First-third awards: 2011 NL MVP

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Now we’re on to the MVP awards. I’ll start with the more controversial of the two. Here are the league’s OPS leaders to date:

1.044 – Lance Berkman (OF STL): .329/.449/.595, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 0 SB in 158 AB
1.001 – Joey Votto (1B CIN): .338/.468/.532, 7 HR, 32 RBI, 4 SB in 201 AB
.975 – Matt Holliday (OF STL): .342/.433/.542, 6 HR, 31 RBI, 0 SB in 155 AB
.966 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL): .306/.402/.563, 12 HR, 40 RBI, 13 SB in 206 AB
.935 – Jay Bruce (OF CIN): .292/.355/.580, 17 HR, 46 RBI, 4 SB in 212 AB
.928 – Matt Kemp (OF LAD): .306/.382/.545, 13 HR, 40 RBI, 14 SB in 209 AB
.915 – Mike Stanton (OF FL): .267/.347/.568, 12 HR, 32 RBI, 0 SB in 176 AB
.904 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL): .316/.394/.510, 9 HR, 35 RBI, 0 SB in 206 AB
.883 – Carlos Beltran (OF NYM): .283/.369/.513, 8 HR, 28 RBI, 0 SB in 187 AB
.880 – Todd Helton (1B COL): .306/.371/.510, 7 HR, 23 RBI, 0 SB in 157 AB

So, the top 10 is nothing except first basemen and outfielders. That just won’t do. Here are the top guys at other positions:

.876 – Jose Reyes (SS NYM): .335/.382/.493, 1 HR, 17 RBI, 19 SB in 227 AB
.867 – Rickie Weeks (2B MIL): .291/.365/.502, 10 HR, 23 RBI, 6 SB in 223 AB
.857 – Ryan Roberts (3B ARI): .272/.380/.477, 8 HR, 24 RBI, 8 SB in 151 AB
.848 – Brian McCann (C ATL): .309/.374/.473, 6 HR, 30 RBI, 1 SB in 188 AB
.824 – Yadier Molina (C STL): .320/.365/.459, 3 HR, 24 RBI, 1 SB in 172 AB
.811 – Troy Tulowitzki (SS COL): .251/.328/.483, 11 HR, 31 RBI, 3 SB in 207 AB

I’m not so fond of what WAR has to say about the race. Here’s Baseball-Reference’s top 10:

3.6 – Roy Halladay (SP PHI)
2.9 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL)
2.9 – Kyle Lohse (SP STL)
2.8 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
2.8 – Clayton Kershaw (SP LAD)
2.6 – Jair Jurrjens (SP ATL)
2.5 – Matt Kemp (OF LAD)
2.4 – Cole Hamels (SP PHI)
2.3 – Andrew McCutchen (OF PIT)
2.3 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL)
2.3 – Josh Johnson (SP FL)

That’s a lot of pitchers. For what it’s worth, B-Ref has Braun, Votto, Kemp, Berkman and Reyes all credited with 2.6 WAR offensively (next highest is Hunter Pence at 2.2). However, it believes Reyes has been a horrible defensive shortstop and knocks him all of the way down to 1.7 overall.

How about the Fangraphs version of WAR:

3.3 – Roy Halladay (SP PHI)
3.0 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
2.9 – Jose Reyes (SS NYM)
2.6 – Ryan Braun (OF MIL)
2.5 – Rickie Weeks (2B MIL)
2.4 – Colby Rasmus (OF STL)
2.4 – Matt Holliday (OF STL)
2.4 – Cole Hamels (SP PHI)
2.3 – Daniel Hudson (SP ARI)
2.3 – Matt Garza (SP CHC)

I think Fangraphs is doing a better job of factoring in defense so far. It rates Reyes as a slightly above average shortstop and Braun as a poor left fielder. It’s also getting Rasmus into the top 10, partly on the strength of his defense. Of course, I d take issue with a system that thinks Hudson, who is 6-5 with a 4.22 ERA ERA, has been the NL’s ninth most valuable player to date.

One more list.  Since this an MVP discussion, I want to know who has come up big in the clutch.  WPA (win probably added) will show us that by assigning a value to the result of every at-bat.

6.49 – Prince Fielder (1B MIL)
6.46 – Joey Votto (1B CIN)
6.36 – Matt Kemp (OF MIL)
6.15 – Hunter Pence (OF HOU)
6.06 – Ryan Howard (1B PHI)
6.04 – Martin Prado (OF ATL)
5.82 – Jay Bruce (OF CIN)
5.78 – Chris Young (OF ARI)
5.42 – Lance Berkman (OF STL)
5.40 – Gaby Sanchez (1B FL)

So, if there’s one thing I’m sure of after looking at all of these numbers, it’s that there’s a long way to go before there’s going to be a clear cut favorite in the NL MVP race.

Votto is the NL’s best hitter right now, but he has just seven homers and he’s tied for 14th with 32 RBI. Only recently have Reds opponents really started to pay for pitching around him, as Bruce has caught fire and taken over the league lead in both homers (17) and RBI (46).

The Brewers have three players who all appear to belong on the ballot in Braun, Fielder and Weeks. Still, I’d hesitate to put any of them in the top spot, since none has overwhelming numbers or adds a lot of value with the glove.

