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Manager of the Year: Who are most deserving AL, NL award winners?

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How much influence does a manager have in baseball? That probably depends on the team — and it definitely depends on who you ask.

Each club has a unique set of expectations based on attributes such as payroll and talent. Managers of teams that most notably outperform pre-season projections often find themselves shortlisted for Manager of the Year honours.

Then again, as you’ll see here, fulfilling high expectations can be award-worthy as well. Here’s a quick look at each Manager of the Year candidate for 2021:

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Ben Nicholson-Smith is Sportsnet’s baseball editor. Arden Zwelling is a senior writer. Together, they bring you the most in-depth Blue Jays podcast in the league, covering off all the latest news with opinion and analysis, as well as interviews with other insiders and team members.

AL Manager of the Year candidates

Dusty Baker — Houston Astros

Record: 95-67, Won AL pennant (lost in World Series)

Prior to the 2020 season, Baker was given the unenviable job of leading the Astros out of their sign-stealing scandal. He was 70, the oldest manager in the sport, and presumed by some to be a one-year stopgap for a team in the heart of its contention window.

But the Astros exercised their 2021 club option on Baker during the first week of the pandemic-shortened season, and now — fresh off an AL pennant — they’re bringing him back again. It might have something to do with the fact the Astros spent 118-straight days atop the AL West this year.

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With a Manager of the Year win, Baker would join elite company (Tony La Russa and Bobby Cox) as a four-time recipient. Baker previously won the award in 1993, 1997 and 2000 with the Giants.

Kevin Cash — Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 100-62, Won AL East (lost in ALDS)

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Having led the Rays to consecutive division titles and AL-best regular season records, Cash will now try to go back-to-back in his own regard as Manager of the Year.

At 43, the Tampa native is already the second-longest-tenured skipper in the majors (seven seasons), behind only Terry Francona with Cleveland (nine seasons). It’s a high-turnover industry, but Cash is well positioned as a manager who has guided his group to abundant success in recent years.

With the Rays, garnering success is rarely conventional. Tampa Bay had the fewest sac bunts in baseball this season (six, after having zero last year), and 15 pitchers made at least one start. Cash balanced a low-budget, data-driven team and kept it in the championship conversation all season.

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Scott Servais — Seattle Mariners

Record: 90-72, Missed playoffs

Math be damned, the Seattle Mariners had a genuine shot at the playoffs right down to Game 162. Seattle finished with a minus-51 run differential, which was 40 runs worse than any other team with a winning record.

On that note, Servais had one of the best quips of the year when he suggested his team was more focused on its “fun differential.”

And you know what? Going 33-19 (.635) in one-run games was probably pretty fun. Hitting the 90-win mark — a first for Seattle since 2003 — seems like a good time, too. Yes, the Mariners fell short of the post-season, but it was a good ride nonetheless.

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NL Manager of the Year candidates

Gabe Kapler — San Francisco Giants

Record: 107-55, Won NL West (lost in NLDS)

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Pre-season predictions are far from perfect, but the Giants are a special case of how wrong we can be. FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections estimated a 75-87 record for the Giants, with a better chance that they’d nab the No. 1 pick in next June’s draft (0.7 per cent) than win their division (0.0 per cent).

Six months and a franchise-best 107 wins later, San Francisco had the ultimate “I-told-you-so” season. And Kapler was right in the middle of it.

With the oldest average position player age (30.6 years), veterans like Buster Posey, Brandon Belt and Brandon Crawford stacked one renaissance season on top of another to return to their early-2010s glory. A division-series date with the 106-win Dodgers ended their campaign prematurely, but Kapler still led his team much further than we thought they’d go.

Craig Counsell — Milwaukee Brewers

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Record: 95-67, Won NL Central (lost in NLDS)

What a four-year run this has been for Counsell: a .565 win percentage, three Manager of the Year nominations (was the runner-up in 2018 and 2019) and four post-season berths.

From the NL Central’s mass of mediocrity, the Brewers emerged with a division title thanks in large part to an epically deep starting rotation. Six Brewers made 20-plus starts in 2021, and five of them finished with a 130 ERA+ or better.

Counsell is now second in franchise history in wins (529, behind Phil Garner’s 563). The team’s steady results in recent seasons suggests he could be around well after he breaks that record.

Mike Shildt — St. Louis Cardinals

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Record: 90-72, Lost in Wild Card round

Well, this could be awkward.

Citing “philosophical differences,” the Cardinals fired Shildt eight days after their Wild Card loss to the Dodgers. Shildt had worked for the Cardinals since 2003, when he was brought in as a scout, before helping the team to a .559 win percentage in three-plus seasons as the skipper.

The Cardinals stunned everybody in September by going on a 17-game win streak, vaulting themselves into post-season position (they began their streak at 71-69, 3 ½ games out).

