After a postseason that left everyone breathless, baseball hearts are pounding again with the official arrival of awards season, starting with finalists for Baseball Writers' Association of America honors.
The finalists revealed Monday by the BBWAA for each league's Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Manager of the Year and Rookie of the Year awards are just the start of the discussion. Winners of those prestigious honors will be announced from Nov. 13-16, all on MLB Network at 6 p.m. ET each night.
Between now and then, baseball fans and pundits alike will be taking sides on the "M-V-P" chants that echoed through different ballparks, dissecting which pitchers really delivered the best seasons, and examining the rookies who rocked the baseball world.
Reminder: While the historic exploits of the 2017 postseason are embedded in every baseball fan's memory banks, all that good stuff must be erased from the mental picture for the purposes of the BBWAA awards, leaving only regular-season accomplishments. The 2017 Esurance MLB Awards, however, will include postseason awards, which will cap off awards season Nov. 17 (8 p.m. ET on MLB Network).
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Of course, focusing on the regular season was much easier for the voting members of the BBWAA -- two per league city, per award -- who had the season's final day as their deadline to turn in the ballots.
Here are this year's finalists for each award, with candidates listed in alphabetical order:
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Jose Altuve, Astros: With all the talent on the Astros, it's Altuve who clearly sets the tone with his excellence in every facet of the game. Altuve led the Majors in bWAR (8.3) and led the AL in batting at .346 and hits with 204, his fourth straight 200-hit season. He had remarkable consistency before and after the All-Star break, and he held things together when double-play partner Carlos Correa was out for six weeks. In short, the 5-foot-6 dynamo did it all.
Aaron Judge, Yankees: The MVP-Rookie of the Year double is a rare one, and even Michael Trout couldn't quite pull it off in 2012 when he tried to become the first since Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and just the third overall. Judge has put himself into that category of player with a stupendous rookie season that saw him break the rookie record for home runs with 52 to lead the AL, also leading the league with 128 runs scored and 127 walks. Of course, the one flaw: an MLB-leading 208 strikeouts. Still, the accolades stack up as high as the 6-foot-7 slugger's stature.
Jose Ramirez, Indians: With his helmet flying and a special brand of energy, Ramirez has been a favorite of Tribe fans for longer than just 2017. But this year, he went national with an extra-special season. His 91 extra-base hits were the second-most by a Major League switch-hitter in history, just three shy of the mark set by Lance Berkman in 2001, and he led MLB in doubles with 56. In the Indians' biggest offensive season on record, Ramirez was the spark with streaks of nine multi-hit games and seven games with a double.
Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs: A perennial MVP candidate, the D-backs first baseman took his game to a new level this season, helping lead Arizona into the postseason for the first time since 2011. In a fifth straight All-Star season, Goldschmidt hit for a .297/.404/.563 slash line with a career-high-tying 36 home runs and 120 RBIs -- similar numbers to what he posted in 2013, when he finished second to Andrew McCutchen in the NL MVP voting race.
Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins: Stroke by powerful stroke, Stanton went on a march into home run history this season. He whacked 59 homers, the most in the Majors since 2001 (Barry Bonds, 73; Sammy Sosa, 64). The gap of 20 to No. 2 (L.A.'s Cody Bellinger, 39) was the largest in NL history. Stanton also led the Majors with 132 RBIs, but it was homers that told his story -- one every 10.12 at-bats, and 11 in the first 15 days of August.
Joey Votto, Reds: Like Stanton, Votto is a finalist looking to buck the idea that an MVP has to be a member of a postseason team. In fact, Votto is in position to perhaps become the first player on a last-place team to win the award since Texas' Alex Rodriguez in 2003, and the third player overall. He had a very Votto-like season, leading the NL with 134 walks, 20 of them intentional, as well as in on-base percentage at .454 and in OPS at 1.032. The 2010 winner, Votto made his mark despite the Reds' struggles, continuing to be a perennial candidate.
CY YOUNG AWARD
Corey Kluber, Indians: The 2014 winner and third-place finisher in 2016, Kluber had in many respects his finest season in 2017. His 2.25 ERA was the Majors' best, and a career best. He reached 203 2/3 innings despite missing much of May, and he displayed his normal controlled dominance with 265 strikeouts and just 36 walks, giving him baseball's best strikeout-to-walk ratio at 7.4, another in a long list of career bests.
Chris Sale, Red Sox: In his first season after changing Sox in a trade from Chicago to Boston, Sale was spectacular from the start of 2017. Often in the running for the Cy Young Award, finishing as high as third in 2014, Sale is very much at the forefront of the discussion this year. He struck out 308 batters to lead the Majors, also topping MLB with a 12.93 K/9 ratio and 214 1/3 innings pitched. His ERA of 2.90 was second in the AL to Kluber, and he led the Majors with 10 scoreless starts and 18 double-digit strikeout games. He had a few starts in August and September that got away from him, but overall the season was superb.
