Pouliot’s postseason award picks: American League

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Evan Longoria made his case for moving up the MVP ballot with his big game Monday, but while it’s safe to say the Rays wouldn’t have reached the postseason without him, he was still no better than the AL’s third best third baseman. It was, in fact, the year of the third baseman in the AL MVP balloting, with five cracking my top 10.

AL MVP

1. Mike Trout
2. Miguel Cabrera
3. Chris Davis
4. Josh Donaldson
5. Robinson Cano
6. Evan Longoria
7. Jason Kipnis
8. Adrian Beltre
9. Manny Machado
10. Carlos Santana

Five months into the season, one didn’t necessarily need to rely on the postseason argument to pick Cabrera over Trout. And then September happened: a banged up Cabrera hit .278/.395/.333 with one homer and seven RBI in 72 at-bats. Trout was pretty much his usual self, hitting .281/.455/.494 with four homers and 15 RBI in 89 at-bats.

Of course, the Tigers didn’t need Cabrera in September (though home-field advantage would have been nice). And Trout’s team was an also-ran all season long. So, the MVP discussion again comes down to how one wants to define value, a subject that lost my interest years ago. Trout was the better player, so he’s the MVP as far as I’m concerned. YMMV.

After those two, I flip-flopped on Davis and Donaldson a couple of times. WAR prefers Donaldson, but Davis led the circuit in WPA, with Cabrera second, Donaldson third and Trout fourth. WPA (Win Probably Added) can be a pretty sketchy stat, but there’s no denying that Davis came up big in a number of situations this year. He ended up hitting .318/.392/.694 with runners on and .343/.433/.759 with RISP.

After the big four — and it will be a crime if Donaldson finishes lower than fourth — the rest is a jumble. Cano looks like the fifth best player; he never seems to fall any lower than that. It’s odd not having any Red Sox in the top 10 after they finished with the league’s best record, but their two best players — Shane Victorino and Jacoby Ellsbury — played in 122 and 134 games, respectively. They would dominate the 11-20 range on the ballot with those two, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia.

AL Cy Young

I still need to work this one out. In my mind, there are seven possibilities for the five spots on the ballot: Bartolo Colon, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma, Chris Sale, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer. Nicely enough, those happen to be our seven ERA leaders as well. Here’s how they rank according to several stats.

ERA: Sanchez, Colon, Iwakuma, Darvish, Scherzer, Hernandez, Sale
Innings: Iwakuma, Sale/Scherzer, Darvish, Hernandez, Colon, Sanchez
rWAR: Iwakuma, Sale, Scherzer, Sanchez, Darvish, Hernandez, Colon
fWAR: Scherzer, Sanchez, Hernandez, Sale, Darvish, Iwakuma, Colon
K/9 IP: Darvish, Scherzer, Sanchez, Hernandez, Sale, Iwakuma, Colon
SOS: Hernandez, Iwakuma, Colon, Darvish/Sale, Scherzer, Sanchez

Strength of schedule being the OPS of opponents faced. That penalizes Sale a bit, since a lot of good lefties sat against him.

So, let’s try adding up all six categories; seven points for the top spot, down to one point for the bottom.

Colon: 16
Darvish: 24.5
Hernandez: 23
Iwakuma: 29
Sale: 23
Sanchez: 24
Scherzer: 28.5

Is that anything close to a perfect method? Of course not. But I don’t think there’s any one method that’s going to convince me one of these guys was clearly better than the rest.

A month ago, I thought Hernandez had been the league’s best pitcher. And he still might have been, but those three missed starts in September weigh heavily here. In the end, his own teammate, Iwakuma, pitched 15 more innings with an ERA about two-fifths of a run better. FIP still argues for Hernandez — only Sanchez in his 182 innings had a better FIP — but the fact is that Iwakuma pitched in front of the same defense as Hernandez and allowed five fewer runs while making two additional starts.

Sale was terrific and, unlike Scherzer and Sanchez, he actually had to face the Tigrrs, going 3-1 with a 1.83 ERA in five starts against them. But then he made only 30 starts altogether, and he gave up more earned runs and unearned runs than anyone else here.

Darvish should probably get bonus points for leading the league in strikeouts by a whopping 37 over Scherzer. But he also issued the most walks and gave up the most homers of the group.

Sanchez had the quality, but not the quantity.

Colon finished second in ERA and tied for the league lead with three shutouts, but he was helped by pitching in Oakland and he got to make five of his 30 starts against the Astros.

It seems like it really is Iwakuma and Scherzer WARring it out for the top spot. Iwakuma had the tougher assignment of the two, getting the more difficult schedule and pitching for a poor team. Scherzer definitely had run support on his side.

But Scherzer does have 55 strikeouts on Iwakuma, and while there was plenty of luck involved in his 21-3 record, there wasn’t any in his 2.90 ERA. FIP puts him at 2.74, compared to 3.44 for Iwakuma. If I had to pick either to start a game for my team, I’d take Scherzer and his strikeouts. I’m still not certain he’s been the better pitcher, but I haven’t found a good reason to rank anyone over him.

1. Max Scherzer
2. Hisashi Iwakuma
3. Yu Darvish
4. Felix Hernandez
5. Chris Sale

AL Rookie of the Year

1. Jose Iglesias
2. Wil Myers
3. Chris Archer
4. Martin Perez
5. David Lough

Iglesias versus Myers comes down to how one rates Iglesias’ glove. The defensive numbers at both Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs weren’t overly charitable. I view him as an elite defender, and that propels him over Myers in my picks. Obviously, he was a nice surprise offensively as well, finishing up at .303/.349/.386 in 350 at-bats. Myers hit .293/.354/.478 in his 335 at-bats.

