Because we need more issues to squabble about right now, it's the new Hall of Fame ballot! Let the arguments begin, and please, keep the language civil.
Here's a quick review of the new names on this year's ballot. Combined with all the strong holdovers, it's going to be a crowded ballot, and those BBWAA members who vote for 10 candidates will once again be forced to leave off somebody they'd like to vote for.
Chipper Jones: An easy first-ballot Hall of Famer, Jones hit .303/.401/.529 with 468 home runs and 1,623 RBIs, winning the 1999 NL MVP Award along the way. With 85.0 WAR via Baseball-Reference.com, Jones ranks among the greatest third basemen of all time:
Mike Schmidt: 106.5 WAR
Eddie Mathews: 96.4
Adrian Beltre: 93.9
Wade Boggs: 91.1
George Brett: 88.4
Chipper Jones: 85.0
Brooks Robinson: 78.4
If you fudge the numbers, you can argue Jones is the second-best third baseman behind Schmidt -- he's third behind Mathews and Schmidt in offensive WAR but was the weakest defender of those top seven. Jones played in a tougher era than Mathews and is close enough to Brett, Boggs and Beltre that he could be considered at least their equal or better, especially when you consider how much of Beltre's WAR total is dependent on his defense.
Chipper played in 12 postseasons and was also popular with the media, so he'll finish with a high percentage of votes, although Ken Griffey Jr.'s record percentage should remain safe.
Jim Thome: With 612 home runs (eighth all-time), 1,699 RBIs (26th), a .402 OBP and a .956 OPS, Thome is one of the great sluggers to play the game. Unlike others in his era, he hasn't faced any PED allegations or rumors, so that shouldn't be an issue. He should be a first-ballot guy, and I think he will be, but he might not clear that 75 percent threshold with much room to spare. Some voters might hold his defense against him (he played 818 games at DH), or his .276 batting average, and a select few are suspect of any slugger from the steroid era and won't vote for him.
Scott Rolen: This is the most fascinating player on the ballot in some regards. No, he's not going to get elected, but does he get 30 percent of the vote and establish himself as a strong candidate in the future, or does he get less than 5 percent and fall off the ballot? At his peak, Rolen was clearly a Hall-level player, with a monster 2004 season (9.2 WAR), plus seasons of 6.7, 5.8 and 5.5 WAR. He had five more between 4.1 and 4.7. He also had a lot of injuries later in his career, reaching 500 plate appearances just three times after turning 30, so his counting numbers don't blow you away. He finished with 316 home runs, 1,287 RBIs and barely cleared 2,000 hits.
Rolen’s Hall of Fame case rests on how voters evaluate his defense. He won eight Gold Gloves, and the defensive metrics back up that assessment -- among third basemen, Baseball-Reference rates him just behind Robinson and Beltre in career fielding runs. On that list above, he's ninth in career WAR (Ron Santo is eighth). He's a strong borderline candidate, although I don't know if he's one of the 10 best candidates, which is why his ultimate vote total is a big wild card.
Andruw Jones: Chipper's longtime teammate with the Atlanta Braves, Andruw burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old sensation when he hit two home runs in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series. Jones has a lot of positives: In his 20s, he was not just the best defensive center fielder in the game -- he won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves -- but one of the best ever, rightfully drawing comparisons to Willie Mays. He was effortless out there, with great reads and the ability to glide to the right spot, and a key reason guys like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were consistent contenders for Cy Young Awards. He reached the postseason in the first 10 seasons of his career. He also hit 434 home runs. So you have a legendary defensive player who hit more than 400 home runs. That's a pretty intriguing Hall of Fame case.
Alas, Jones turned 30, gained weight, couldn't stay healthy and had a disastrous second half of his career. After turning 30, he hit .214/.314/.420 with just 92 home runs, and those seasons leave a sour legacy and the feeling of wasted talent. He finished with 62.8 WAR -- two or three good seasons from owning a much stronger case. WAR totals for a few outfielders:
Kenny Lofton: 68.2
Andre Dawson: 64.5
Dave Winfield: 63.8
Billy Williams: 63.6
Andruw Jones: 62.8
Vladimir Guerrero: 59.3
Sammy Sosa: 58.4
Lofton got zero Hall of Fame support. The next three were elected. Guerrero received 71 percent of the vote last year. Sosa, with extraneous factors, hasn't received much support. There will be a stathead element arguing in his favor, but Jones falls short in my book, and I wouldn't be surprised if he fails to receive even 5 percent and falls off the ballot.
Omar Vizquel: Vizquel's candidacy promises to reach a Jack Morris-like level of contentiousness. Will his defensive reputation -- he won 11 Gold Gloves and played more games at shortstop than anybody in history -- be enough to overcome his weak offense and mediocre career WAR? He was a key performer along with Thome on those powerhouse Cleveland Indians teams of the late 1990s, but he also received MVP votes just once in his career (finishing 16th in 1999).
The comparisons to Ozzie Smith will be made. Offensively, he was similar (Smith rates a little better since he played in a lower run environment), but Baseball-Reference credits Smith with 76.5 career WAR compared to just 45.3 for Vizquel. That's because the defensive metrics say Vizquel wasn't really in Smith's class with the glove. Baseball-Reference rates Smith the No. 2 defensive shortstop of all time (behind Mark Belanger), with 239 runs saved above average and Vizquel 12th (128 runs saved).
So this sets up as an old-school vs. new-school debate. I think I’m already tired of this one, and the debate hasn't even started. Keep in mind that for most of his career, the defensive metrics are estimates and not as precise as what we generate today, so there's a small chance that maybe the estimates are missing something. There are voters who will simply ignore the numbers and remember Vizquel as the best defender of his generation, a shortstop with gifted hands and acrobatic athleticism.
I'm on the fence, certainly not as anti-Vizquel as those who are vehemently opposed to him as a Hall of Famer. Vizquel could be a unique case, a guy who starts off at 40 percent of the vote and never climbs higher. Or maybe he gets elected in his ninth year on the ballot. I have no idea.
Johan Santana - Look at these three pitchers:
Santana: 139-78, 3.20 ERA, 136 ERA+, 50.7 WAR, 2 Cy Youngs
Max Scherzer: 141-75, 3.30 ERA, 127 ERA+, 44.6 WAR, 3 Cy Youngs
Sandy Koufax: 165-87, 2.76 ERA, 131 ERA+, 53.2 WAR, 3 Cy Youngs
I guess the point: Scherzer right now is exactly where Santana was before his shoulder blew out (and Santana should have won a third Cy Young in 2005, when an inferior Bartolo Colon won because he had more wins). Maybe Santana's career was too short, but for a few years he was something else. Will that be enough to get him in? Probably not, but he's a pitcher who deserves more attention than many will give him.
Jamie Moyer: In one of the more remarkable careers of the past 40 years, Moyer won 269 games and lasted until he was 49 years old by throwing slow, slower and slowest. Moyer is one of my favorite Mariners ever, and it's pretty awesome that since Jackie Robinson broke the color line, only 17 pitchers have won more games. But as with Tommy John and Jim Kaat, longevity isn't enough to make him a strong candidate.
Johnny Damon: Late in his career, Damon looked like he had a pretty good chance at 3,000 hits. At age 35, he hit .282 with 24 home runs and scored 107 runs for the Yankees as they won the World Series. He sat at 2,425 hits. He needed to average 115 hits per season through age 40 to get to 3,000 -- which has meant automatic selection to Cooperstown. Instead, he lasted just two more seasons as a regular and finish with 2,769 hits. His career WAR of 56.0 is better than some Hall of Famers but was built more on being a very good player than a big star (he had just two 5-WAR seasons, two All-Star appearances and never finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting). A memorable player, he'll probably get a few votes, but he likely falls off the ballot after one year.
Chris Carpenter: That Carpenter even made it to a Hall of Fame ballot is a minor miracle. He had a bone spur removed from his elbow in 1999, had elbow and labrum surgery after the 2002 season, tore his labrum again in 2003 while on rehab in the minors, missed almost all of the 2007 and 2008 seasons with elbow issues and then Tommy John surgery, suffered lingering numbness the rest of his career, and had thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2012 before returning at the end of the season. His career was certainly a testament to perseverance and toughness. He won 144 games and a Cy Young, and helped the Cardinals win two World Series (he threw eight scoreless innings in his one start in 2006 and won Game 7 in 2011 on three days of rest). He'll be remembered as an all-time great Cardinal, but the injuries cut into what could have been a Hall of Fame career.
Others: Brian Fuentes, Livan Hernandez, Aubrey Huff, Jason Isringhausen, Carlos Lee, Brad Lidge, Hideki Matsui, Kevin Millwood, Kerry Wood.
Holdovers with last year’s vote total: Trevor Hoffman (74.7 percent), Vladimir Guerrero (71.7), Edgar Martinez (58.6), Roger Clemens (54.1), Barry Bonds (53.8), Mike Mussina (51.8), Curt Schilling (45.0), Manny Ramirez (23.8), Larry Walker (21.9), Fred McGriff (21.7), Jeff Kent (16.7), Gary Sheffield (13.3), Billy Wagner (10.2), Sammy Sosa (8.6).
Prediction: Chipper, Thome, Hoffman and Guerrero get elected (results are announced January 24). After throwing a shutout in 2013, this would mean 16 players the BBWAA will have elected since 2014 -- with many more deserving candidates still on the ballot.
OK, time for trades and free-agent signings! Awards season is over and the MVP winners are Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins and Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros. Congrats to both of them on their outstanding seasons. They are deserving winners; we simply don't get crazy awards results like we did a decade ago. The voters have learned and adapted and vote with more knowledge than they once did.
The National League MVP vote promised to be a chaotic result and that's what we got with Stanton edging out Joey Votto by two points (302 to 300) in the fourth-closest vote ever. Six different players received first-place votes, seven different players finished in the top three on somebody's ballot and Stanton and Votto finished one-two despite both playing on losing teams. Stanton became just the seventh MVP winner from a losing team, joining Ernie Banks (twice), Andre Dawson, Cal Ripken, Alex Rodriguez and Mike Trout.
In dissecting the voting results, if there's any consolation for Votto it's that there wasn't a weird, rogue ballot that changed the results. He and Stanton both received 10 first-place votes -- that's important since a first-place vote is worth 14 points and a second-place vote is worth nine points. Stanton beat out Votto by receiving 10 second-place votes to nine for Votto and five third-place votes to four for Votto. Stanton, however, was placed sixth on one ballot while Votto was no lower than fifth, so it was incremental placements that allowed Stanton to win.
The one vote that was a little odd was MLB.com's Mark Bowman giving Kris Bryant his lone first-place vote -- not that Bryant didn't have an excellent season, but he once again hit very poorly in high-leverage situations (.185) -- and was the only voter to put Bryant first or second. But Bowman had Stanton second and Votto third, so Votto wins only if he leapfrogs Stanton into first place. Still, we were this close to the second tie in MVP history: If Bowman or another voter had simply put Votto second and Stanton third instead of vice-versa, both finish at 301 points.
One thing that's worth pointing out with a vote this close is that while the voting process is designed to be fair -- there are two voters from each local chapter of the BBWAA -- in some instances the representative for a chapter is a national writer rather than a local beat guy. The point there is that the beat guys may tend to show a little favoritism for their candidate.
