In heated MVP race, Aaron Judge has Jose Altuve’s vote

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Aaron Judge is the presumed shoo-in for this year’s AL Rookie of the Year award, and despite his recent postseason strikeout record, he appears to be a strong contender for the AL MVP title as well. He’ll face some stiff competition for the latter award, however, especially with Astros’ slugger Jose Altuve leading a pack of strong contenders. On Friday, Altuve did his part to put the debate to rest, telling reporters that the Yankees’ rookie phenom would get his vote. “He hit a lot of homers, a lot of RBIs, he got on base a lot, and I like the way he plays,” Altuve said. “If I was a GM, I want him on my team because he plays the right way and he’s very humble.”

It’s a tough call to make. There’s no question that Judge left his mark on the league during the regular season, leading all hitters with 8.2 fWAR and batting .284/.422/.627 with an AL-best 52 home runs in 678 plate appearances. While that power has failed to materialize through much of the postseason thus far, his regular-season accomplishments made him one of the most fearsome hitters in either league. In Altuve’s words: “Obviously, he’s really strong. He hits the ball way farther than anybody in the big leagues, all his homers. He plays good defense, he did everything to win the MVP in the regular season.”

That’s not to discredit the strides Altuve has made in 2017. He’s been remarkably consistent over the last four seasons — something no crystal ball has been able to predict with regard to Aaron Judge’s performance so far — and upped the ante with career-best numbers this year, slashing .346/.410/.547 with 24 home runs, 32 stolen bases and 7.5 fWAR in 662 PA. Although he didn’t capture nearly as many home runs as his rival, his on-base production netted a third career batting title.

Though they make compelling candidates, Altuve and Judge aren’t the only ones up for consideration. Mike Trout returned from thumb surgery to finish the season with 33 home runs and a career-best 1.071 OBS in 507 PA. Chris Sale dominated the AL East with a 17-8 record, 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts, 40 more whiffs than second-place strikeout leader Max Scherzer. Corey Kluber‘s 2.25 ERA was the lowest among qualified starters in both leagues, and his 7.3 fWAR came in only a hair under Sale’s 7.7 mark.

No matter the results of the race, however, one thing’s for certain: With Altuve and Judge suited up for Game 1 of the ALCS, there’s bound to be plenty of excitement on both sides.

Royals fire manager Mike Matheny after 65-97 end to season

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Manager Mike Matheny and pitching coach Cal Eldred were fired by the Kansas Cty Royals on Wednesday night, shortly after the struggling franchise finished the season 65-97 with a listless 9-2 loss to the Cleveland Guardians.

The Royals had exercised their option on Matheny’s contract for 2023 during spring training, when the club hoped it was turning the corner from also-ran to contender again. But plagued by poor pitching, struggles from young position players and failed experiments with veterans, the Royals were largely out of playoff contention by the middle of summer.

The disappointing product led owner John Sherman last month to fire longtime front office executive Dayton Moore, the architect of back-to-back American League champions and the 2015 World Series title team. Moore was replaced by one of his longtime understudies, J.J. Picollo, who made the decision to fire Matheny hours after the season ended.

Matheny became the fifth big league manager to be fired this year.

Philadelphia’s Joe Girardi was replaced on June 3 by Rob Thomson, who engineered a miraculous turnaround to get the Phillies into the playoffs as a wild-card team. The Angels replaced Joe Maddon with Phil Nevin four days later, Toronto’s Charlie Montoyo was succeeded by John Schneider on July 13 and the Rangers’ Chris Woodward by Tony Beasley on Aug. 15.

In addition, Miami’s Don Mattingly said late last month that he will not return next season.