Well, teams are at or nearing 60 games played, which means the 2021 season is wrapping up and …
Wait, what’s that?
One hundred and 62 games?!
Oh, right. Forgive my need to recalibrate after the shortest, strangest baseball season any of us has ever (and hopefully will ever) witness. But yes, a 162-game season is definitely much better.
Still, we had some fun making way too much out of small samples last year, didn’t we? So in that spirit, let’s salute the players who have asserted themselves at this early stage of the season (while simultaneously appreciating the fact there is so much more ahead).
If this were another 60-game sprint, these would be your (most likely) Baseball Writers’ Association of America award winners:
AMERICAN LEAGUE MVP
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., 1B, Blue Jays
Were there a vote right now for AL MVP, it most likely would come down to Guerrero’s big breakout vs. Shohei Ohtani’s two-way triumph. Ohtani is among the Major League home run leaders while also putting up a 2.76 ERA through eight starts. We could spend paragraph after paragraph discussing just how jaw-dropping and outrageous that is, and none of us should become indifferent to how difficult that is (no matter how easy Ohtani makes it look).
And yet, the best guess right now is that Guerrero would win the vote. Guerrero’s extraordinary offensive numbers -- his .333 average through Sunday leads the AL, and his 18 homers, 1.098 OPS and 196 wRC+ lead MLB -- are somewhat propped up by his inflated totals in the Blue Jays’ hitter-friendly “home” parks in Dunedin and Buffalo. But his case is more traditional and clear-cut than that of Ohtani, whose understandably limited pitching workload affects the total value of his two-way contributions.
Let’s not pretend that some percentage of the voting body wouldn’t hold the Angels’ sub-.500 standing against Ohtani. Guerrero is the safer selection at this stage.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MVP
Fernando Tatis Jr., SS, Padres
This is one where you thank the baseball gods that we’ve still got more than 60% of the season remaining. Because NL MVP is an impossible pick right now.
Two of the brightest lights in the game – Tatis (177 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR) and the Braves’ Ronald Acuña Jr. (162, 2.6) -- have been fantastic. Kris Bryant (164, 2.6) is once again producing at an MVP level for the Cubs. Max Muncy (164, 2.6) has powered the Dodgers. The Reds’ Nick Castellanos (181, 3.1) and Jesse Winker (189, 2.7) are both among the league leaders in key categories and the return of Buster Posey (172, 2.3) on a surprisingly great Giants team has been a beautiful thing to behold. And even if you want to pivot away from all of that and go with a pitcher, good luck. Jacob deGrom is clearly the best in class, but he also missed a few turns in the Mets’ rotation because of injury.
In what amounts to no more than a dart toss, I’ll take Tatis. Despite being limited to 43 games because of a shoulder issue and COVID-19 protocol, he’s tied for the NL lead in homers (17) and steals (13), is tied for fourth in RBIs (39) and is tied for sixth in fWAR. When he’s been on the field, he’s been the most magnetic player in baseball.
Runner-up: Honestly, just pick any of those other guys. I’ll take Bryant, whose resurgence has been instrumental in the Cubs once again vying for the NL Central crown.
In one absurd stretch, Cole went 61 strikeouts between walks. His rate of 1.3 walks per nine innings is the best of his career, as he vies for that elusive first Cy Young Award.
Runner-up: The White Sox got a good one in Lance Lynn, whose 1.23 ERA would lead the AL, but his 58 2/3 innings are just shy of the qualifying minimum.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CY YOUNG
Jacob deGrom, RHP, Mets
Even accounting for the aforementioned lost time, deGrom laps an impressive field. It is humanly -- and perhaps even robotically -- impossible to pitch better than deGrom has this year. He has a 0.62 ERA in 58 innings across nine starts. He has allowed four earned runs while striking out 93 batters and walking only eight. His 0.57 WHIP is on pace to be the lowest since 1884, and his ERA+ is 625, or 524% (not a misprint) better than the league average at a time when pitching is dominating.