In this case, the voters in the Miami and Cincinnati chapters were all local writers. The two Miami voters were Joe Frisaro of MLB.com and Craig Davis of the Sun Sentinel. Both of them had Stanton first and Votto third. The two Cincinnati voters were C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer and Mark Sheldon of MLB.com. Both of them had Votto first. Rosecrans had Stanton second and Sheldon had him third, so Stanton received one more point from the Cincinnati writers than Votto received from the Miami writers.
Anyway, Stanton mashed 59 home runs, not just because he was finally healthy for an entire season, but because of a crucial in-season change to his batting stance. In June, he changed from a straight-up stance to a closed one, with his left foot closer to home plate. This dramatically improved his plate coverage. As Mark Simon reports, Stanton hit .267 and slugged .541 on outside pitches, a 34-point jump in batting average and 100-point jump in slugging percentage from 2016. From June 19 to the end of the season, Stanton hit .284/.388/.695 with 42 home runs in 93 games. Wow.
FYI, the three MVP votes that were closer than this one:
1979 NL: Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez tie. This was a weird vote because Stargell won basically on his intangibles as the clubhouse leader -- probably the last player to win an MVP with that as a major consideration. Hernandez led in WAR, 7.6 to 2.5, but Stargell's Pirates won the division with Stargell famously handing out his gold stars like stickers on a college football helmet. Stargell received 10 first-place votes to four for Hernandez, so he was obviously much lower or left off some ballots.
1947 AL: Joe DiMaggio beats Ted Williams, 202 points to 201. Williams led in WAR, 9.9 to 4.8, while winning the Triple Crown. The Yankees won the pennant. One voter left Williams off his ballot, and Williams falsely accused Boston Glove writer Mel Webb of the misdeed, a legend that then persisted for decades. Webb didn't have a vote that year and all three Boston writers put Williams first. As Glenn Stout reported in his book "Red Sox Century," it was a writer from the Midwest who didn't include Williams. In fact, The Sporting News would reveal that the results were made available to the writers a week before they announced and some used that information to wager on the results. Ah, the good old days.
1944 NL: Marty Marion beats Bill Nicholson, 190 to 189. Marion was the shortstop on the pennant-winning Cardinals, hitting .267/.324/.362, while Nicholson hit .287 with 33 home runs and 122 RBIs for the 75-79 Cubs. Marion was an elite defender. A better selection would have teammate Stan Musial, who led Marion in WAR, 8.8 to 4.7, but finished fourth in the voting. (Yes, I know we didn't have WAR back then.)
Over in the American League, it was a little surprising that Altuve crushed Aaron Judge in the final results, collecting 27 of the 30 first-place votes. I thought Altuve would win in a close vote. It seems that Judge's post-All-Star-break slump factored heavily into the votes and that his 15-homer September wasn't enough to convince voters.
Altuve becomes the second MVP in Astros history, joining Jeff Bagwell, and he did it on the strength of his all-around brilliance and season-long consistency. He won his third batting title, reached 200 hits for the fourth season in a row, stole 32 bases and played solid defense at a premium position. Not bad for a guy who was told to go home after the first day of a tryout camp when he was 16 years old.
He came back the next day anyway. Now he's the MVP.
The MVP awards will be announced Thursday, and the American League vote between Jose Altuve and Aaron Judge promises to be a tight one. If Altuve wins, it will be the final exclamation point on his rise from novelty to superstar, the culmination of a season that included a World Series title, his third batting championship and his fourth straight 200-hit campaign.
Aaron Judge's MVP-caliber season was even more of a surprise. While he was a highly rated prospect after the Yankees drafted him 32nd overall in 2013, his struggles during his late-season call-up in 2016 meant he wasn't even guaranteed to be the Yankees' starting right fielder when spring training kicked off. He'd win that job and go on to set the major league record for rookies with 52 home runs.
In the end, maybe it doesn't really matter who wins. Both players are great for the sport; not only terrific ambassadors for the game, but exciting and unique players to watch. They are two guys who, when they're about to bat, you don’t change the channel or take the dog out. For different reasons, they defy the baseball logic we've constructed in our brains.
How can a guy hit a baseball that far? How can somebody as short as Altuve be so powerful? How can somebody as big as Judge move like that in the outfield? How does Altuve swing so hard and not strike out more?
No matter the voting results, we need an Altuve-Judge commercial for next season: No matter your size, baseball is the sport for you. Maybe we'll have a tie for only the second time in MVP voting -- Willie Stargell and Keith Hernandez tied for NL honors in 1979 -- and everybody will be happy.
There's this little thing I do in my head at the end of every baseball season that kind of goes like this: Who was the story of the season? If historians were going to focus on one player to tell the story of a season, who would they focus on?
That's not always easy to answer. Sometimes it's obvious. When you think of 1988, you think Orel Hershiser: the Cy Young Award, the consecutive scoreless innings streak, the dominant postseason performance. In 1998, it’s Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. In 2014, Clayton Kershaw went 21-3 with a 1.77 ERA and won Cy Young and MVP honors, but Madison Bumgarner's historic run in the playoffs made it the Year of MadBum. Sometimes -- like 2016 -- the story is about an entire team, which trumps any individual narrative.
Who was the big story of 2017? I suppose you can argue Giancarlo Stanton with his 59 home runs, but the Marlins weren't a factor in the playoff race. Plus, his push for 60 homers came in the second half. We were talking about Altuve and Judge all season.
It feels more like the season belonged to Judge. Maybe that's the influence of playing for the Yankees. Maybe it's because his season was more shocking, and something new always gets more attention. Altuve also had others stealing focus away from him at various times as the Astros ran away in the AL West -- George Springer and Carlos Correa and then Justin Verlander.
Meanwhile, Judge was in the headlines all season, bashing those mammoth home runs, winning the Home Run Derby in dramatic fashion, slumping after the All-Star break, and then carrying the Yankees to a wild-card berth with a monster September when he hit 15 home runs and drove in 32 runs.
That said ... I think Altuve is the MVP here. Judge has the lead over Altuve in FanGraphs WAR (8.2 to 7.5), while Altuve has the slight edge in Baseball-Reference WAR (8.3 to 8.1). The difference for me is that Altuve was much better in clutch situations, with far superior numbers in high-leverage situations and a higher win probability added. Judge not only beat up on a bad pitchers -- in 89 at-bats when the game margin was five runs or greater, he hit 17 home runs and slugged 1.000 -- but also benefited from that short porch at Yankee Stadium, hitting 33 of his 52 home runs at home.
The interesting thing about Altuve, if he wins, is how his season doesn't really fit the usual MVP parameters. I searched for all players since 1931 (the first year of BBWAA voting) who hit between .336 and .356 and slugged between 22 and 26 home runs -- a list of 31 players. Altuve's 81 RBIs are fourth-lowest on the list, ahead of only three partial-season players (Matt Williams in 76 games in 1995, Moises Alou in the strike-shortened 1994 season and Johnny Mize in 1946).
One player on the list did win an MVP Award -- Buster Posey in 2012, although he drove in 103 runs that year (Daniel Murphy finished second in the NL MVP voting last year with similar numbers and drove in 104 runs).
Altuve's 81 RBIs would be the fewest for an MVP winner who wasn't a pitcher since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. Again, that's no knock on his production: He hit .350 with runners on base. Altuve basically had the same season as 2016, when he finished third in the MVP vote, so maybe it's a testament to the level he's achieved that he might win the award in a season that might not even stand out as his best.
And if he doesn't win? Then Judge joins Ichiro and Fred Lynn as the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season. That would be pretty cool. As fans, we can't lose.
During the media session at the All-Star Game in Miami this past summer, the players sat behind tables lined across the outfield warning track. The hot-button topic at the time -- as it would remain through the World Series -- was the baseball. A reporter asked Joey Votto about the speculation that the ball was juiced.
“I’m not going to speculate about speculation,” the Cincinnati Reds first baseman answered.
I can’t think of a better characterization of Votto than that response. He’s a master of precision at the plate, and apparently about the particulars of language and the way he’ll answer a question as well. He wasn’t being a jerk. I phrased the issue in a different manner and he agreeably talked about the increase in home runs across the sport.
Votto is one of the three National League MVP finalists, and that seemed to catch some by surprise. One national TV host was foaming like a rabid dog about Votto finishing that high in the voting, and not just because the Reds finished 68-94. You can debate whether the Reds’ bad record hinders Votto’s consideration for MVP, but you can’t debate his value on the field.
He was the best hitter in the National League, leading the league in OBP, OPS, adjusted OPS, wOBA, wRC+ and walks, while ranking second to Giancarlo Stanton in Baseball-Reference WAR among NL position players and fourth in FanGraphs WAR. He hit .320/.454/.578 with 36 home runs and played every game (although somehow lost out on the Silver Slugger Award to Paul Goldschmidt).
It’s not really accurate to say Votto is underrated. After all, he’s going to finish at least third in this year’s MVP voting. He finished seventh in 2016 while playing for another 94-loss team. He finished third in 2015 while playing for a 98-loss team. These results would not have happened 15 years ago, but the writers who cover the league are obviously respectful of Votto’s brilliance in the batter’s box, of the importance of getting on base and not making outs.
“I wanted this to be my pièce de résistance,” Votto told C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer at the end of the season. “I wanted this to be my work of art. I felt like shrinking strikeouts, keeping the walks, competing on a daily basis, playing every day, improving my defense. I felt this was definitely the best year of my career.”
In many ways, Votto is this generation’s Ted Williams. That sounds like blasphemy, but the similarities are obvious, both in their approach at the plate and the resulting .300 batting averages and high OBPs.
No, Votto isn’t on the same level as Williams when comparing each to his peers, but here’s a little nugget to consider: Williams hit .328 on the road in his career; Votto has hit .321. And Williams wasn’t facing an entire league of pitchers throwing 95 mph.
The Red Sox won the pennant once in Williams’ 19 seasons with the team. They were competitive early in his career, reached his only World Series in 1946 (losing in seven games) and finished one game out of first place in both 1948 and 1949 and just four games out in 1950. But in Williams’ final 10 seasons, the Red Sox finished no closer than 11 games out.
The Reds, likewise, are wasting some of Votto’s best years. They did win division titles in 2010 -- Votto won the MVP that season -- and 2012 and lost the wild-card game in 2013, but they’ve now had four straight losing seasons. Given that the Reds allowed the most runs in the NL in 2017, a turnaround in the next few seasons doesn’t appear likely.
Votto also isn’t going anywhere. He’s signed through 2023, and while his $25 million annual salary no longer seems so exorbitant, he holds a full no-trade clause and appears happy to stay in Cincinnati. Maybe the good news for the Reds is that given his ability at the plate, he should -- like Williams -- age well. Maybe by the time the Reds are ready to compete again, Votto will still be one of the elite hitters in the league.
Of course, he’ll probably still receive criticism in some quarters along the way -- as Williams did throughout his career -- for taking too many walks and not driving in enough runs, as if getting on base were a bad thing.
The response to those critics is pretty simple: Votto understands baseball a lot better than they do.
If anything, the irritating part is this misconception that Votto just stands there and takes his walks instead of being more aggressive. That’s just wrong on so many levels. Some numbers:
- Out of 144 qualified regulars, he ranked 76th in average pitches per plate appearance, just ahead of Nolan Arenado, known as one of the more aggressive swingers in the game.
- He ranked 20th in lowest swing rate, so in this regard he didn’t swing a lot. Still, teammate Zack Cozart swung less often than Votto. (Hmm, maybe that’s one reason Cozart had the best season of his career.)
- On the first pitch of a plate appearance, Votto ranked 122nd in lowest swing rate. He swung at the first pitch 36.6 percent of the time. Compare that to Joe Mauer, who swung just 7.6 percent of the time at the first pitch.