Luis Severino, Yankees: Going from a second-year ERA of 5.83 ERA in 2016 to the ace of the Yankees' rotation at age 23 in 2017 is quite the feat for Severino. His 2.98 ERA over 31 starts was the lowest by a Yankees hurler since 1997. He ranked third in the AL in ERA, fourth in strikeouts (230) and ninth in innings pitched (193 1/3). This is the epitome of a breakout year.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: Always a Cy Young favorite (and a Cy Young-MVP winner in 2014), Kershaw lost a little time to a back injury in 2017 but managed to post numbers that make it hard to notice. He led the NL in wins (18), ERA (2.31) and K/BB ratio (6.73). His 202 strikeouts marked his seventh time in his 10 seasons with 200-plus, the most in a pitching-rich franchise's history. Ultimately, just another Clayton Kershaw season.
Max Scherzer, Nationals: The reigning NL Cy Young winner and the AL winner in 2013, Scherzer had another great season as part of a 1-2 punch at the top of the Nationals' rotation. Notably, he became just the fourth pitcher in MLB history with a K/9 IP ratio of 12.0 or better (12.02) in a season of 200-plus innings, thanks in part to 15 games of 10 or more strikeouts. Like Kershaw, he's a Cy Young candidate every year, and he performed to that reputation again.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals: In the spotlight since his first pitch in the Majors, Strasburg had a career year in 2017. His career-best 2.52 ERA ranked fourth in the Majors, and he led the NL with 0.67 HR/9 IP and was second with an opponents' OPS of .581. He finished strong, too, going 5-1 with a 0.84 ERA in his last eight starts. It's the best shot at Cy Young hardware to date for a player whose expectations have been huge from the start.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Terry Francona, Indians
A.J. Hinch, Astros
Paul Molitor, Twins
This is a story of expectations -- both Francona and Hinch led teams with high hopes heading into 2017, and Molitor had one that was under the radar. In one sense, Molitor guiding the Twins back to the postseason for the first time since 2010 has an air of accomplishment all its own. Then again, there's leading the defending AL champs through all the challenges and putting together a record 22-game winning streak the way Francona did. And there's taking a talented team and pushing it over the 100-win plateau while winning the AL West by 21 games the way Hinch did.
Bud Black, Rockies
Torey Lovullo, D-backs
Dave Roberts, Dodgers
Neither Black's Rockies nor Lovullo's D-backs necessarily had huge expectations coming into the season, but both found their way to the postseason, thanks in large part to their leadership. The Rockies had a difficult Spring Training, to say the least, but they rebounded for a stellar regular season to reach Rocktober for the first time since 2009. Lovullo, in his long-awaited debut season as a Major League manager, flipped the D-backs' record to 93-69, an improvement of 24 wins over 2016. That said, Roberts leading the Dodgers to their first 100-plus win season since 1974 can't be brushed aside, either. Without a summer slump, the Dodgers were headed to all-time territory in the wins column.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox
Aaron Judge, Yankees
Trey Mancini, Orioles
Any time a rookie is seriously involved in the MVP discussion, that's bad news for the other candidates for Rookie of the Year. But Benintendi and Mancini both put together impressive seasons for their clubs. Benintendi became just the 11th rookie in Major League history to post a 20-homer/20-steal season, hitting both numbers on the button. And Mancini's 24 homers were third-most for a rookie in Orioles history, while he also led MLB rookies with 159 hits and ripped off a 17-game hitting streak, longest in O's rookie history.
But Judge was simply extraordinary. He not only set the rookie record in home runs, but he was the fourth qualifying rookie ever to exceed a 1.000 OPS, at 1.049. It's just a very powerful case, perhaps open and shut.
Josh Bell, Pirates
Cody Bellinger, Dodgers
Paul DeJong, Cardinals
Another powerful case was made in the NL, this one by Bellinger, whose 39 homers set an NL record -- not bad for a guy who didn't even make his debut until April 25. He also led NL rookies with a .581 slugging percentage and a .933 OPS, showing he's more than just homers with a cycle in July. Bell was no slouch in the power department, either, setting an NL record for a switch-hitting rookie with his 26 homers, while ranking second among NL rookies in RBIs (90) and in homers behind Bellinger. DeJong, meanwhile, managed his 25 homers in 417 at-bats, or 132 fewer than Bell, while ranking first in the NL in average (.285) and tied for first in doubles (26) among rookies. That's a lot of offense from that set of rookies.