Not all award races are created equal. While there is plenty of glamour surrounding MVPs and Cy Youngs, winning Manager of the Year says a lot, not only about the manager, but about the team as well.
The three-day break surrounding the 2011 All-Star Game begins on Monday, July 11 so we’re about two weeks away from the midway point of what has been a great season. Although the Yankees and Phillies have the two best records in baseball, there are some surprise teams with winning records. These are the managers, according to The Dugout Doctors, that have done the best job and deserve recognition.
AL Manager of the Mid-Season
Manny Acta, Cleveland Indians – (40-35)
The Indians may not be as hot as they once were but they are the most unlikely division leader. Acta managed Cleveland to a 69-93 record in 2010. But with young talent collectively taking the next step in their development, the Indians have improved dramatically. For a team with low expectations heading into the year, few baseball fans could have predicted this outcome. The emergence of Asdrubal Cabrera and Justin Masterson has helped, as well as the comeback year that Grady Sizemore has had put together. The Indians are currently tied with the Detroit Tigers for the AL Central lead so this is by no means a lock. One too many losses and this season goes from playoff-bound to “all for naught” rather quickly. Acta will certainly earn this award if he can keep the Tribe atop the division.
Honorable mention: Joe Maddon, Tampa Bay Rays – (43-34)
Depending how the AL East shakes out, Maddon has a great shot to win AL Manager of the Year. The Rays find themselves two games back in a three-headed monster of a division. The Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are all battling it out. But Maddon deserves some serious appreciation for fielding a competitive team the year after losing Carl Crawford, one of the best outfielders over the last eight years, to the Red Sox. They had also been without star slugger Evan Longoria for nearly half the season but with guys like Ben Zobrist, David Price, James Shields and Kyle Farnsworth playing at such a high-level, Tampa has remained competitive. Let’s not forget that the Rays have the second lowest payroll in all of baseball (~$41 million), behind only the Kansas City Royals (~$36 million).
NL Manager of the Mid-Season
Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks – (43-35)
Both Gibson and Acta are in their second year with their current club and there is definitely no sign of a sophomore slump between their respective teams. In fact, only three teams have winning records both at home and on the road this year: the New York Yankees (24-18 home, 20-13 away), Philadelphia Phillies (29-13, 19-17), and the Gibson-led Arizona Diamondbacks (22-17, 21-18). Due to in large part an incredible run in the second half of May where Arizona won 13 of 14 games, the Diamondbacks are poised to make a run at the NL West crown. They’re currently a half-game behind the San Francisco Giants and with nine games left to play between the two teams, six of which are in September, the race is still wide-open. Led by Ian Kennedy and Daniel Hudson on the mound as well as Justin Upton and Chris Young at the dish, the D-backs find themselves firmly entrenched in the NL playoff race. They can score runs with the best of them but would be best served finding another strong starting pitcher to help bolster the back end of their rotation. But hey, I should probably leave the managing to Gibson; he doesn’t look like he’d take too kindly to some writer telling him how to do his job.
Honorable mention: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates – (39-37)
The Pirates find themselves on the plus-side of .500 and hey, home attendance, TV ratings and merchandise sales are up! Not that any Pirates fans need to be reminded, but Pittsburgh hasn’t had a winning season since 1992. So far it’s been the Barry Bonds curse with 18 consecutive losing seasons, the longest streak for any team from the four major sports in the US. Bonds signed with the San Francisco Giants before the 1993 season and the Bucs haven’t had a winning season since. But forget the history lesson and the drudging up of the past, the Pirates are getting it done with solid pitching, Neil Walker‘s fine play their team MVP, Andrew McCutchen, who just happens to be one of the best players in all of baseball. Hurdle and his players deserves all the credit in the world thus far for even flirting with a plus-.500 season. The NL Central is one of the more crowded divisions in baseball with four teams within three games of the lead (Brewers, Cardinals, Pirates and Cincinnati Reds). But even if they don’t take the division, the marked improvement is unquestioned.