St. Louis reached the playoffs in each of Shildt’s three full seasons at the helm, and he won Manager of the Year in 2019. For job-hunting purposes, winning again probably wouldn’t be the worst thing.

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Giannis Antetokounmpo And The Bucks Are On A Roll

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(Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)

 

The Milwaukee Bucks easily defeated the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night, beating them with a powerful 127-108 final.

The team was led by Brook Lopez, who had yet another dominant game with 24 points and 9 rebounds.

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But Giannis Antetokounmpo, the team’s unquestionable leader, was once again in fine form and playing like the MVP candidate he is.

He scored 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists.

That means that over his last ten games, Antetokounmpo has scored an average of 33 points, 14.4 rebounds, and 5.8 assists on a 57.3% field goal percentage.

Not surprisingly, his team has gone 10-0 during that time.

Are the Bucks once again the most exciting and promising squad in the East?

The last time the Bucks lost was on January 21, when Antetokounmpo sat out and the Cleveland Cavaliers took them down, 114-102.

Since then, they have been on an eight-game winning streak.

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Antetokounmpo has been incredible this season, which is very impressive since he has long been one of the greatest basketball players alive.

But this season, he is playing with a resurgent desire to make it all the way to the NBA Finals.

He has stepped up and is taking his team to new heights but the rest of the team is right behind him and helping out in noticeable ways.

Jrue Holiday is scoring 19.1 points, Bobby Portis was making 14.4, while Brooke Lopez and Khris Middleton are also scoring double digits.

Every team wants someone like Antetokounmpo on the roster but they can only achieve true postseason greatness if the entire team is playing hard.

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The Bucks have a busy week ahead, taking on the Los Angeles Lakers, Clippers, and Boston Celtics in the upcoming days.

Will Antetokounmpo’s latest surge continue during that time?

The post Giannis Antetokounmpo And The Bucks Are On A Roll appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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MLB Analyst Reveals A Must-See Realignment Plan

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It’s not a secret that MLB wants to expand from 30 to 32 teams.

Sure, they will have to solve the issues in Oakland and Tampa Bay, but the plans for an expansion are there, and several cities are shaping up as candidates to have an MLB team.

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The Athletic’s Jim Bowden took the time not only to come up with two viable candidates for the expansion, but to re-configure divisions and leagues as we know it.

“When MLB expands to 32 teams, it should forget the AL and NL. Embrace a dramatic geographic realignment,” The Athletic tweeted, with the graph of the new geographic configuration.

Bowden is proposing to eliminate the American and National Leagues and replace them for a more traditional, NBA-like Eastern and Western Conference.

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There are eight divisions with four teams each.

The two expansion teams will be, according to this hypothetical exercise, in Charlotte and Nashville so both will be part of the Eastern Conference.

The four divisions in the Eastern Conference would be East, Mid-Atlantic, North, and Southeast.

The Western Conference would be formed by the West, Pacific Coast, Southwest, and Midwest divisions.

The system follows a geographical logic: for example, the Miami Marlins, the Tampa Bay Rays, the Atlanta Braves, and the new Nashville team would be in the Southeast division.

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Will this work?

Would MLB be open to adopting a similar scheme?

Something will have to change with the two new teams.

On several levels, the proposal makes sense.

It may still need some work (Colorado on the coast instead of San Diego doesn’t feel right, for example), but it’s a fun idea to think about.

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The post MLB Analyst Reveals A Must-See Realignment Plan appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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Steve Wilks Is Hoping To Follow A 49ers DC Trend

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The San Francisco 49ers lost their star defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans to the Houston Texans this offseason.

So they were in the market to find a new defensive coordinator with plenty of experience.

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Luckily for them, Steve Wilks was not given the Carolina Panthers job, and he was on the open market.

The 49ers and Wilks agreed to a deal to make him the team’s next defensive coordinator.

Wilks spent last season as the DC in Carolina, before taking over as interim head coach when the Panthers fired Matt Rhule.

Despite coaching a team that appeared to be tanking, Wilks had the Panthers playing very well.

He was the head coach for 12 games with the team, he led them to a record of 6-6, and was in contention for the NFC South title.

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It might not be long until he gets another shot at head coach.

The 49ers have had one of the best defenses in the NFL for some time now.

So it should not be a surprise that their defensive coordinators are getting head coaching positions.

Wilks was already a head coach for one season in 2018.

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He took over the Arizona Cardinals, and it was a complete disaster.

The Cardinals finished 3-13 that year, and Wilks was not brought back for a second season.

Some teams may be hesitant to hire him after that, but the Cardinals did not have a good roster.

Wilks will be working with some elite defensive players on the 49ers.

So there is no excuse for them to be a great defense again in 2023.

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But, Wilks is in the perfect spot to get another head coaching job.

He just needs to prove he can coach one of the best defenses in the NFL.

The post Steve Wilks Is Hoping To Follow A 49ers DC Trend appeared first on The Cold Wire.





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