Who would have thought the Cardinals could have a couple of MVP candidates and none of them would be named Albert Pujols? Berkman is the league OPS leader, but he gives back defensively and he’s played in fewer games than the competition. Holliday is third in OPS, but in just 44 games, compared to 55-56 for most of the rest of the candidates. I don’t think Rasmus, with his .815 OPS quite measures up, especially given the fact that he’s hitting .232 with runners on and .200 with RISP. He has just 20 RBI as a result.

Reyes deserves to be on the ballot. Kemp too. I think Halladay, not Howard, is the Phillies’ top candidate. Howard has 42 RBI, but that’s pretty much it. He’s hitting .252, and he’s second in the league in strikeouts.

The Diamondbacks are in first place, but they don’t have a real candidate. Roberts has been their best hitter. Stephen Drew rates as their best player, and he has a case for a down-ballot vote.

So, I’m not really feeling it, but I guess I have to do a top 10 anyway. Here goes:

NL Most Valuable Player
1. Votto
2. Braun
3. Halladay
4. Reyes
5. Bruce
6. Kemp
7. Fielder
8. Weeks
9. Berkman
10. Sanchez

I could change my mind on Votto tomorrow.  But he probably is the circuit’s best player at the moment.  It’s hardly his fault he has only 32 RBI: he’s hitting .381 with runners on and .419 with RISP.

Honorable mention to McCann, Pence and McCutchen. I think we’ll see Tulo get back into the race, but his struggles were a big reason why the Rockies were awful last month. My other prediction is that the award will ultimately go to the best player on the team that wins the NL Central, whether it be Votto, one of the Cards or one of the Brewers.

Young Blue Jays say they aren’t intimidated by top seed Rays

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) When the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays opened the pandemic-delayed season a little over two months ago, there was little to indicate the AL East rivals might meet again to begin the playoffs.

While the Rays launched the truncated 60-game schedule with expectations of making a strong bid for their first division title in a decade, the Blue Jays generally were viewed as an immensely talented young team still years away from postseason contention.

Tampa Bay didn’t disappoint, shrugging off a slow start to go a league-best 40-20 and claim the No. 1 seed in the AL playoffs that begin Tuesday.

Lefty Blake Snell, who’ll start Game 1 of the best-of-three wild-card series against Toronto at Tropicana Field, also isn’t surprised that the eighth-seeded Blue Jays earned a spot, too.

The Rays won six of 10 games between the teams during the regular season, but were outscored 48-44 and outhomered 17-11.

And while Toronto (32-28) lacks the playoff experience Tampa Bay gained last season when the Rays beat Oakland in the AL wild-card game before falling to Houston in the divisional round, the Blue Jays are building with exciting young players such as Cavan Biggio, Bo Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

“They’ve got a lot of young guys who can ball over there,” Snell said. “It’s going to be fun to compete and see how we do.”

Rays defensive whiz Kevin Kiermaier said Tampa Bay, in the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the second time franchise history, will not take the Blue Jays lightly.

“We know we’re playing a real good team,” Kiermaier said. “It’s not going to be easy, regardless of what a team is seeded.”

The Blue Jays, who’ll start right-hander Matt Shoemaker, aren’t conceding anything.

Bichette said he and his teammates respect how good Tampa Bay is, but are not intimidated by facing the No. 1 seed.

“I would say that we didn’t care who we played. I would say that we didn’t mind playing Tampa, that’s for sure. We’re familiar with them. We’ve played them well,” Bichette said.

“I think we’re confident in our ability against them. Our talent matches up well,” Bichette added. “We think if we play well we’ve got a good chance.”

NO FANS

The stands at Tropicana Field will be empty, leaving players to wonder what the atmosphere will be like for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay routinely rank at or near the bottom of the majors in attendance, but usually pack the stands in the domed stadium during the postseason.

“It will be different,” Bichette said. “Normally when you think of your first postseason you think 40,000, you think about not being able to think it’s so loud, stuff like that.”

The Blue Jays open the playoffs near where they hold spring training in Dunedin, Florida. It’s been a winding road for Toronto, which played its home games in Buffalo, New York, at the site of its Triple-A affiliate after the Canadian government barred the Blue Jays from hosting games at their own stadium because of coronavirus concerns.

CONFIDENT RAYS

Tampa Bay’s five-game loss to Houston in last year’s divisional round was a source of motivation during the regular season.

“It definitely lit a fire under everybody. It really showed us we belong. … We gave them a tough series,” second baseman Brandon Lowe said.

“We won the wild-card game. We belong in the postseason. I think that did a lot for us to understand that we should be in the postseason and we can go a lot farther. We know what to expect this time around. I think everyone in our clubhouse expects to be playing until the end of October,” he said.

CLOSE FRIENDS

Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash has the Rays in the playoffs for the second time. His close friend and former Rays third base and bench coach Charlie Montoyo is in his second year as manager of the Blue Jays, who last made the playoffs in 2016.

“Pretty special,” Cash said of his relationship with Montoyo.

“I really learned a lot from him being around him. The way he carried himself. His hand print is throughout this organization,” Cash added. “A pretty big impact and a positive one. … When they clinched I talked to him, we face-timed at 1:30 in the morning. I’m so happy for him.”