- For pitches labeled in the strike zone, Votto ranked 98th in lowest swing rate. If he saw a strike, he swung 69.4 percent of the time.
What Votto doesn’t do is chase pitches out of the zone. This, as it was for Williams, is his brilliance. His chase rate of 14.0 percent was the lowest in the majors, one of just eight players below 20 percent. Why would his critics want him to expand the strike zone and make outs? That’s what pitchers want you to do. Votto hit .152 when he chased.
Oh, and Votto does just fine with runners on base. He hit .371 with runners in scoring position in 2017 and .339 with men on. For his career, he has hit .335 with runners in scoring position and .326 with men on.
Votto said he wanted 2017 to be his work of art. His entire career has been a masterpiece.
The Cy Young votes went as expected, with Corey Kluber cleaning up in the American League -- collecting 28 of 30 first-place votes to beat out Chris Sale -- and Max Scherzer winning his second consecutive National League Cy Young Award. The mild surprise was Scherzer received 27 of 30 first-place votes to easily outpoll Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw had led the NL in wins and ERA, usually a combo that will deliver a Cy Young Award, but Scherzer had the edge in innings, strikeouts and WAR. That proved to be the difference-maker for the voters. As more writers become versed in advanced metrics, everybody is looking at the same numbers. That makes for smarter voting but less predictable.
It was a gratifying win for Scherzer and he pumped his fist when he was announced as the winner. He has a baby on the way -- "We may be at the hospital tonight," he said on MLB Network -- and it wasn't the easiest of seasons for him.
He had suffered a stress fracture in the knuckle of his right ring finger in the offseason and the injury lingered into spring training. At the time, it appeared he'd miss the start of the season. He made it back to start the Nationals' fourth game.
"I was behind the entire time," he said. "I didn't even think I'd be able to start on time. ... This is time to give thanks to the medical staff. They did such a tremendous job of keeping me on the field."
With Kluber winning his second and Scherzer joining an exclusive club in becoming only the 10th pitcher with three Cy Youngs, it's confirmation that we're in another era of super aces, similar to the late 1990s and early 2000s, a period that featured Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Curt Schilling, Roger Clemens, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux.
Kluber has pitched 200 innings four years in a row. Scherzer has made 30-plus starts every year of his career. Sale is going to win a Cy Young one of these years. Stephen Strasburg, who finished third in the NL voting, is just reaching his peak. Heck, Kershaw is 46-15 over the past three seasons with a 2.07 ERA and didn't win the award in any of those seasons.
Scherzer's win, however, makes me realize that it's time we starting thinking of him as an all-time great. I guess I had never thought of him that way before, but the other nine pitchers on that three-time Cy Young list are Clemens, Johnson, Maddux, Steve Carlton, Kershaw, Martinez, Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver and Jim Palmer, thank you very much.
Though Scherzer had the finger injury and then a hamstring issue in September, he never has had a major arm injury. He now has had five consecutive seasons where he has finished in the top five in the Cy Young vote. Given his current level of dominance and strikeout rate -- and .178 average allowed in 2017 -- his run of excellence isn't about to end any time soon barring some career-threatening injury. He's signed for four more seasons, and if he averages 15 wins per season, he'll be over 200 career wins to go with those three Cy Youngs.
The twist to Scherzer's durability is that he was once traded for fear that he wouldn't be durable. Under general manager Josh Byrnes, the Diamondbacks drafted Scherzer 11th overall in 2006 out of the University of Missouri. He reached the majors in 2008 and in his first full season in 2009 went 9-11 with a 4.12 ERA over 30 starts and 170 innings, striking out 174.
Even though he finished 12th in the majors in strikeout rate and 15th in strikeout-minus-walk rate, the Diamondbacks traded him that winter as part of a three-team deal with the Tigers and Yankees, with Arizona receiving Ian Kennedy and Edwin Jackson. Even at the time, critics thought Byrnes flubbed the deal.
"In general, the immediate reaction of the trade is not often a predictor of the outcome," Byrnes said at the time. "We're always balancing short term and long term. I think this was pretty clear in the short term that it strengthened us, and long term we realized there was some degree of risk."
The Diamondbacks worried that Scherzer's violent pitching motion meant he might not stay healthy and develop into a 200-inning workhorse. The Diamondbacks viewed the trade as acquiring eight years of starting pitching -- six of Kennedy and two of Jackson -- for five years of Scherzer. Here's Scherzer making his MLB debut in 2008:
Maybe he has cleaned up the delivery a little bit since then, but it's not dramatically different. The weird part about the trade is if the Diamondbacks had concerns about Scherzer's delivery, then why did they draft him in the first place? And then trade him after a successful debut season in the majors?
While the trade wasn't a disaster for the Diamondbacks -- Kennedy had some good seasons and they flipped Jackson for Daniel Hudson at the trade deadline in 2010 -- it was one reason Byrnes was fired just seven months later (the same day the D-backs fired manager A.J. Hinch).
Anyway, Scherzer has proven that just because you do something different doesn't make it wrong. Kershaw has also flourished with an unconventional delivery. Now Scherzer joins Kershaw on that short list of all-time pitching savants.
Sale: 13-4, 2.37 ERA, 148 1/3 IP, 103 H, 27 BB, 211 SO
Kluber: 8-3, 2.90 ERA, 114 2/3 IP, 87 H, 27 BB, 161 SO
Barring injury, Sale was in excellent position to win his first Cy Young Award. Instead, Kluber had one of the greatest stretch runs you’ll ever see, somewhat reminiscent of Jake Arrieta's in 2015. Over the final two months, Kluber went 10-1 with a 1.42 ERA, striking out 104 in 89 innings with just nine walks while allowing more than two runs in a start just once. Sale, meanwhile, tired a bit, going 4-4 with a 4.09 ERA over the final two months and twice allowed seven runs in a game -- both times to Kluber’s Cleveland Indians. In Sale's final regular-season start, he allowed four home runs in a loss to the Blue Jays.
Sale became the first American League pitcher since Pedro Martinez in 1999 to strike out 300 batters, but in the end, Kluber closed the gap in innings and strikeouts and comfortably led in ERA -- 2.25 to 2.90 -- and he’ll end up winning Cy Young honors for the second time.
For Sale, it will be his sixth straight season receiving Cy Young votes -- he’ll have finished sixth, fifth, third, fourth, fifth and second -- making him one of the top pitchers never to win top honors.
Here are the pitchers with the most Cy Young Award shares (award points won by the player divided by the maximum number of award points) without winning:
Adam Wainwright: 1.97
Curt Schilling: 1.85
Dan Quisenberry: 1.49
Nolan Ryan: 1.48
Jimmy Key: 1.25
Dave Stewart: 1.22
Kevin Brown: 1.20
Trevor Hoffman: 1.07
Mariano Rivera: 1.04
Chris Sale: 1.00
Sale will climb on that list after this vote. If he finishes second on every ballot, that’s 120 points out of a maximum of 210, or 0.57 award shares, which would put him third behind Wainwright and Schilling.
Anyway, the Cy Young announcements have me thinking of this: Who will be the game’s next superace?
This is a short list. I think there are five guys currently in this category: Kluber, Sale, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander (who has bounced back the past two seasons after a couple of down years). Stephen Strasburg, an NL finalist this season, is a consideration for this group as well, and maybe Zack Greinke, although he had a mediocre 2016 sandwiched around two superb seasons.
What’s interesting is that all those guys have been around a while now. Kluber was the late bloomer, with his breakout season coming in 2014 at age 28. Sale is actually the youngest in the group at 28, but he joined the White Sox rotation in 2012.
The next generation of superaces didn’t quite develop for various reasons. Jose Fernandez died. Gerrit Cole has flatlined as a good-but-not-dominant starter. Julio Urias’ career is in jeopardy after shoulder surgery. Dylan Bundy battled years of injuries before finally making it through a full season in the rotation in 2017. Matt Moore had Tommy John surgery and consistency issues. Tyler Glasnow might end up as a reliever. Archie Bradley ended up in the Arizona bullpen. Those guys were all top-10 overall prospects at some point since 2012.
So who is the next Kluber or Sale? Here are 10 guys to consider:
Luis Severino, New York Yankees: This is the obvious guy given he’ll finish third in the AL Cy Young voting this year. Severino’s breakout was just as important to the Yankees’ playoff push as Aaron Judge’s rookie campaign, and just as surprising, given Severino’s struggles in 2016. He pitches off his upper-90s fastball -- he was the hardest-throwing starter in the majors in 2017 -- but it was the improvement on his changeup that keyed his performance, giving him a third weapon against lefties (batters hit just .158 against his changeup) to go with his fastball and slider.
Most impressively, Severino pitched 193 innings in his first full season in the rotation and showed no signs of fatigue with a 1.99 ERA over his final eight starts. He has the build to have that kind of durability. Look at him from behind and you realize how broad he is across his back, similar to Roger Clemens or Schilling. This is a strong kid. There are some concerns whether his delivery will bode well for his long-term health -- he throws off a stiff front leg, whipping his arm across his body -- but if he does stay healthy, he has a Cy Young Award in his future.
Noah Syndergaard, New York Mets: It was a lost season for Syndergaard, who made five starts before going down with a lat tear. (He returned to make two abbreviated appearances at the end of the season.) He has said he learned a lesson from getting too muscular in his offseason workouts heading into 2017 and will scale back this winter. We know the upside: a 2.60 ERA over 183 innings in 2016 with a league-leading 2.29 FIP. In the 30 innings he did pitch this year, he fanned 34 and didn’t allow a home run. Aside from the raw stuff, his ability to limit home runs is a huge positive in this new era of home runs.
Alex Reyes, St. Louis Cardinals: Reyes might have topped this list a year ago, when he entered spring training as Keith Law’s No. 10 overall prospect and No. 2 pitching prospect. Reyes had dominated in a late-season call-up in 2016 and was ready for the rotation, but Tommy John surgery in February wiped out his season. We’ll see whether he still has that power 94-98 fastball when he returns, which he mixes in with a plus changeup and hard curveball.
Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks: Did Ray have a breakthrough? His ERA dropped from 4.90 to 2.89 as he led the NL in strikeouts per nine innings (12.11). His strikeout, walk and home run numbers, however, were identical to 2016 (one fewer home run in 12 fewer innings), so his FIP remained the same at 3.76 compared to 3.72. The difference was all in his batting average on balls in play (BABIP): .355 in 2016, .270 in 2017. Now, he wasn’t the same pitcher as 2016: He threw fewer fastballs and more curveballs while keeping his slider rate at 18 percent. His exit velocities allowed were basically the same. So, was he simply smarter and better in 2017, or maybe more fortunate? Probably a little of both, but there’s reason to believe he hasn’t hit his ceiling just yet. He’s one of the hardest-throwing lefty starters in the game, and if he can cut down on his walks -- 71 in 162 innings -- he could consistently post sub-3.00 ERAs.
Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds: The Reds haven’t exactly been known for pitcher development in recent years as they allowed the most runs in the NL in 2017. Castillo may break that trend, posting a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts as a rookie with 98 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings. He’s a little older for a first-year starter -- he turns 25 in December -- and remarkably has already been traded four times in his career: from the Giants to the Marlins, the Marlins to the Padres, the Padres back to the Marlins (when Colin Rea showed up injured in Miami and Castillo was sent back to the Marlins), and then from the Marlins to the Reds for Dan Straily. That’s a strange list of transactions for a guy who averaged 97.7 mph with his fastball. He improved his changeup in 2017, and he can afford to add a little weight as he matures. The delivery isn’t picture-perfect with the way his arm sort of slingshots back after release, so like Severino, if you combine the velocity with the delivery, the injury concern may be higher than with others.