NL picks

Rays beat Mets 8-5, clinch 1st AL East title in 10 years

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
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NEW YORK (AP) Confetti instead of champagne. Silly string instead of beer.

The Tampa Bay Rays, long accustomed to doing more with less, figured out a way to maximize the division-clinching celebration they were allowed to enjoy during a 2020 season shortened by the coronavirus.

Randy Arozarena homered twice and the Rays clinched their first AL East title in 10 years Wednesday night with an 8-5 victory over the New York Mets.

“I’m completely dry right now, which I’m not a huge fan of,” center fielder Kevin Kiermaier, the longest-tenured Rays player, said with a grin. “But you have to adapt to what we’re asked of.”

With teams instructed to celebrate in a muted and socially distant style, the Rays went old school – or maybe elementary school – with their clinching party.

The team filed slowly onto the field after Nick Anderson fanned Andres Gimenez for the final out. A couple of players shot off canisters filled with confetti that eventually dotted the grass and dirt at Citi Field. Hugs and handshakes were exchanged before the Rays doused one another with silly string and lit some cigars in the visiting clubhouse.

Later, hooting and hollering could be heard from the visitors’ dugout.

“We’re little kids trapped in grown men’s bodies,” Kiermaier said.

Joey Wendle and Brandon Lowe also went deep for the Rays to back Tyler Glasnow‘s six solid innings. Tampa Bay will be home at quirky Tropicana Field for a best-of-three first-round playoff series beginning next Tuesday.

It is the third division crown for the thrifty Rays, whose payroll this season is just over $28 million – more than only the Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles. Tampa Bay, which began play in 1998, also won the AL East, home of two big-spending powers in the Yankees and Red Sox, in 2008 and 2010.

“It feels great to win the division, no matter what division you’re in,” Kiermaier said. “But especially the American League East – it’s just a different animal.”

After missing a chance to clinch Tuesday, the Rays went into Wednesday again needing just a win or a Yankees loss against Toronto to lock up the division championship.

The Rays (37-20) broke a 2-all tie in the sixth on Arozarena’s two-run homer off Michael Wacha and pulled away, taking care of business themselves while New York was routed 14-1 by the Blue Jays.

“At the end of the day, a clinch is a clinch,” said Wendle, who homered in the second. “But to do it on a win – everybody’s kind of riding the high of winning the game along with the division. We didn’t want to see it come down to them losing a game.”

Tampa Bay also is closing in on wrapping up the top record in the AL and the No. 1 seed in the playoffs.

Lowe, who had an RBI fielder’s choice in the third, hit a two-run homer in the eighth. Willy Adames added an RBI single later in the inning and Arozarena homered again in the ninth.

The insurance came in handy for the Rays when the Mets scored three times off Oliver Drake in the ninth – via an RBI groundout by Robinson Cano and a two-run homer by Todd Frazier – before Anderson closed the door.

“I think we had the game pretty much in control (and) certainly recognized what was going on in Buffalo, but I don’t know if you can ever prepare for a moment like that – it’s pretty special,” Rays manager Kevin Cash said.

Glasnow (5-1) allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with eight strikeouts.

Gimenez and Dominic Smith homered off Glasnow in the final home game of the season for the Mets, whose long-shot playoff hopes were further damaged with the loss. New York began the day 2 1/2 games out of an NL wild-card spot.

“We still have a shot with the four games left and we’re competing,” manager Luis Rojas said. “We’ve just got to do what we do – just keep fighting like we did in the ninth.”

Wacha allowed four runs on six hits and struck out four in six innings.

STABLE SHIRT

Rays pitcher Charlie Morton sported a T-shirt picturing a stable of horses as he spoke with reporters during a pregame Zoom call. Morton did little to discourage the notion the shirt was inspired by Cash’s viral rant earlier this month, when he declared the Rays have “a whole damn stable full of guys that throw 98 mph” after Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman threw near Mike Brousseau’s head in the ninth inning Sept. 4.

“The stable shirt?” Morton said. “It was in my locker last week and I like horses.”

With a grin obviously growing even behind his Rays mask, Morton said he rode horses as a kid.

“So I was ecstatic to see this shirt in my locker and I wore it,” he said.

As for the fireballers on the Rays’ pitching staff?

“We’ve got some guys that throw really hard,” Morton said.

ANOTHER LOSING SEASON

The loss guaranteed the Mets (25-31) will finish with a sub-.500 record for the ninth time in the last 12 seasons – a total matched or exceeded only by the Chicago White Sox (nine), Miami Marlins (10) and San Diego Padres (10). The White Sox and Padres have already clinched playoff spots and a winning record, while the Marlins are in second place in the NL East.

New York made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons in 2015 and 2016 and went 86-76 last year.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Rays: LHP Jose Alvarado (shoulder, lat) is scheduled to throw batting practice to 3B Yandy Diaz (hamstring) and 1B Ji-Man Choi (hamstring) at Tropicana Field on Thursday. Cash said all three players are progressing and he hopes they are available for the playoffs. . Brousseau (oblique) missed a fourth consecutive game. Cash said he would have been available off the bench if needed

Mets: RF Michael Conforto (hamstring) returned to the lineup as the designated hitter after missing two games and went 0 for 4. . The Mets activated RHP Dellin Betances (lat), who last pitched Aug. 29, and optioned RHP Corey Oswalt to the alternate site.

UP NEXT

Rays: After a day off Thursday, Morton (2-2, 4.64 ERA) is scheduled to get his postseason tuneup in the opener of a series against the Phillies on Friday.

Mets: Rookie LHP David Peterson (5-2, 3.80 ERA) opens a four-game road series against the Nationals. Peterson struck out a career-high 10 against the Braves last Saturday.