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Nightengale: MLB’s 2016 Award Winners

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Kris Bryant chats with his college coach, University of San Diego's Rich Hill, on Gatorade All-Star Workout Day. By Arturo Pardavila III from Hoboken, NJ, USA [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

It was the year of the comeback.

The Boston Red Sox, who finished in last place in each of the last two seasons, are American League East Division champions.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, whose season was supposed to be over when Clayton Kershaw went down in June, won the National League West going away.

The Cleveland Indians won their first division title in nine years, the Chicago Cubs their first in eight years, and the Seattle Mariners are vying for their first postseason berth since Ichiro Suzuki’s 2001 rookie season.

It has been that kind of year, and, really, it’s no different come awards time, when members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America fill out their awards ballots this weekend.

We will know the identity of the World Series champion before the awards are announced in November. Here’s one observer’s view on this season’s deserving winners:

AL Cy Young: Then-Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington was torched for acquiring Rick Porcello from the Detroit Tigers nearly two years ago, then giving him a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension.

Boston Red Sox pitcher. Rick Porcello is 22-4 with a 3.11 ERA. Photo: Flickr/Keith Allison.
Boston Red Sox pitcher. Rick Porcello is 22-4 with a 3.11 ERA. Photo: Flickr/Keith Allison.

Cherington is gone, Porcello stayed, and now who looks like a genius?

Porcello (22-4, 3.11 ERA) should be this year’s winner, outdistancing Cleveland’s Corey Kluber, Detroit’s Justin Verlander, the Baltimore Orioles’ Zach Britton, the Toronto Blue Jays’ J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez and the Chicago White Sox’s Chris Sale.

Entering Thursday night, the dude has 22 victories, the fifth-lowest ERA in the league, the fourth-most innings and the fifth-lowest opponent’s batting average, while also rating well in rate-based statistics.

If anyone has a complaint, it is Britton’s supporters. You can’t do much more as a closer, perfect in 47 saves, scored on just five times in 68 appearances. Yet he has pitched 65⅓ innings, about 150 fewer than the other candidates. He belongs more in the MVP discussion than the Cy Young discussion.

NL Cy Young: You love comeback stories?

Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks is your man. An eight-game winner last year with a 3.95 ERA, he’s more a modern Greg Maddux in 2016 with his pinpoint control. He is 16-8 with a major league-low 1.99 ERA, inducing a weak contact rate of 25.1%. The only trouble is that Hendricks isn’t even the ace on his staff, with Jon Lester having superior Cy Young numbers.

The award will go to the Washington Nationals’ Max Scherzer (19-7, 2.82), who leads the NL in victories, innings pitched (2231/3), strikeouts (277) and walks plus hits allowed per inning (0.94).

He will be the sixth pitcher to win a Cy Young in each league.

AL MVP: Two years ago, he was in the Red Sox minor league system.

Today, Mookie Betts is the most valuable player in the AL. He has been the Red Sox’s catalyst, offensively, defensively, running the bases and in the clubhouse, hitting .320 with 31 homers, 112 RBI, 119 runs, 211 hits, 26 stolen bases and a league-leading 355 total bases.

It was close entering the month between Betts, defending MVP Josh Donaldson of Toronto, Manny Machado of Baltimore, Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros (the likely batting champion), David Ortiz of Boston, Robinson Cano of Seattle and, of course, Britton.

Sure, Los Angeles Angels center fielder Mike Trout is better than all of them, but this isn’t the most outstanding player award. It’s the most valuable. If it was honoring the best player in the league, Barry Bonds would have won about 20 of these awards. Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado would be the NL MVP.

It’s not Trout’s fault, but the Angels were a fourth-place team with him, and without him, they’d be a fifth-place team.

Betts in a runaway.

NL MVP: He wasn’t on the Cubs’ 2015 opening-day roster; this year, he bounced from position to position. Kris Bryant might not win the MVP award unanimously but will be awfully close. He’s hitting .293 with 39 homers, 101 RBI and a league-leading 120 runs.

Bryant will easily finish ahead of Washington Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy, who carried them on his back for most of the summer. Cubs teammate Anthony Rizzo and Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager will battle for third on the ballot, with Arenado rounding out the top five.

AL Rookie: Sure, we know all about New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez’s exploits, hitting 20 home runs faster than anyone in baseball history after his Aug. 3 call-up.

It’s a great story, but not enough to overtake Tigers starter Michael Fulmer (11-7, 3.06 ERA). If not for Fulmer, the Tigers would have been eliminated from the wild-card race a month ago.

NL Rookie: The shortstops were fabulous, as Aledmys Diaz was an All-Star for the St. Louis Cardinals, the Rockies’Trevor Story led all rookies with 27 homers, despite missing the season’s last two months, and Trea Turner of the Nationals forced his way into the lineup as a center fielder.

Yet this is the one no-brainer. Seager had one of the best seasons ever by a rookie shortstop (.311, 26 homers, 72 RBI and 104 runs).

AL Manager: It will be the Indians’ Terry Francona, who shepherded an injury-ravaged team to its first division title since 2007, in a runaway.

NL Manager: Dusty Baker, unemployed for two years, proved how absurd it was that no one offered him a job — or bothered to interview him — after being dismissed by the Cincinnati Reds after the 2013 season. Now, everyone has watched Baker deliver perhaps the finest managerial performance of his career with the Nationals.

Managers Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles and Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals talk during batting practice before a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 22, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Flickr/Keith Allison
Managers Buck Showalter of the Baltimore Orioles and Dusty Baker of the Washington Nationals talk during batting practice before a game at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on August 22, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. Photo: Flickr/Keith Allison

Who could have imagined that reigning MVP Bryce Harper would hit nearly 100 points lower than he did in 2015 with barely half the home runs and Stephen Strasburg would miss nearly half of the season and the Nationals would still run away with the NL East?

Yet the award will go to the guy whose own team, the San Diego Padres, didn’t bother to promote him, departing to a place whose front office actually wanted to hire someone else.

Dave Roberts proved to be the perfect hire for the Dodgers, answering to seven bosses in the front office, handling $250 million worth of egos in the clubhouse, using 31 pitchers with 28 players going on the disabled list.

So there you go, your preview edition of this year’s award winners, and a precursor to the postseason, when you’ll be watching the Cubs defeat the Red Sox in the World Series.

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale

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