Michael Kopech, Chicago White Sox: If there’s one minor leaguer I’d bet on, this would be the guy. The Red Sox drafted him 33rd overall in 2014, and he gained notoriety for reportedly hitting 105 mph in the minors in 2016 (as well as for a performance-enhancing-drug suspension in 2015 and breaking his hand in 2016 after an altercation with a teammate). He was part of the Sale trade, and he has everything you like in a pitching prospect: big-time velocity, good size and excellent numbers (172 strikeouts in 134 innings between Double-A and Triple-A while holding batters to a .193 average). He needs to improve his command but should see the majors sometime in 2018.
A.J. Puk, Oakland Athletics: Note that of the seven superaces or near-superaces we listed -- Kluber, Sale, Kershaw, Scherzer, Verlander, Strasburg and Greinke -- six were first-round picks. Kluber was the one sleeper in the group. Puk has the first-round pedigree, drafted sixth overall in 2016, and in his first full season in the minors, he reached Double-A while striking out 184 in 125 innings.
Jose Berrios, Minnesota Twins: After Berrios was hammered for an unsightly 8.02 ERA in 14 starts as a rookie in 2016, the Twins played it cautiously in 2017 and started him in the minors. Upon his return, he pitched like the top prospect he was coming up through the system and went 14-8 with a 3.89 ERA. The stuff is absolutely electric at times, especially that whiffle ball-like curveball that batters hit .220/.254/.306 against. I like his willingness to go 96 up in the zone to change the eye level of the hitters. He needs to work on his changeup, as lefties hit .260/.357/.427 off him.
Lance McCullers, Houston Astros: I think he’s a bit of a reach for this list given some injuries and his reliance on one pitch. Yes, that curveball is something from an alien universe, but he’ll need to develop a third pitch and improve his fastball command. Still, I love the arm and the swagger.
James Paxton, Seattle Mariners: Paxton has spent part of five seasons in the majors, but his 136 innings in 2017 were a career high. He has had minor injuries throughout his career; in 2017, it was a forearm strain in May and a pectoral injury in August. He’s also 29 now, but he has proved he can pitch at a high level: Over his past 35 starts, he’s 16-8 with a 3.05 ERA and 227 strikeouts in 203 2/3 innings, with just 14 home runs allowed. Now he just needs to do it over 30 starts in one calendar year. Maybe, like another former Mariners lefty, he’s a pitcher who peaks in his 30s.
Why write about next year's class of free agents? Because who is available next offseason could affect what happens this offseason.
For example, if you're interested in trading for Giancarlo Stanton or signing J.D. Martinez, are you better off waiting to go after Bryce Harper, Manny Machado or one of the big bats? Do you pay Yu Darvish or wait and see if Clayton Kershaw becomes available?
The 2018-19 class, once hailed as the greatest class of free agents ever, has lost a little luster. Harper and Machado remain two elite free agents -- especially given their ages -- but Matt Harvey's career has disintegrated, Andrew McCutchen is no longer an MVP-caliber player, and others, such as Garrett Richards, have battled injuries.
Still, there's a ton of depth out there, especially if a few key guys such as Kershaw exercise their opt-out clauses. Here's the top 20:
1. Bryce Harper, RF
2019 age: 26
2017 stats: .319/.413/.595, 4.7 WAR
Everyone expects Harper to sign with the Yankees because they're the Yankees sitting on a pile of gold, and they were Harper's favorite team growing up. Aaron Judge's emergence, however, lessens the Yankees' need for a power-hitting outfielder, and it's possible that if Gleyber Torres and Clint Frazier develop into regulars in 2018, the Yankees will pool their future resources into pitching instead of offense. That could open the door for some other big spenders: the Dodgers and ... well, no team needs power in the outfield more than the Giants. Or how about a dream scenario of Harper playing right field next to Mike Trout?
2. Manny Machado, 3B
2019 age: 26
2017 stats: .259/.310/.471, 3.5 WAR
Machado had a disappointing 2017, fueled in part by an extremely low BABIP in the first half. He bounced back by hitting .290/.326/.500 in the second half and, like Harper, will hit free agency in the prime of his career. He has had three seasons of at least 6.7 WAR, so you have to expect a better season in 2018, which makes him No. 1A to Harper's No. 1. In the meantime, the Orioles seem intent on holding Machado for 2018, waiting to see if they can compete for a playoff spot before dealing him. An intriguing team in the Harper/Machado sweepstakes will be the Phillies. Their only player signed beyond 2018 is outfielder Odubel Herrera, and that isn't for big money. The Phillies need talent and will have a ton of cash to spend on a franchise player.
3. Clayton Kershaw, LHP (opt-out)
2019 age: 31
2017 stats: 18-4, 2.31 ERA, 4.6 WAR
Kershaw is pretty much a lock to opt out of his contract. He's signed for 2019 and 2020 for $70 million, but considering that Max Scherzer and David Price both signed $200 million contracts for their age-30 seasons, Kershaw would probably triple that $70 million as a free agent. The one red flag, of course, is that he has missed time the past two seasons with back issues. It's also impossible to see him anywhere except with the Dodgers, but what if Kershaw finally wins a title in 2018? Maybe that makes it easier for him to consider a different home. How about day games at Wrigley and then nights with the family?
4. Josh Donaldson, 3B
2019 age: 33
2017 stats: .270/.385/.559, 4.8 WAR
Donaldson was a late bloomer, so he'll hit free agency at 33, but after returning from a calf injury last season, he once again played at an MVP-caliber level. He's an excellent athlete, a guy you would expect to age well, similar to Adrian Beltre in a perfect scenario, and his bat is good enough to move to first base later, if needed. The Blue Jays are in the same position as the Orioles with Machado: unlikely contenders and in need of depth but hesitant about punting on 2018 in the offseason. Rumors have the Cardinals interested in Donaldson -- and they've been successful in trading for veterans and signing them to extensions -- but given his career arc, Donaldson probably will want to see what he's worth in free agency.
5. Charlie Blackmon, CF
2019 age: 32
2017 stats: .331/.399/.601, 6.0 WAR
Like Donaldson, Blackmon was a late bloomer, so he'll be reaching free agency in his early 30s. He's coming off a monster season, and if he can do it again, he'll be attractive even factoring in Coors Field concerns (he hit .391 at Coors in 2017 and .276 on the road). The other concern is paying Blackmon and counting on him as a center fielder. In the past 10 seasons, there have been just eight seasons of center fielders age 33 or older getting 500 plate appearances. Realistically, if Blackmon is signed to a five-year deal, he probably plays center for a season or two before moving to a corner.
6. Drew Pomeranz, LHP
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: 17-6, 3.32 ERA, 4.0 WAR
That's right. The most attractive Red Sox left-hander might be not Price but Pomeranz. Obviously, he'll have to prove that his 2017 season was legit, but he'll be younger than the other free-agent pitchers on the market and -- because he’d have only three full seasons as a starter -- he'll have much less wear and tear on his arm.
7. Elvis Andrus, SS (opt-out)
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: .297/.337/.471, 4.7 WAR
A couple of years ago, Andrus' long-term extension looked, if not calamitous, at least a little dubious. But he joined the fly ball revolution in 2017 and cranked 20 home runs after hitting 21 the previous four seasons combined. In 2013, he played 156 games and had just 25 extra-base hits; in 2017, he ranked ninth in the AL with 68 extra-base hits. He has opt-out clauses after both 2018 and 2019; otherwise, the contract pays him $88 million through 2023. Given his age and durability -- he has played at least 145 games every season of his career -- it seems that he could beat that in free agency given another 4-WAR season.
8. Brian Dozier, 2B
2019 age: 32
2017 stats: .271/.359/.498, 4.4 WAR
With 76 home runs the past two seasons, Dozier has established himself as the premier power-hitting second baseman in the game. The Gold Glove Award he won this season was a little weird -- he has never been known for his range in the field -- but there's a lot to like here with his power, durability and command of his pull-heavy approach. Don't rule out a return to the Twins. The only money they have committed beyond 2018 is $13.2 million to Phil Hughes and $8 million to Jason Castro in 2019. However, Dozier is from Mississippi, and the Braves are a team in need of some power. If they believe in Dansby Swanson at shortstop (with Ozzie Albies at second), they could sign Dozier to play third base.
9. David Price, LHP (opt-out)
2019 age: 33
2017 stats: 6-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.7 WAR
Price has a lot to prove in 2018, both on the field and off, where his meltdowns with the media in 2017 showcased a player not that happy to be in Boston. Foremost, he has to prove the elbow is healthy and capable of his usual 200-inning workload. Even if that happens, would he opt out? He's due $127 million from 2019 to 2022, and I'm not sure he'd get that even if he wins 20 games. It appears Price might be stuck with Boston. Or vice versa.
10. Andrew Miller, LHP
2019 age: 34
2017 stats: 4-3, 1.44 ERA, 3.1 WAR
He'll be older, but Miller can be viewed as kind of a relief version of Randy Johnson: a tall, lanky lefty who throws a fastball and slider and could dominate into his 40s. Miller would have to be paid like a closer, but his willingness to pitch in any role without complaint also makes him an attractive setup option for any contender. Imagine him setting up Kenley Jansen. Wait, don't imagine that unless you're a Dodgers fan.
11. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
2019 age: 31
2017 stats: 5-0, 1.43 ERA, 3.6 WAR
Considering that he averaged 16.4 K's per nine innings and held batters to a .140 average in 2017, he doesn't seem to be slowing down. Given good health in 2018, he should receive a contract similar to the five-year, $80 million deal Jansen signed with the Dodgers last offseason.
12. A.J. Pollock, CF
2019 age: 31
2017 stats: .266/.330/.471, 2.9 WAR
Pollock had a superstar season in 2015, when he was worth 7.4 WAR, but that remains the only season in which he has reached 500 plate appearances. He isn't as young as you might think, and the injury issues probably limit him to a shorter contract. It will be interesting to see how the Diamondbacks spend their money. As much as they’d love to re-sign Martinez, he is probably out of their price range. Then Paul Goldschmidt hits free agency after 2019.
13. Daniel Murphy, 2B
2019 age: 34
2017 stats: .322/.384/.543, 2.8 WAR
Murphy's three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Nationals has proved to be a bargain, and he'll hit free agency again with leverage to get a similar contract, if not something with a little more juice. The drawback is that you might be purchasing his decline phase on offense to go with his substandard defense. His future might be at first base or DH.
14. Marwin Gonzalez, LF/INF
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: .303/.377/.530, 4.3 WAR
He had a breakout season in 2017 while showing his versatility before settling in as the team's left fielder in the postseason. That super-utility slot is probably his best role, as he's stretched defensively at shortstop. Although his numbers did tail off in the second half, he nevertheless delivered a respectable .299/.363/.485. If he does that again, he'll be a very rich man. The Nationals could have several holes after 2018, depending on what happens with Harper and Murphy, and the Astros will have to spend their resources on their bigger stars.
