The New York Yankees’ hopefulness of the last month disappeared over this past weekend. That’s what happens when you get swept by the Boston Red Sox in a four-game series at Fenway Park. The Yankees left Boston eight games out of first place in the AL East and four games behind the second Wild Card spot. With the chances of a post-season run becoming slimmer by the day, there’s not a better time to discuss which Yankees could be the recipients of individual awards.
Award: Rookie of the Year
For years, the Yankees’ front office and fans awaited the arrival of catcher Jesus Montero to the Major Leagues. However, since his debut in 2011 and subsequent trade for Michael Pineda, things haven’t exactly worked out for Montero. (Not so much for Pineda, either.)
During that time, fellow catcher Gary Sanchez was working his way up through the Yankees’ minor league system. Along the way, he ran into some of the same growing pains/maturity issues that Montero encountered. But, since his call-up to the Major Leagues in early August, Sanchez has been nothing short of amazing.
Everyone knew he could hit for power, but his skills behind the plate have impressed a number of people. One of them is former Yankees’ manager Buck Showalter:
“Good looking player. I was impressed with him defensively. That will be what will allow him to stay in the lineup all the time. When you’ve got a good ex-catcher as good as Joe was, I know he’s really wanting a good defensive catcher like he’s got a chance to be,” said Showalter, who noted the element of Sanchez’s defensive game he found attractive. “Right now, it’s throwing.”
In fact, Sanchez has thrown out 36% of would-be base stealers. As far as his hitting goes, Sanchez has raked since he joined the big club. In the 41 games he played through Sunday, Sanchez had hit 16 home runs, drive in 30 runs, legged out 11 doubles, and scored 27 times. He also had amassed 52 hits and 16 walks and posted an impressive .327/.393/.698 split.
The drawback for Rookie-of-the-Year voters will be the number of games played by Sanchez in comparison to the other award contenders. The top contenders for the award are:
Michael Fulmer, Detroit: Through this past Sunday, Fulmer was 10-7, 3.03 in his 24 starts for the Tigers. A couple of rocky starts over the past month have inflated some of Fulmer’s more impressive numbers but if you look at his entire portfolio you will see an impressive season. Fulmer reeled off four straight scoreless appearances at one point and allowed three earned runs over eight combined starts in May and June. In 15 starts between May 21 and August 14, Fulmer allowed three or more earned runs twice. Without him, Detroit is not fighting for a playoff spot right now.
Nomar Mazara, Texas: Slugger Joey Gallo was supposed to make the big splash this season, but it was Mazara who came on like a freight train in his first month in the Major Leagues. His April 10 Major League debut included his first Major League home run and RBI, and three hits. Mazara had multiple hits in six of his 14 games and was batting at a .333 clip through the end of MLB’s first month. He also scored 10 runs and drove in seven. As expected, Mazara cooled off, but through Sunday he had produced a .270/.324/.421 line with 18 HR and 105 RBI.
Defensively, Mazara has played both corner outfield positions with three-quarters of his 121 games spent in right field. He’s committed two errors and picked up five assists, and his overall defensive rankings have been above the league average.
Edwin Diaz, Seattle: The hard-throwing reliever was a setup man in Seattle until closer Steve Cishek became injured and ineffective. Through Sunday, Diaz had picked up 16 saves in 17 chances since he took over the role in early August. Remarkably, he allowed one earned run or more in just four of his appearances between April and the end of July. He’s struck out 77 hitters in 45 innings pitched, an outstanding ratio of 15.4 K/9 IP. Diaz’s strikeout total is even more impressive considering he only walks one hitter every three innings.
Masahiro Tanaka may never recapture the dominance he displayed in his rookie campaign with the Yankees in 2014, but everything will be just fine if he continues to pitch like he has this year. Tanaka burst out of the gate two years ago, racking up 11 wins and 127 strikeouts by the end of June. Elbow problems then struck and wiped out most of the remainder of his once magical year.
This season, Tanaka’s numbers have been superb. His strikeouts per nine innings are down a bit, but his hits and walks allowed are about the same. Equally as important, he’s allowed fewer home runs per game. After Sunday night’s no-decision (Thanks to the bullpen) against the Red Sox, Tanaka led the American League with a 2.97 ERA. He has allowed three runs or less in 27 of his 30 starts. Tanaka has always produced some good numbers for statistics that aren’t looked at as closely, like stolen bases. Opponents have nabbed a mere seven bases in 10 attempts.