What better way to honor the late Bob Gibson, who we sadly lost last October, than to replicate his legendary 1968 season. That’s what deGrom is doing.
Runner-up: The only shame of deGrom’s greatness is that it overshadows several other would-be worthy Cy Young candidates in Yu Darvish, Corbin Burnes, Trevor Rogers, Trevor Bauer and others. But for second place, it boils down to the Giants’ Kevin Gausman (1.27 ERA in 77 2/3 innings) or the Brewers’ Brandon Woodruff (1.42 ERA in 76 innings). Gausman’s 300 ERA+ gives him the slightest edge over Woodruff, whose ERA+ is 289.
AMERICAN LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Adolis García, OF, Rangers
As so many predicted, a Cuban-born, right-handed-hitting outfielder acquired from the Cardinals prior to the 2020 season is on track for the 2021 AL Rookie of the Year award.
Not bad for a guy who was acquired for cash considerations in the winter before 2020 and then designated for assignment last offseason.
Runner-up: The Yermín Mercedes Experience hasn’t been quite as enthralling in recent weeks, as he’s slumped at the plate. But the DH’s dynamic start, including a .415/.455/.659 slash in April, helped power the White Sox into first place.
NATIONAL LEAGUE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Trevor Rogers, LHP, Marlins
Rogers has already won the NL Rookie of the Month honors in April and May. Do I hear June?
Before 2021, Rogers wasn’t even the most heralded rookie pitcher on his own staff. But while Sixto Sánchez has been stuck on the shelf with shoulder discomfort, Rogers has carved up opposing batters to the tune of a 1.97 ERA, 203 ERA+, 1.09 WHIP and a league-best 0.4 homers per nine innings. He has shown huge growth from the 6.11 ERA he posted in seven starts in 2020.
Runner-up: We’ll salute the Braves’ Ian Anderson for building off his 2020 postseason successes by putting up a respectable 3.64 ERA and 120 ERA+ in 11 starts. But the Cubs’ Adbert Alzolay (3.62 ERA, 0.92 WHIP) is right there with him. And on the position player side, Rogers’ Miami teammate Jazz Chisholm Jr. and the Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson are both on track to figure prominently in the voting at year’s end.
AMERICAN LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Alex Cora, Red Sox
As a rookie manager, Cora finished second in the Manager of the Year vote when the Red Sox won 108 games (and, eventually, the World Series) in 2018 -- a victim of his team living up to expectation, one supposes.
It’s a different story this time around. Cora is back after a year in exile, and a Red Sox team that was generally viewed as all-hit, no-pitch has rallied around him to post the AL’s third-best record through Sunday. If we follow the formula that the Manager of the Year honor has to go to the leader of a surprise squad (and, preferably, somebody who hasn’t won it recently), then Cora’s clearly the guy.
Runner-up: The Rays’ Kevin Cash won this honor in 2020, but once again a reformatted Tampa Bay roster is kicking butt. But the elephant in this room is Chicago’s Tony La Russa, who, by winning game after game amid an extraordinary amount of attention and criticism, is on track for maybe the most fascinating Manager of the Year case in the history of the award.
NATIONAL LEAGUE MANAGER OF THE YEAR
Gabe Kapler, Giants
The NL West was expected to revolve around that brilliant and burgeoning rivalry between the Dodgers and Padres. And yet it’s the Giants (who, you might remember, came within a mathematical tiebreaker of last year’s eighth and final NL postseason spot) two games out in front despite fielding the oldest cast of position players in the sport.
Kapler, whose arrival to San Francisco to replace Bruce Bochy was not exactly heralded, has had a nice touch with his team. He has been praised for his communication with his players. His cautious approach with Posey’s playing time has wrung a lot of life out of Posey’s bat, and, working in conjunction with the front office, his pitching plans have largely worked.
Runner-up: The Padres’ Jayce Tingler, who would have been a worthy winner last year, has navigated some major injury and COVID-19 complications on a Padres team that has legitimately become a superpower.