Dave Roberts deserved to be the National League’s Manager of the Year because the Los Angeles Dodgers exceeded preseason expectations, overcame a wave of injuries and made so many different clubhouse pieces fit together.
The Dodgers used 15 different starting pitchers while getting fewer than 150 innings out of Clayton Kershaw. Roberts worked with a sprawling front office, creatively manipulating the lineup and the bullpen while incorporating young talent like Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, guiding the Dodgers to 91 wins and a division title.
The Cubs woke up on Opening Day as Major League Baseball’s most talented team on paper. Except for Kyle Schwarber shredding his left knee in early April — which would heighten the World Series drama later — the Cubs stayed remarkably healthy. Winning 103 games looked more like a continuation of 2015, when Maddon won the Baseball Writers’ Association of America award.
When the BBWAA revealed the voting on Tuesday night, Maddon (70 points) finished a distant second behind a first-year manager (108 points) in a contest that has a lot to do with perception and external factors and closes before the playoffs even start. Roberts received 16 of the 30 first-place votes, with Washington Nationals manager/ex-Cub Dusty Baker placing third with 66 points.
It also says something about the fundamental nature of the job — particularly in the age of Twitter and Big Data — that Maddon could guide the Cubs to their first World Series title since 1908 ... and still get criticized and second-guessed for how he handled that classic Game 7 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
“Listen, we won the World Series,” general manager Jed Hoyer said. “I know there’s a zero-percent chance we win 200 games over two years and win the World Series without Joe.
“That’s the nature of the postseason. The managers take on almost an oversized persona because the camera’s on them the entire game. Every move they make is going to be dissected.”
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Like pulling Cy Young Award contender Kyle Hendricks with two outs in the fifth inning at Progressive Field — to bring in Jon Lester with a runner on first base and intensify the focus on his yips. Or having superstar closer Aroldis Chapman throw 97 pitches in Games 5, 6 and 7 combined. Watching Javier Baez fail to execute an assigned squeeze bunt in the top of the ninth inning compelled Jason Heyward to call a players-only meeting in the weight room during a 17-minute rain delay.
“Listen, I’ll be the first person to admit,” Hoyer said, “when Chapman came in with a man on first and two outs in the eighth inning, nowhere in my psyche was the game going to be tied two batters later (on Rajai Davis’ homer). Chapman hadn’t given up a home run as a Cub. So I think, in a lot of ways, what happened was something that was totally anomalous to what had happened throughout the season.
“But Joe is a world-champion manager for the first time — and he’s going to be in the Hall of Fame someday.”
Maddon clearly deserves credit for helping create the environment where all these hyped prospects could become All Stars, deflecting attention away from his players with his money quotes and long media sessions and deflating some of the pressure around the team with his “Embrace The Target” mentality.
It’s also so much easier to write about an 8-7 World Series Game 7 in the press box — or make those decisions from your couch — than actually deal with the human beings in the dugout. On Wednesday night, a Cub will win the Cy Young Award for the second straight year, unless Washington’s Max Scherzer beats Hendricks and Lester in a three-man race that didn’t have a clear-cut frontrunner like Jake Arrieta in 2015. It would be a shocking upset on Thursday night if Kris Bryant doesn’t follow up his Rookie of the Year campaign with an MVP award.
Maddon had been a two-time Manager of the Year with the Tampa Bay Rays, a small-market franchise that couldn’t keep its young core intact or win bidding wars for elite free agents. Maddon’s managerial resume already includes six playoff appearances in 11 years, including seven seasons with at least 90 wins, and the Cubs still feel like this is just the beginning of their run. Those crazy 10 innings in Cleveland should be good material for a Cooperstown speech.
“It was an amazing game,” Hoyer said. “I’m sort of glad that’s how we won the game. I think it was an appropriate way to end a 108-year-drought. We sort of stared into the abyss for 45 minutes or so — and ended up coming out the other side.
“It’s a more appropriate way than having a nice, clean 6-3 win. But I think I probably have more gray hair now. I probably have ulcers. And it probably took some minutes off my life. But I do think it was probably more appropriate.”