic turnaround, it will go down as the D-backs’ worst free-agent signing in franchise history, paying him $85 million over five years.
– Just how disappointed was Red Sox manager Alex Cora with their season?
“We were like the best worst team in baseball.’’
The Red Sox finished last for the fifth time in 11 years.
The Red Sox likely would allow Cora to leave if he really desired, but he loves Boston, and wants to stay.
– Classy move seeing the Red Sox and Rays players and coaches step out of their dugouts and tip their caps to Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley in his season finale as broadcaster.
Eckersley cried watching the gesture.
– How cool was it seeing veteran catcher Stephen Vogt, a two-time All-Star, hitting a home run in the final at-bat of his career at the Oakland Coliseum?
“For Vogt to go out the way he did, catch seven shutout innings, take a walk, and hit a home run his last at-bat,’’ A’s utilityman Chad Pinder told reporters, “that’s the best baseball moment I’ve ever seen.”
– The Brewers had plenty of flaws that left them sitting home for the playoffs, but trading All-Star closer Josh Hader was nothing short of a disaster. They misread the impact Hader had in the clubhouse, that setup man Devin Williams could step right in to replace him and that the incoming Taylor Rogers would be a difference-maker.
– Strange stat: This is the first time in the Giants’ 140-year history that they finished the season exactly at .500.
– Diamondbacks GM Mike Hazen on his team winning 22 more games than a year ago, going 74-88: “I don’t look at it, like, ‘Congratulations, we stunk less than we did last year.’ I don’t have that mindset. … I’m tired of being the young team. I want to be the winning team.”
– Padres starter Joe Musgrove, who won a World Series ring with the Astros in 2017, says he wants to bury the memory of the cheating scandal with another one.
“I still don’t feel great about wearing that ring around or telling people that I was a World Series champion on that team,” Musgrove told the Associated Press. “I want one that feels earned and that was a true championship.’’
– Angels GM Perry Minasian on missing the playoffs once again despite having Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout:
“We’ve got two of the greatest players ever to put on uniforms. There’s no secret there. But we need more. It’s not a two-on-two game. If it was, I love our chances.”
Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale
2022 MLB award predictions: Aaron Judge is MVP; Cy Young … – USA TODAY
ST. LOUIS — It was a season where teams were either really, really good, or were really, really bad.