15. Gio Gonzalez, LHP
2019 age: 33
2017 stats: 15-9, 2.96 ERA, 6.6 WAR
Don't buy into that 2.99 ERA or 6.6 WAR. He isn't that good, as he had the fourth-best strand rate among starting pitchers. He always seems to live right on the edge with his control and has never gone more than five innings in six postseason starts, but he has made at least 27 starts eight seasons in a row and still keeps batters off-balance with that big, swooping curveball. You don't want to go overboard here, but he seems like a reasonable bet on a three-year deal as a mid-rotation starter.
16. DJ LeMahieu, 2B
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: .310/.374/.409, 2.9 WAR
He has hit .300 the past three seasons and earned a batting title in 2016. Of course, a lot of players win batting titles while playing for the Rockies, but LeMahieu did hit .303 on the road in 2016 and .294 in 2017, so he might still project as a .300 hitter away from Coors. He's a big guy but a slap hitter who hits the ball to the opposite field more than any other hitter. His defensive metrics are solid, confirming the Gold Glove selection. With Brendan Rodgers probably ready in 2019, the Rockies will have infield options with him and Trevor Story, plus they need money to try to sign Nolan Arenado after 2019, so LeMahieu looks like a good bet to sign elsewhere.
17. Andrew McCutchen, OF
2019 age: 32
2017 stats: .279/.363/.486, 2.5 WAR
McCutchen didn't bounce back to his peak level, and much of his 2017 value came in June and July, when he tore it up. The Pirates will probably end up keeping him in his walk year because Austin Meadows isn't ready, and they might even let McCutchen play center field again -- a move to right field last year backfired when Starling Marte was suspended for PEDs. When McCutchen hits free agency, however, he'll be viewed strictly as a corner outfielder, which could potentially help his value, as maybe he'll prove to be a plus defender in left or right instead of a big negative in center.
18. Nelson Cruz, DH
2019 age: 38
2017 stats: .288/.375/.549
He remains one of the elite sluggers in the game, coming off a 39-homer season while leading the AL in RBIs. Another similar season should net him a nice two-year deal to DH for somebody, despite his age.
19. Zach Britton, LHP
2019 age: 31
2017 stats: 2-1, 2.89 ERA, 1.0 WAR
Britton will have to rebuild his value after missing time with an elbow injury in 2017. When he returned, his velocity was OK, but his command wasn't. The Orioles will no doubt hold on to him during the offseason and hope he re-establishes his 2016 level, when he was the best closer in the game.
20. Cody Allen, RHP
2019 age: 30
2017 stats: 3-7, 2.94 ERA, 1.7 WAR
Yes, the closer market will be deep next offseason. Allen wasn't quite as dominant last season, as he served up nine home runs -- and 17 the past two seasons, which separates him from the top tier of closers. But teams will like that he has done the job in the postseason and his strikeout rate remains strong.
Others of note: Adrian Beltre, Justin Smoak, Michael Brantley, Matt Harvey, Garrett Richards, Patrick Corbin, Kelvin Herrera, Joe Mauer, Adam Jones, Lonnie Chisenhall, Sean Doolittle, Brad Brach, Drew Smyly, AJ Ramos, Wilson Ramos
Utley said only one pitcher could match Kershaw in intensity and preparation: Roy Halladay, his former teammate with the Phillies.
"He's even better than I expected," Utley said of Kershaw. "You see all the work he does between starts, and you really appreciate that. He definitely reminds me of Roy. Roy worked his butt off between starts, and that's one reason both had so much success."
You could see Utley's eyes light up as he compared the two pitchers, one great player appreciating two other great ones. More than any other pitcher, Halladay was the bridge from the Hall of Fame generation of the mid-1990s and early 2000s -- Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz -- to the current generation of aces led by Kershaw, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Halladay, just 40 years old, died Tuesday in a plane crash in the Gulf of Mexico, leaving behind his wife and two sons.
"We are numb over the very tragic news about Roy Halladay's untimely death," the Phillies said in a statement. "There are no words to describe the sadness that the entire Phillies family is feeling over the loss of one of the most respected human beings to ever play the game."
Halladay's remarkable 10-year run from 2002 to 2011 was one of the best in recent decades. In those seasons -- eight with the Blue Jays, the final two with the Phillies -- Halladay went 170-75 with a 2.97 ERA, with most of those seasons coming in a high-offense environment. He won two Cy Young Awards, finished second twice and third once, made eight All-Star teams and led his league five times in strikeout-to-walk ratio. But perhaps nothing sums up Halladay's work ethic better than these numbers: He led his league four times in innings and eight times in complete games. He pitched 63 complete games in that 10-year period, 30 more than any other pitcher in that span and more than Kershaw, Verlander and Scherzer have in their careers combined.
When you think of Halladay's peak, you have to go back to his no-hitter against the Reds in the 2010 National League Division Series. It was only the second no-hitter in postseason history, after Don Larsen's World Series perfect game. It was beautiful to watch, as he threw from a three-quarters delivery, mixing that running two-seam sinker with a cutter. He threw just 104 pitches and struck out eight, with only a fifth-inning walk keeping him from matching Larsen.
"Maybe someday -- maybe in a month, maybe in a year, maybe in half a century or so -- Roy Halladay will come to understand what he did Wednesday on a baseball field in Philadelphia," Jayson Stark wrote after the game. "To say he pitched a baseball game that people will talk about for the rest of his life doesn't truly capture the magnitude of it."
Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz summed up Halladay's stuff that night like this: "Oh, my god."
That Halladay became a legendary pitcher wasn't a sure thing, even though he was a first-round pick and nearly pitched a no-hitter in his second career start. After a solid rookie season in 1999 -- when he went 8-7 with a 3.92 ERA -- Halladay forgot how to pitch. His numbers in 2000 were beyond terrible. In 67 innings, he allowed 107 hits and had nearly as many walks (42) as strikeouts (44). His ERA of 10.64 is the worst ever by a pitcher with at least 50 innings.
In 2001, Halladay had to go all the way back down to Class-A Dunedin. He remade himself as a pitcher. He initially came up as an overhand four-seam fastball and curveball pitcher. In the minors, he dropped his arm slot and started throwing that two-seamer. With help from Mariano Rivera at an All-Star Game, he perfected a cutter. With Halladay leading the way, that style of pitching -- sinkers and cutters -- became a prominent method of attacking hitters. Of course, nobody did it as well as Halladay, who could paint the corners with movement and still have the velocity to induce swing-and-misses.
"I wanted to be Roy Halladay," former All-Star pitcher Dan Haren tweeted. "Heartbroken, rest easy Doc."
As other players tweeted, we felt the respect everyone had for Halladay.
"One of the best teammates ever," Roy Oswalt tweeted.
"Blessed to have shared the field with you as a teammate, competitor, friend and more importantly a brother," Shane Victorino tweeted.
Halladay is eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2019. He will appear on that ballot with Rivera, Andy Pettitte and Todd Helton, among others. In my book, he's a pretty easy selection. A pitcher who dominated the sport for 10 years should be a Hall of Famer, even if he won "only" 203 games. His career WAR of 65.6 doesn't quite scream automatic selection, but it's comparable to that of other Hall of Famers such as Jim Palmer (68.1), Smoltz (66.5), Juan Marichal (61.9) and Don Drysdale (61.2).
The low win total will scare off some voters, but the dominance in Cy Young voting will help. Halladay threw a perfect game in the regular season and the playoff no-no. In some ways, he was the last of the workhorses, a guy who wanted to pitch all nine innings.
Yes, the end was sudden. After he finished second in the Cy Young voting in 2011 -- Kershaw won, though Halladay probably deserved it, with an 8.9 WAR to Kershaw's 6.5 -- he came down with shoulder problems and pitched just two more seasons.
When he underwent surgery early in the 2013 season, he knew his career was on the edge.
"Nobody wants to go out on a bad note," Halladay told Stark that May. "If you had your choice, you want to go out strong. Ideally, you want to go out as a world champion. But some of those things aren't in your control."
Let's took a quick look at the award finalists, who were announced Monday night:
This promises to be the most interesting vote because nobody knew what to expect. As many as seven or eight players could get first-place votes, and it's a bit of a surprise that Votto finished ahead of Rockies Nolan Arenado and Charlie Blackmon. I think that says three things: (1) The two Rockies probably split some votes high up on ballots; (2) There are still "Sure, but it’s Coors Field" thoughts about their numbers; (3) Voters continue to emphasize WAR, in which Votto ranked higher than those two, thanks to his .320/.454/.578 batting line.
The biggest question: Do Stanton and Votto have a chance, despite playing for losing teams? Voters hate voting for guys on non-playoff teams, let alone losing teams, but Mike Trout did win last year. He was the first MVP from a sub.-500 team since Alex Rodriguez in 2003.
Goldschmidt was probably the favorite heading into September, but he hit just .171 with three home runs the final month as he played through a sore elbow. In the end, Stanton's 59 home runs, 132 RBIs and league-leading WAR should net him honors. He might not get the most first-place votes, but he'll probably be in the top three on just about every ballot.
This is obviously a two-man race. Judge was the favorite at the All-Star break, then he slumped through August, and Altuve became the favorite. Then Judge hit 15 home runs and knocked in 32 runs during the final month as the Yankees locked down a wild card.
Neither player wins on narrative, given that both stories and seasons were amazing. Judge was the bigger surprise, and sometimes that helps. Judge led in FanGraphs WAR, 8.2 to 7.5, while Altuve led in Baseball-Reference WAR, 8.3 to 8.1. If voters dig deeper, Altuve performed better in high-leverage situations, hitting .318 compared to Judge's .250 mark. Altuve also had the edge in Win Probability Added, 3.74 to 2.38.
Prediction: Altuve's season-long consistency and better clutch numbers help him top Judge.
Kershaw goes for his fourth Cy Young Award and Scherzer his third -- and second in a row. Scherzer seemed like the favorite after a monster first half (128 innings, 2.10 ERA, 173 K's) but had a 3.24 ERA in the second half, including a 4.05 ERA the final month. Kershaw ended up with the edge in ERA, 2.31 to 2.51, but Scherzer threw 25⅔ more innings and had 66 more strikeouts. Strasburg came on strong with a 0.86 ERA in the second half (he missed some time with an injury) and had a better FIP than Kershaw or Scherzer.
Prediction: Scherzer first, Kershaw second, Strasburg third. If Kershaw doesn't win, that will be three years in a row he didn't win -- even though he has a 2.07 ERA in that span. Amazing.
Sale had an amazing season, going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA and 308 strikeouts in 214⅓ innings. But that is going to net him only second place in the voting. At one point, Sale was the clear favorite, with big leads in innings and strikeouts after Kluber had missed a month on the DL. Kluber, however, had a monster stretch run and finished with just 11 fewer innings, while Sale faded with a 4.38 ERA in August and 3.72 in September. Kluber's final decisive edge in ERA -- 2.25 to 2.90 -- trumps Sale's other advantages. Kluber becomes a two-time Cy Young winner.
Bellinger set an NL rookie record with 39 home runs and should cruise to a unanimous victory. Bell, long a top prospect, lived up to his billing by hitting 26 home runs. DeJong was the big surprise. He got called up on May 28, hit .285/.325/.532 with 25 home runs and played solid shortstop -- impressive after he spent almost all of 2016 in the minors at third base.
Obviously, Judge will be the unanimous winner here. Benintendi had a solid season, hitting .271/.352/.424 with 20 home runs and 70 walks, and should improve on his 2.6 WAR next season. Mancini benefited from the lively ball, going from 13 home runs in Triple-A to 24 with the Orioles.