The other top contenders for the award are:
Rick Porcello, Boston: What a difference a year has made for the Red Sox right-hander. A 9-15 mark and an ERA near 5.00 was no way to begin his career in Boston after a December 2014 trade. This season Porcello has compiled a 21-4 record with an ERA of 3.08. He also has a league-best WHIP of 0.978. Other than an AL-high of 13 hit batters, Porcello has reached new heights in a number of positive categories. In addition to wins, he’s pitched 210.2 innings, struck out 174 batters and has led the AL with a 6/1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He’s also allowed a career-low 7.6 hits/9 IP and the Batting Average on balls in play (BAbip) against him is .261.
Chris Sale, Chicago: People have been distracted since Sale’s trade deadline tantrum that resulted in a team suspension and a bunch of trade rumors. But, the left-hander has been having another terrific Sale-like season. As of this past weekend, Sale had a league-high six complete games, held a 16-8 record, and was second to Tanaka with a 3.03 ERA. Though his K/9 IP is down a couple of strikeouts per game, Sale has topped 200 strikeouts (215) for the fourth straight season. His BAbip of .275 is one of the best of his career and opponents have stolen just four bases in six attempts.
Other pitchers in the running include former Cy Young winners Justin Verlander of Detroit and Corey Kluber of Cleveland. As of this writing, the duo had topped 200 innings pitched and 200 strikeouts. Fulmer, Kansas City starter Danny Duffy and former Yankee/current Indians’ reliever Andrew Miller will also receive votes.
And the winner will be…
Rick Porcello. The New Jersey native has put it all together this season. For the moment, his team is in first place in the AL East and he has been the Red Sox most consistent starter. Sale will finish in second place with Tanaka, Kluber, and Verlander rounding out the top-five in no particular order.
Award: Manager of the Year
Joe Girardi lost his two best relievers and his most consistent hitter at the trade deadline. His top rookie starting pitcher flopped. He lost another starter to Tommy John surgery, the middle of the bullpen fell apart after August 1st and the front office decided to see how the team’s youngsters would fare with regular Major League playing time. It was an emotional and stressful time for the Yankees’ manager, who also had to deal with the departure of Alex Rodriguez. But, until the team’s disastrous four-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox this past weekend, Girardi had the Yankees in the thick of the AL Wild Card race. He won’t win the Manager of the Year award, but he definitely deserves votes.
Jeff Banister, Texas: The Rangers won 88 games last season when Banister won the Manager of the Year Award. They’ve already topped that total after a walk-off win on Monday. With a patchwork starting rotation – caused by injuries to Derek Holland, Yu Darvish, A.J. Griffin, and Colby Lewis – the Rangers have been in sole possession of first place in the AL West since May 29th. Along the way, the Rangers acquired Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy to bolster the lineup. Managers often do not get credit for repeated success, but Banister is worthy of the prize.
Terry Francona, Cleveland: “Tito” won the award while manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2013. Just as he became an instant hero when the Red Sox won their first World Series in 86 years, Francona can nearly duplicate the feat in Cleveland. The Indians haven’t won all the marbles since 1948. The Indians had recorded 86 wins through Tuesday and led the AL Central by seven games over Detroit. The Tribe has won one division title once in the past 14 years.
Terry Francona. It’s hard to argue with the choice of Francona. The Indians are getting contributions from just about everyone on the roster. That’s how you win a championship. Banister will place, with Farrell likely to show. Girardi has a good chance of making the top five.
The Yankees won’t have any current players in the running for AL MVP, but Beltran will most certainly garner some votes. Boston’s Mookie Betts will win the award, with Jose Altuve missing out for the second time. (He’s as deserving as Betts, but the Astros will likely miss out on the playoffs.) Mike Trout will receive votes as will David Ortiz.
To paraphrase Derek Jeter, individual awards don’t mean anything compared to a World Series ring. That’s what the Yankees will be focused on when they gather in Tampa next February to start the 162-game grind again.