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Hurdle should be no-brainer as top NL manager

Skipper helped Bucs snap 20-year losing skid with unforgettable 94-win season

Don Mattingly brought the Dodgers back from a 10-week sleep -- with the help of a cavalry that included Yasiel Puig, Ricky Nolasco, Michael Young, Hanley Ramirez and other perks of a $230 million payroll.

Fredi Gonzalez brought the Braves back from … a 94-win season in 2012.

All Clint Hurdle did was snap the Pirates out of a two-decade hibernation. If there is a one-horse race for any of baseball's major 2013 awards, it is the one for National League Manager of the Year.

Hurdle has dibs on that, as recognition for the way he instilled pride and confidence in a team that had been losing since Bill Clinton was in the early days of his first term as president.

The winner of the Manager of the Year Award from each league will be revealed Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET on MLB Network.

Very simply, Hurdle reconnected the Bucs with their rich tradition and with their city, culminating three consecutive seasons of improvements on the field and at the gate with 94 wins and an attendance of 2,256,862. The Pirates have had five gates of two million-plus in their long history -- a big chunk of it spent in the 59,000-seat Three Rivers Stadium -- and Hurdle has been the gatekeeper in two of those.

Energizing the box office is key, but they do not give awards for that. Energizing the clubhouse and the dugout with positive, encouraging vibes, backing that up with sound strategy and taking advantage of each player's strengths -- those are praiseworthy managerial qualities.

"He's very optimistic, and that's a big key," Andrew McCutchen recently said of his manager. "It's hard to be as optimistic and as positive as he always is every single day."

Usually it's difficult to delineate a manager's impact -- deeper than team wins, of course -- but not so with Hurdle. While pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas certainly were of great help in carrying out the manager's plan, Hurdle's use of his bullpen was critical to the Bucs' success.

Atop the list of the team's goals for 2013 was getting more innings out of its rotation to ease the burden on relievers, which had proved to be a factor in the club's 2012 undoing. That didn't go well; in fact, Pirates starters worked 10 fewer innings -- 64 innings less than the average of the other four NL postseason teams. Still, the Bucs never buckled, thanks to Hurdle's care of relievers.

This is not Hurdle's first legitimate claim to being recognized as the NL's top manager. Although finalists for the award were not formally identified at the time, he was a top contender after leading the 2007 Rockies on a furious stretch drive into the postseason.

He did not get that nod. It went to Bob Melvin, whose NL West champion D-backs finished a half-game ahead of Colorado. Melvin is one of those who thinks Hurdle is about to get his due.

"This was by far the best job he's ever done," Melvin said on a recent visit to Scottsdale, Ariz., for induction into the Arizona Fall League Hall of Fame. "Clint has always had a very big impact, but this season was his breakthrough. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't get the award."

Tom Singer is a reporter for and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer.

Pittsburgh Pirates