NL Manager of the Year: Bud Black, Torey Lovullo, Dave Roberts
The problem with the manager award is that it usually goes to the team that most exceeded expectations. Given that all six division winners were the six consensus favorites, it's possible that neither manager will come from a division title winner. Roberts won 104 games, but the Rockies and Diamondbacks were the bigger surprises, so it's probably Black versus Lovullo. Plus, Roberts won last year, and nobody has won back-to-back since Bobby Cox in 2004 and 2005.
AL Manager of the Year: Terry Francona, A.J. Hinch, Paul Molitor
Francona and Hinch won 100 games, but the Twins were the big surprise, going from an MLB-worst 59 wins to 84 wins and a wild card. Francona also won last year (and in 2013). It's somewhat interesting that Joe Girardi wasn't a finalist. His only Manager of the Year award came in 2006 with the Marlins -- when he had a losing record. Yes, he's the only losing manager to win.
Welcome to what some call the back door into the Hall of Fame. I don’t think that’s necessarily fair; the plaques in Cooperstown don’t say anything about how you got elected and the simple truth is that the Baseball Writers Association has swung and missed on some strong candidates through the years.
Still, it’s an interesting process that allows a candidate to be rejected numerous times by a voting bloc that had swelled to more than 500 voters in 2015 (only to be culled back the past two years) and then receive another opportunity from a committee of 16.
This year’s Modern Era ballot -- candidates whose greatest contributions came from 1970 to 1987 -- contains familiar names who have been voted on before, but also two new players who stand a good chance to be the first post-1950 players elected by a veterans committee since Ron Santo in 2012. If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, you may want to block out late July on your calendar.
Let’s look at the 10 names on the ballot, ranking them in order of likelihood of getting elected, because candidates must receive 12 of the 16 votes.
Alan Trammell: The longtime Tigers shortstop makes his first appearance on the Modern Era ballot. While he topped out at 40 percent on his final BBWAA ballot in 2016, he’s an extremely qualified Hall of Famer who ranks eighth all-time in WAR among shortstops, squeezed in between Derek Jeter and Barry Larkin. Other than Jeter, the top 16 shortstops are all in Cooperstown -- except Trammell.
So why wasn’t he elected by the BBWAA, while a similar player in Larkin made it on his third ballot? I’ve written before that Trammell suffered from being a contemporary of Cal Ripken. Trammell was generally considered the second-best AL shortstop of the 1980s (and for a couple of years, also ranked behind Robin Yount). Larkin was the best NL shortstop post-Ozzie Smith. That label helped Larkin get in with nearly identical career stats to Trammell. Trammell also had the bad timing of hitting the ballot in 2002, right when the new breed of shortstops like Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, Miguel Tejada and Jeter was putting up big offensive numbers that exceeded Trammell’s.
Trammell’s all-around excellence -- accumulating over 2,300 hits and 1,000 RBIs plus four Gold Gloves -- should be rewarded, however, and I think that oversight will be corrected.
Jack Morris: Maybe the most controversial nonsteroids candidate in recent decades, Morris reached 67 percent of the vote on his 14th year on the BBWAA ballot, but instead of receiving that final-ballot boost he fell off to 61 percent.
Morris’ case basically comes down to how much weight the voters will put on his Game 7 shutout in the 1991 World Series. Otherwise, his case has a lot of holes. He went 254-186, but with a 3.90 ERA, never ranking higher than fifth in his league in ERA and ranking in the top 10 just five times. His career WAR of 43.8 is well below Hall standards and he ranked in the top 10 in his league just four times.
He was a workhorse in the 1980s, an era when many of the top starters got injured and lacked Morris’ longevity, and his supporters will often roll out the “most wins in the 1980s” stat. He started for three World Series winners -- the ’84 Tigers, ’91 Twins and ’92 Blue Jays -- and that helps.
I think Morris gets elected. The Hall of Fame hasn’t released who is on the committee -- it’s a mix of Hall of Fame players, writers and executives -- but I think there’s a general belief that Morris “feels” like a Hall of Famer. Game 7 puts him over the top. He won’t be the worst player in the Hall.
Marvin Miller: The former head of the MLB Players Association has been on veterans committee ballots before and fell one vote short of election in 2010. He’s now deceased and was bitter about not getting elected, saying near the end of his life that he’d rather not get elected.
Bud Selig got elected last year. If you’re going to put Selig in, you have to elect the individual more responsible for changing the way the game operates than any other.
What’s interesting is that Miller is the only nonplayer on the ballot. George Steinbrenner and Billy Martin, on this ballot in the past, didn’t make it past the screening committee this time.
Dale Murphy: The two-time MVP certainly deserves to have his case heard again, although he never received much support from the BBWAA, peaking at 23 percent in 2000 before falling off the ballot after 2013. He wasn’t on the 2014 Modern Era ballot, so this is his first shot via a veterans committee.
He was one of the icons of the 1980s, but his run of excellence was too short. He had six seasons of 5-plus WAR, but those six seasons account for 82 percent of his career value of 46.2 WAR. He hit 398 home runs and drove in 1,266 runs, but just didn’t do quite enough before or after his peak.
Don Mattingly: Like Murphy, he had a Hall of Fame peak, but his peak was even shorter, with four dominant seasons from 1984 to 1987, two good seasons in 1988 and ’89 and then six mediocre seasons to finish his career. I’d argue that Keith Hernandez -- who leads Mattingly in WAR 60.0 to 42.2 -- is the stronger candidate if you want a New York first baseman from the 1980s. I’m not sure why the committee would exclude Hernandez in favor of Mattingly.
In fact, I’d suggest the screening committee that selected the 10 finalists did a pretty poor job with the names this time around. The rest of the ballot is comprised of players who have all appeared before on a veterans committee ballot and did not come close to election -- Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Dave Parker, Ted Simmons and Luis Tiant.
None of those guys has suddenly gotten better from 2014, when four of them each received fewer than six votes. Tiant received fewer than three in 2011 (although he’s probably the best candidate of the five).
Instead, the committee should have put some new names on the ballot to discuss. Besides Hernandez, we could have had Dwight Evans (66.9 WAR), Bobby Grich (70.9), Willie Randolph (65.5) or -- to complete the Tigers theme -- Lou Whitaker (74.9).
Those players are all sabermetric darlings, but that’s kind of the point in the need to include them and not the others. Nothing against Garvey or John or Parker, but why vote on the same measurements that got them turned down 15 times in a row before? With better statistical analysis now available, maybe Whitaker or Evans would have a chance.
Prediction for Mattingly, Garvey, John, Parker, Simmons and Tiant: Out.
George Springer just won World Series MVP honors with one of the best individual performances in history. Jose Altuve will probably edge out Aaron Judge as the American League MVP. If you were going to pick an MVP favorite for 2018, Carlos Correa may very well top that list.
Those three combined for nine home runs, 15 runs and 18 RBIs in Houston’s World Series victory. At crunch time, the Houston Astros’ stars stepped up.
“If you watch us play, you know guys like George, Jose, Carlos bring it every night,” Astros manager A.J. Hinch said after Game 7. “When the stage got big and the anxiousness started, you just rely on your guys.”
The Astros will have this trio together for at least two more seasons. Altuve is signed through 2019, at which time he’ll hit free agency, looking for big money after signing a team-friendly deal back in 2013 that will pay him just $6 million in 2018 and $6.5 million in 2019.
For now, Astros fans get to enjoy three of the game’s best players at the peak of their abilities. Springer and Altuve will be 28 next season, and Correa just turned 23 in September. The Astros were one of just two teams with at least three position players to accumulate 4.5 WAR in 2017:
Astros: Altuve (8.3), Correa (6.3), Springer (5.0)
Note that Correa did that in just 109 games after missing more than a month with a torn ligament in his thumb. That’s why he could challenge for MVP honors next year. Remember, he also got off to a slow start, hitting just .233 with two home runs in April. Given 150 games and a better start, he could be a nine-win player next year.
Let’s have a little fun here. It’s hard to argue that the Astros don’t have the best trio of position players right now. What about recent seasons? It’s not all that rare to have three five-win players in one season. Ten teams have done it since 2010:
2017 Astros: 19.6 (Altuve 8.3, Correa 6.3, Springer 5.0)
2016 Astros: 18.6 (Altuve 7.6, Correa 6.0, Springer 5.0)
2013 Red Sox: 18.1 (Pedroia 6.3, Shane Victorino 6.1, Ellsbury 5.7)
Houston’s trio wasn’t the best since 2010, but you may have noticed they also showed up in 2016, the only group to appear twice. An impressive aspect of their value is that none of them benefited from freakish one-year defensive ratings, which is how some of the players listed above cracked the 5-WAR barrier. Altuve, Correa and Springer are all solid defensive players, and while Altuve won a Gold Glove in 2015, none of them are probably Gold Glovers right now. Altuve rated at plus-3 defensive runs saved (DRS), Correa at plus-4 and Springer at minus-2. (Oddly, he rated better in center field than right field.)
The three Astros are, instead, terrific all-around players: power hitters with high OBPs who play solid defense at premium positions. That’s why they’ve each reached 5.0 WAR two seasons in a row and are good bets to do it for a third.
Does that make them a historic trio? I went back to 1960. Here are the previous instances of the same threesome cracking 5.0 WAR in consecutive seasons:
1996-98 Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez
1969-70 Reds: Johnny Bench, Tony Perez, Bobby Tolan
That’s it! There have been just two other trios to go back-to-back. The Mariners’ threesome did it three years in a row and the Reds just missed having four players do it two years in a row, as Pete Rose was worth 6.6 WAR in 1969 and 4.8 in 1970.
There were a couple of other trios who did it, just not in consecutive seasons:
1967, 1969 Orioles – Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Paul Blair
1972, 1974 Reds – Joe Morgan, Johnny Bench, Pete Rose
This puts the Astros’ trio in pretty exclusive company. One more way to examine their historical uniqueness is by considering their positions. Springer played right field in 2016 but started more than half his games in center field in 2017. Here are teams with their second baseman, shortstop and center fielder each reaching 5.0 WAR besides the 2017 Astros:
2007 Phillies: Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Aaron Rowand
1999 Indians: Roberto Alomar, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton
1985 Cardinals: Tom Herr, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee
1983 Tigers: Lou Whitaker, Alan Trammell, Chet Lemon
1952 Cardinals: Red Schoendienst, Solly Hemus, Stan Musial
1949 Dodgers: Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider
1942 Red Sox: Bobby Doerr, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio
1942 Yankees: Joe Gordon, Phil Rizzuto, Joe DiMaggio
1906 Naps: Nap Lajoie, Terry Turner, Elmer Flick
Obviously, this isn’t necessarily the only way to study best trios. This method misses somebody who would have fallen just under 5.0 WAR. Still, no matter how you slice it, this is one of the most impressive trio of young stars we’ve seen in a long time.
Oh, one more thing: Don’t forget Alex Bregman. He just finished his first full season in the majors and was worth 4.1 WAR. After hitting .256 in the first half, he hit .315/.367/.536 in the second half. Next year we may be talking about the best foursomes of all time.
LOS ANGELES -- They are now champions, these young Houston Astros, led by a double-play duo for the ages, Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa. It took 56 years for the Astros to bring their city a championship.
The next one might not take that long.
The Astros, conquerors of the Los Angeles Dodgers, rulers of baseball in 2017, figure to be back soon, because their core players -- Altuve, Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman -- are all in their 20s. But it is not only their talent, it is their attitude. It starts with Altuve and Correa.
"They don't usually have a bad day," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "I don't mean a bad performance. I mean a bad attitude or bad approach day."
Next season, the Astros have all of the significant parts of their roster back, save for possibly Carlos Beltran, who is 40 and struggled this season. While the tanking process that Houston used to create this championship roster is complete, the farm system still has some big-time prospects on the way, making titles over the next few years even more probable.
Forrest Whitley might not have only the best name in the minor leagues, he might be its top pitching prospect. The 20-year-old, 6-foot-7 Texan struck out an astounding 143 batters in 92⅓ innings, pitching as high as Double-A. He could be in the big leagues by next year. After 16 teams passed on Whitley, the Astros snatched him out of Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio with the 17th pick of the 2016 draft.
Besides Whitley, the Astros have Kyle Tucker, the fifth pick in the 2015 draft. He might be a year away but is just 20 and already has reached Double-A. He put up an .874 OPS in the minors last year.
To fit in with this Astros crew, Whitley and Tucker will have to live up to the expectations. It is one thing to have the talent -- it is another thing to have the attitude.
After winning the way they have, down 3-2 to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series and going into Dodger Stadium in the World Series to take a Game 7, their belief in themselves will only be stronger.
"Mindset, work ethic, talent," Astros veteran catcher Brian McCann said when asked why he thinks the Astros' young core could be around for a long time. "They're driven to be great. And when you have that mindset, and you have that ability, there's only one thing that's going to happen. So yeah, there are so many guys on the team that they're young and hungry and they're striving for greatness. And you can feel it when you're around them."
The American League has three other teams that will go into next season as true championship contenders: the Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox. However, the Astros will likely be a popular pick to repeat.
The Astros will have a full season of Justin Verlander. Verlander and Dallas Keuchel should form a strong one-two punch. The bullpen, which did enough to help Houston win the Series, could probably use some reinforcements. The Astros will have to figure out if closer Ken Giles will be impacted by his awful October.
But for all the talk about how the Astros tanked to acquire these great young players and how they are so analytically driven, what makes them special is the undefined science of a clubhouse that is amazingly well put together.
"I've never seen anything like it," Hinch said. "And I've been on a lot of teams, and I think a lot of winning teams will always brag about their chemistry and the culture and camaraderie you talked about. To live it, it is pretty special."
LOS ANGELES -- It took more than a half-century for the Houston Astros to win their first World Series and it felt as if they were celebrating more than a title -- and in many ways they were.
The final out of this seven-game World Series classic went to -- who else? -- second baseman Jose Altuve. The 5-foot-5 Altuve, who very well might win the American League regular-season MVP, calmly threw to first to begin the delirium.
"I couldn't believe it," the 27-year-old Altuve said hours after the last out, as teammates smoked big cigars and drenched one another in champagne in the visitors clubhouse at Dodger Stadium.
The MVP of the World Series, George Springer, just 28, saw Yuli Gurriel grasp the final out at first. Springer's instinct was to celebrate with one of the greatest postseason players in history, 40-year-old Carlos Beltran.
"I jumped in his arm like a 3-year-old," Springer said.
It was a good thing he did, because Beltran said, even after so many postseason games, he didn't really know what to do at the final out. Springer, though, seemed like a natural during the celebration. Springer jogged around the perimeter of Dodger Stadium's infield from interview to interview, holding his MVP trophy like a newborn.
Meanwhile, 23-year-old shortstop Carlos Correa completed a plan he first devised toward the end of the regular season, dropping down on one knee on national TV to ask his girlfriend, Miss Texas, Daniella Rodriguez, to marry him. He would receive congratulations from everyone he saw, including Astros ace Justin Verlander and his fiancée, Kate Upton, when they met at third base an hour or so after the final out.
But what stood out about the celebration is how much the Astros wanted to deliver the title to their city that has suffered so much since Hurricane Harvey hit.
It was not only Houston, but also Puerto Rico, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma. The Astros have many ties to Puerto Rico, beginning with Correa and Beltran. Springer is half Puerto Rican.
In their comments, the Astros hit the right tone, realizing that a baseball game will not rebuild anyone's home or restore anyone's electricity.
"They are going through a tough time right now," Correa said specifically of Houston in this instance. "For us to bring a little joy and happiness through baseball, it means everything, as well."
The festivities of the postgame had a soundtrack from a pretty large Astros fan contingent that had moved down behind the road dugout. In Southern California, they sang, "Deep in the Heart of Texas!" They held a flag that said, "Don't mess with Texas," though their World Series title really has Connecticut roots.
Springer grew up in New Britain, Connecticut, and attended the University of Connecticut. Charlie Morton, who shut down the Dodgers for the final four innings to pick up the win, grew up in Trumbull, Connecticut. Morton's three young children collected dirt off the Dodger Stadium mound to bring home to their grandparents.
The field was filled with children. Some so young they didn't realize what had just been accomplished, playing on iPads or doing cartwheels in the outfield. But parents, wives and friends fully understood all the hard work that made it possible.
Altuve, for his part, was seldom seen during the celebration. He doesn't like champagne and he chose to stay behind the scenes. It, of course, meant just as much to him, maybe even more, as it did to anyone else in an Astros uniform. Altuve was there for the 100-loss seasons that helped the Astros build their foundation.
"It's a crazy journey," Altuve said. "But I think I was the only one in 2011, '12 and '13, those 100 losses -- three years in row. It's not easy. But I think I kind of like believed in the process."
Altuve was the last one to talk in the Astros' clubhouse. He was packed into a corner, the celebration smoky and wet all around him. Lance McCullers Jr., who began the game for the Astros, tried to break through the crowd, saying, "He's the MVP. He's the best player on the planet, we get it."
The Astros got it. It was their first championship in their 56 seasons. They were celebrating beginnings, like Correa's engagement, and possible ends, as Beltran said he would soon make a decision about his playing future. And they looked forward to another party, the one they will bring to Houston.
LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers picked the wrong season to sniff a title. But that doesn't make it hurt any less.
The team that planned and plotted its way to 104 regular-season wins and two easy series victories in the National League bracket was simply overshadowed and outplayed by a Houston Astros roster exploding with talent.
The Dodgers' championship puzzle fell apart around one of the last pieces added. Yu Darvish, acquired by L.A. at the July 31 trade deadline, was shelled for the second time in the series, giving up five runs in 1⅔ innings. The Dodgers couldn't recover, and they fell 5-1 to the Astros, who celebrated the first championship in franchise history at Dodger Stadium.
That wasn't easy for L.A. to swallow.
"I have to continue to focus on my teammates," Clayton Kershaw said. "When you think about how close you were, it makes it too hard to think about. I try to maintain my focus on the guys in the clubhouse and how proud I am to be a part of this team, just how special this team was and is."
In a series defined by dramatic moments and unbelievable turnarounds, Game 7 was seized by Houston early, and the Astros never let go. George Springer led off the game with a double before scoring the first run on a Cody Bellinger throwing error. Then Jose Altuve plated Houston's second run with one out in the opening frame, and Kershaw began stretching in the bullpen, just three nights after his Game 5 start.
But hopes of Kershaw coming in from the bullpen to help bridge the middle innings to closer Kenley Jansen never had a chance to materialize. Darvish walked Brian McCann and gave up a double to Marwin Gonzalez to start the second inning, and that led to another one-out run, this one a grounder by pitcher Lance McCullers Jr. to make it 3-0.
Then Springer broke it open with a two-run, comet-like blast to left-center. That was it for Darvish. It was more than enough for the Astros. Kershaw came on to start the third inning, but with the deficit at five runs, L.A. was staring down some bad history: No team had overcome a five-run deficit in a winner-take-all World Series game.
"Just unexpected. Even today, the velocity, I thought he was right there," Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Darvish. "I thought he was going to really throw the baseball well. And I think it was 3⅓ [innings], maybe, in this series, and just very unfortunate. I know he wanted the baseball. I know he was prepared. I just can't explain the results. I really can't."
Meanwhile, Kershaw was magnificent and threw four scoreless innings. The Game 7 performance was everything he and the Dodgers could have hoped for. The low-leverage situation was not. Afterward, Kershaw reflected on his team's near miss.
"I told the guys tonight that I'm just thankful to be a part of this team," Kershaw said. "Thankful for their commitment and work. It was never about one guy. It was about everybody in here. It's just too hard to think about what the Astros are getting to do right now."
Darvish went just 1⅔ innings in Game 3 as well, giving up four runs and six hits. Just as he did in the clincher, Darvish took the loss. He became just the second starter with more than one start of five outs or fewer in a World Series, joining Art Ditmar of the Yankees, who suffered the same fate against Pittsburgh in 1960.
In 137 career starts, including the postseason, Darvish has had only two outings in which he failed to record a strikeout. Both of them were in this World Series. Darvish was asked afterward how he deals with this kind of disappointment.
"Most of the time, [I think] it could happen to anybody, the bad days and the good days," Darvish said through an interpreter. "If I had bad days, that means somebody had a great day. I try to think of it that way, and sometimes it works. Maybe this time it didn't work because I let my teammates down."
By the time the Astros scored their fifth run, the sun was setting over the Pacific Ocean. A dark cloud moved in over Dodger Stadium -- a literal one, a pathetic fallacy -- foretelling the end of L.A.'s brightest season in years.
The Dodgers had plenty of chances to cut into the big Houston lead, getting two runners on base in five of the first six innings alone. But L.A.'s situational hitting continued to flounder, as the Dodgers went 0-for-10 with runners in scoring position before Andre Ethier's pinch-hit RBI single in the sixth scored the team's only run.
"We had the opportunity to score in a lot of innings," Bellinger said. "We just couldn't come up with that big hit. That's baseball."
The Dodgers were the team that stuck to the plan, no matter what. Managing the roster with aggressive use of the new, shorter disabled list. Leveraging the platoon advantage as often as possible. Pulling starting pitchers before they were fatigued.
The organizational scheming couldn't have been executed better. The Dodgers hit every checkpoint. They clinched their division early. They rolled through a division series sweep of Arizona while the Chicago Cubs slugged it out with the Washington Nationals. They made quick work of the tired Cubs in five games in the National League Championship Series, earning another between-series break while the Astros were fighting for survival against the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
The Dodgers haven't been better positioned to win a title since the last time they won a World Series in 1988. The event production crew tried to rekindle the spirit of that season before Game 6 at Dodger Stadium by playing a video of longtime manager Tommy Lasorda leading the champagne celebration after that clinching win.
Then Lasorda, who recently turned 90, walked to the mound with Orel Hershiser, who authored a complete-game win in the '88 clincher, to toss out ceremonial first pitches. It worked well Tuesday, as the Dodgers handed Justin Verlander his first loss as an Astro to force the first Game 7 in Dodger Stadium history.
Ultimately, the planning and the pomp weren't enough to overcome the sheer talent and swagger of the Astros. For all the meticulousness of the Dodgers' path to Game 7, it was undone by a bad outing by a star-level starter against baseball's best offense.
"This month felt like 27 years," Kershaw said. "You ask my wife, too, I think it took 10 years off her life. Every game, every pitch, is just so intense. The intensity of a postseason game and you do that for a full month, I think guys are going to sleep, maybe not tonight, but going forward, they're going to sleep pretty good."
This season's World Series was just the third meeting of two 100-win teams since World War II, and it was the first since the Orioles and Reds clashed in 1970. This is what made the timing of the Dodgers' best season in Los Angeles a bit unfortunate.
The Dodgers would have been heavy favorites in the Fall Classic in almost any other recent season. That's the status that comes with winning 104 games. Of course, that wouldn't have guaranteed anything in baseball's crapshoot of a playoff format. But if the Dodgers had lost, it would have been labeled an upset.
But is anybody calling the Astros' win over the Dodgers an upset?
Not if you saw Altuve's hummingbird-like bat speed, Carlos Correa's long-limbed grace, Springer's throwback flair for the spectacular or Alex Bregman's bulldog intensity. Not if you saw Verlander overloading the Statcast cameras with Hall of Fame-level stuff: blazing fastballs, knee-buckling curveballs and endurance straight out of baseball's past.
"I told them there's a lot to be proud of," Roberts said of his team. "We fell short. That was a good ballclub over there. But what we accomplished this season and to see these guys come together as men, as a team, really special group of men. And, again, just not to hang your heads. One team can only win this. That's a great ballclub over there."
The best Brooklyn Dodgers teams were known for their dynamic position players. The pitchers were good, too, but we remember those teams most for Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Duke Snider, Roy Campanella, Carl Furillo and Gil Hodges. Once the team moved to L.A. before the 1958 season, the best Dodgers teams were dominated by starting pitchers: Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Don Sutton, Fernando Valenzuela and Hershiser. Even in this era of bullpen dominance, there's Kershaw.
What the Dodgers saw in the Astros was a team no starting pitcher could have defeated alone, not even Kershaw and perhaps not even Koufax. With so much at stake, there was no one to carry the Dodgers the way those old aces did. That just isn't the way it's done anymore.
That's the nature of 21st-century major league baseball. You can do everything right and come up empty. The Dodgers did almost everything right in 2017. From Camelback Ranch to Chavez Ravine, every action item was achieved right on time. Unfortunately, their timeline overlapped with the wrong team. You can make a strong argument that the Dodgers were better in roster spots six through 40. But it's tougher to make the case that they were better in spots one through five.
"This is a special group of guys, it really is," Kershaw said. "You go up and down the lineup, from the first guy on the roster to the 25th guy to the guys that are in the minor leagues, all the way down. It really is a special group of guys. I love all of them. I'm thankful I got to be here, thankful I got to hang around these guys."
In the end, it was the Astros who snapped a decades-long title drought -- not the Dodgers.
For years, the famous mantra in Brooklyn, when each season seemed to end with an October loss to the hated Yankees, was "Wait 'til next year."
It has been 60 years since the Dodgers moved west, but the Pacific Coast successors of those Brooklynites are in the same boat. The Dodgers have won five straight division titles. Last year, they finished one step short of the World Series. This year, they got there and finished one win short of the title.
"I hope we get to get to this point again," Kershaw said. "Definitely wasn't easy to get here to this point."
All that remains to do is take that final step, as the Dodgers' title drought stretches to three full decades. And all that's left to say are those ancient words: Wait 'til next year.
LOS ANGELES -- The Houston Astros are all alone in the baseball stratosphere, coming through just when their city needed them most.
Just a little more than two months ago, the Astros were displaced, disconsolate and helpless, grieving that they could not do more for a city ravaged by Hurricane Harvey and its aftermath. All the Astros could do then was play baseball, to give their fans common cause and a little distraction.
All they can do now is revel in the first World Series title in the history of both the city and the state. It seems like so much.
"Our team believed in each other all year," World Series MVP George Springer said. "And through the good times and the bad times, through a rough stretch in August, to getting down 3-2 against a very good New York team [in the American League Championship Series], there's a lot of things that happened. I'm so happy to be a part of it to bring a championship back to a city that desperately needed one. It is a surreal feeling."
In one of the most dramatic World Series ever, the Astros sucked the air out of Dodger Stadium from the outset. They jumped on Los Angeles Dodgers starter Yu Darvish for five early runs and then cruised to a 5-1 clincher on Wednesday, the first World Series Game 7 at Dodger Stadium.
As he has done so many times during his spectacular young career, Springer sparked it all, leading off the game with a double and scoring on Cody Bellinger's throwing error. Then he broke the game open in the second inning with a cometlike homer to left-center that gave Houston a five-run lead. No team had ever overcome a deficit that large in a winner-take-all World Series game. Lance McCullers Jr. and the bullpen -- led by a heroic four-inning effort from Charlie Morton to finish the game -- made sure that stat remained in effect.
"When the stage got big and the anxiousness started, you just rely on your guys," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said. "George, as [the leadoff hitter], when he goes, we all go. And I think that was seen the rest of the Series; when he got going, it gets pretty scary. He can do a ton of damage. He's at the top of the lineup for a reason."
Springer became the first player with homers in four straight games in one World Series. He tied Reggie Jackson (1977) and current Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley (2009) with five homers in one Fall Classic. He also set a new World Series mark with 29 total bases. All this after his rough start in the Series led to some in the media worrying if his swing had gone wrong.
Clearly not. After the game, Springer was crowned World Series MVP -- an award now named after Willie Mays, another center fielder, whom Springer used to imitate.
"I used to go in the backyard with my dad and he would hit me fly balls and I'd pretend to be him," Springer said. "I would pretend to be Willie Mays. And to earn this is great. It's an honor. But it's not about me. It's about the team and what the team has done tonight."
Almost all the young Astros' stars contributed to their historic win. Alex Bregman scored a run and made a couple of nifty defensive plays. Jose Altuve drove in a run on a groundout. McCullers pitched around some early command troubles -- he hit a postseason record four batters -- and drove in a run at the plate. Carlos Correa singled off of Clayton Kershaw.
Thus completes the rapid rise of a franchise only three years removed from the third of three straight 100-loss seasons, one of the worst trios of campaigns any franchise has ever had. Houston becomes the fourth team to go from 100 losses to a title within five seasons, joining last year's Chicago Cubs.
But with the losses came draft picks, international signings, upgraded developmental processes -- all conducted under the cutting-edge baseball operations machine headed up by general manager Jeff Luhnow and put into action under Hinch.
But suffice to say, the Astros are all grown up.
The Lone Star State has its first World Series champion, as the Astros climb to the top of the baseball world for the first time in their 56 years of existence. When you add in the Texas Rangers' 46 years without a title, the combined drought was even longer than the one the Cubs broke last season. But in the end, the Astros got there before the Rangers, and in a spirited intrastate rivalry, that means a lot too.
The folks in Houston continue to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, which devastated parts of the city and surrounding areas with record flooding at the end of August. They'll be dealing with it for a long time to come. The storm forced the Astros to relocate a three-game series against the Rangers to Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. The players, some with families stranded by the catastrophe, struggled to focus on the games at hand and let it be known they wanted to get home as soon possible to do what they could to help the community.
"I'll tell a quick story about Jose, who was separated from his family. A lot of guys, a lot of our families, some were with us, some weren't," Hinch said. "Jose came up to me and asked how long he would have to play like this, with his family back in Houston, getting surrounded by water.
"They were safe but scared. It's not easy to ask your players, 'Jose, now, go out and get your normal two and three hits. Be the 3-hole hitter. Play hard. And deliver us a win.’ And we did. We won a couple of games along that stretch. But if you want to humanize baseball, look at that story."
Sylvester Turner, mayor of Houston, was adamant that a return by the Astros would be a big step toward a return to normalcy, so the Astros returned to Minute Maid Park two days after the side trip to St. Petersburg. Hinch addressed the fans before the first game back, saying, "Hello, Houston. It's good to be home."
After a torrid first half of the season, the Astros also had been in a funk on the field, with injuries to several pitchers and star shortstop Correa. But things started turning around even before the end of the homecoming series, just one week after Harvey.
That's because Justin Verlander joined the Astros that weekend, acquired by the team from the Detroit Tigers seconds before the Aug. 31 trade deadline. Verlander's presence boosted the Astros down the stretch as they recorded 101 regular-season wins, and he played a crucial role in the postseason with his ALCS MVP performance against the Yankees.
Verlander was the final piece for a team that had constructed baseball's most dynamic core of young offensive talent. It was a piece the Astros needed, because the margin between them and the Dodgers was razor-thin.
"This was a great Series between two 100-win teams, two great teams, two great offenses, two great defenses, two great pitching staffs and two great pens," Springer said. "The wildness of this Series, the wackiness of this Series, the emotional ups and downs, being able to play in this is something that I will never, ever forget. Even if this is the only time I will ever get here.
"And that's a good team over there. I don't expect them to go anywhere anytime soon. I'd expect them to be competing for a world championship for years to come."
The champion Astros began to form in 2010, when Jim Crane purchased the team from Drayton McLane and agreed to allow Major League Baseball to move the team to the American League West. Then Luhnow took over in 2011 and modernized the organization, while committing to a total rebuild from the bottom up.
And we do mean bottom. From 2011 to 2013, the Astros lost 324 games. The only teams to lose that many over a three-year span were the 1962-64 New York Mets and the 1915-17 Philadelphia Athletics, a victim of Connie Mack's decision to sell off all the useful parts from his 1914 AL pennant winner.
Altuve was first called up to the majors in 2011 to join the first of those 100-loss teams. He, more than anyone, can appreciate how the Astros grew into champions.
"I believed in what Jeff Luhnow and Jim Crane used to talk to me, 'Hey, we're going to be good. We're going to be good,’" Altuve said. "Then OK, let me keep working hard. Let me get better every year and try to be part of the winning team. I always believed that we're going to become good. Then I saw Springer get drafted, Correa and Bregman, and I was like, 'OK, here we go.'"
By 2015, the Astros' reconstruction efforts had them back in the postseason. But that run only added to a franchise legacy for postseason near misses -- dating through the years of Nolan Ryan and Mike Scott in the 1980s and the Killer B's era of Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell in the 1990s and early 2000s. The 2015 Astros' five-game loss to the Kansas City Royals in the AL Division Series included a squandered 6-2 lead in Game 4.
That history would have added a new chapter had Houston dropped Game 7. Instead, those old books can be chucked into Buffalo Bayou. This team has come a long way in 56 years. Heck, they’ve come a long way in two months.
"The baseball was important," Hinch said. "We were chasing the pennant. This is a team that wanted to win the division. We'd been knocked out of the division a couple of years in a row. But we never lost perspective of what was important.
"I saw these guys at the community center the day off that the Mets gave us on Friday night [after our return to Houston]. I saw these guys do good deeds for people as they started to rebuild the city. And I think that's why the city fell in love with this team all over again. That’s why we had that Houston Strong strength that carried us a long way."
There were no shortcuts. There was plenty of pain, and maybe a few too many losses. But who could argue now whether it was worth it? Well, maybe a few Rangers fans, but that's about it.
"This year in spring training I realized this is the team," Altuve said. "It's something in our clubhouse, a lot of chemistry, good relationships between players, coaches, with everybody. I was like, OK, I believed it was the year. Everybody did it, and now we're here."
This group has grown from historically bad to historically good. The city around the team has grown into the nation's fourth largest and is projected to soon surpass Chicago for No. 3.
That weekend two months ago, when the Astros returned home, their downtown neighborhood looked no worse for the wear. The flooding had not been bad in that district, and there were only hints of storm damage here and there. But one thing served as a stark reminder that the city was in distress and that beyond downtown, many were suffering: There were almost no people around, save for those who had sought shelter at the local convention center.
The scene could not have been more different last week when Houston played host to Games 3, 4 and 5 -- the last the classic 13-12 victory that cemented this World Series' status as an all-timer. The streets were alive with orange-wearing fans.
A few days later, as the Astros celebrated in the bowels of Dodger Stadium, those streets remained alive.
And for the first time in the state of Texas, they are dancing to the beat of a brand-new baseball champion.