The 2017 season is over, but we can't totally turn all our attention to 2018 until we've found every possible way to celebrate, consecrate and commemorate the seven months of Major League Baseball we just witnessed.
And so we have awards week. With the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger appetizers out of the way, we turn our attention to the main course of the Baseball Writers' Association of America Rookie of the Year, Manager of the Year, Cy Young and MVP honors that will be handed out in the coming days, and then the Esurance MLB Awards capper that will tie a final bow on 2017 on Friday.
Here's a primer for the week with the one key question that will be answered each day.
Monday: Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger have to be unanimous Rookie of the Year winners, right?
That Judge and Bellinger will win the American League and National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year honors on Monday night is a given. All that remains to be seen is whether they'll be the 22 and 23rd unanimous choices in the award's history. Actually, we've had a unanimous winner in each of the past three years (Jose Abreu in the AL in '14, Kris Bryant in the NL in '15 and Corey Seager in the NL in '16), but it's been 20 years since both the AL and NL winner were unanimously selected (Scott Rolen and Nomar Garciaparra in '97), and that's only happened two other times overall (Mark McGwire and Benito Santiago in '87 and Tim Salmon and Mike Piazza in '93).
This seems like a slam-dunk, but, having just written this piece on the insane rookie seasons of Albert Pujols and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001 and been reminded that there was one non-Ichiro vote cast in the '01 AL Rookie of the Year tallies, I suppose it's possible somebody in the BBWAA crowd overthinks this.
Tuesday: Will the 100-game winners get shut out in the Manager of the Year voting?
Look, it's nobody's fault, but Manager of the Year is a silly award. It comes from a place of good intentions, but it is unavoidably guided by subjectivity, because if the award just went to the manager of the team with the best record, that would be a dull way of doing things, and the necessary alternative -- giving it to the guy who seems to have most positively impacted his team's bottom line -- is clouded by our collective inability to accurately quantify a manager's impact, especially at a time in which the game continues to evolve and grow by the year.
(I think it would be more interesting, at this point, to have the BBWAA vote on Best Executive, which is also a category in the MLB Awards.)
We usually just give Manager of the Year to the guy whose team surprised the most. That means finalists Dave Roberts and Terry Francona probably aren't going to become the first skippers since Bobby Cox (2004-05) to win the award in consecutive seasons, even though Roberts' Dodgers won 104 games and Francona's Indians won an AL-record 22 straight en route to a 103-win finish. The Astros' A.J. Hinch would be a slam-dunk winner of this award if it were voted on at the end of the World Series, as opposed to the end of the regular season. As it stands, it will be interesting to see if Hinch's work will be celebrated because of the way the Astros went from '16 disappointment to AL elite in '17, or if he'll be penalized by the fact that the 'Stros were so widely predicted to win the AL West in the first place.
I expect the surprise squad element to win the day here. I think it'll be the D-backs' Torey Lovullo (over fellow NL Wild Card winner Bud Black of the Rockies, if only because the D-backs finished with the better record of the two) as well as the Twins' Paul Molitor.
Wednesday: Clayton Kershaw or Max Scherzer?
Corey Kluber will beat Chris Sale in the AL Cy Young Award voting in part because of the way Kluber's teammates beat up on Sale in the home stretch of the season. The intrigue here is in the NL, where it will likely come down to Kershaw, who could become the fourth pitcher to win four NL Cy Young Awards, and Max Scherzer, who has won it once in each league and could become the sixth NL pitcher to win back-to-back (Kershaw's on that list, for 2013-14). Kershaw or Scherzer has become one of baseball's great player debates, so it's fun to see it on the awards front.
The thing here is that Kershaw, because of his back injury, threw only 175 innings this season. With the way the game is managed, starters obviously don't cover the number of innings they once did, but that's still a paltry total when compared to Cy Young winners in the past. The lowest innings total for a starter who won a Cy Young in a non-strike year was 198 1/3 by… Kershaw in 2014. So even though Scherzer faded a bit (3.24 ERA in the second half), his 200 2/3 innings of work might be enough to outweigh Kershaw's edge in ERA (2.31 to Scherzer's 2.51). The X-factor here is the other finalist, Stephen Strasburg, who also was limited by injury to 175 1/3 innings but had a sizzling second half (0.86 ERA). If he stole some votes from his Nats teammate, that might have cracked the door open a little wider for Kershaw.
Thursday: Was there any clear consensus in the NL MVP Award vote?
The Jose Altuve vs. Aaron Judge race in the AL was simply fantastic on a lot of levels. I'll be pretty surprised if Altuve's superior consistency doesn't win out there, but Judge's final-month flourish (15 homers) could keep that vote ultra-close.
Two-man races are compelling, of course, but the NL race was insanity this season. Paul Goldschmidt, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Votto are the three finalists, and I'd be shocked if they all didn't get multiple first-place votes. I'd be just as shocked if Charlie Blackmon and/or Nolan Arenado didn't get a first-place vote, as well. Maybe Anthony Rendon or Kris Bryant got some love. Maybe -- and I doubt this, but you never know -- there's a voter who had so much trouble picking a separating statistic from the proliferation of position player candidates that he or she put a pitcher like Scherzer or Kershaw at the top of the pecking order.
Goldschmidt had a rough final month of the season, but we know some voters are still strident in the sentiment that the MVP should go to a player from a contender. It could be that the voters more open to the idea of non-contenders providing the MVP were split among Votto and Stanton. And the sheer volume of players who may have received a first-place vote further clouds the picture. This is a fun one.
For the record, I didn't vote on NL MVP this year, but if I did, I would have gone with Votto, who led the NL in wOBA (.428), wRC+ (165), OBP (.454), OPS (1.032), OPS+ (168) and walks (134) while striking out just 83 times, playing all 162 games and reaching base in 150 of those games.
Friday: What was the best performance of 2017?
The MLB Awards, which will be unveiled Friday, are voted on by media, former players, front-office folks, the Society for American Baseball research and you, the fans. They cover a lot of categories, and, unlike the BBWAA's MVP and Cy Young honors, the awards for Best Major Leaguer and Best Pitcher incorporate both regular-season and postseason performance, which makes for an interesting wrinkle.
But for my money, the most difficult decision this year came in the Best Performance category, if only because there were so many absurd, historical single-game accomplishments packed into a single season. Only 18 players in history have had a four-homer game -- and two of them (J.D. Martinez and Scooter Gennett) did it this year. Gennett did it on a 10-RBI day, which is really rare… except that Anthony Rendon had a six-hit, 10-RBI day just five weeks earlier. How do you weigh those performances against Enrique Hernandez's record-tying three-homer, seven-RBI night in the Dodgers' NLCS clincher or Nolan Arenado's Father's Day cycle with a walk-off homer? Or do you just throw your hands up in the air, overwhelmed by all the offense, and give it to Edinson Volquez for pitching the season's only no-hitter -- on the occasion of his late friend Yordano Ventura's birthday, no less?
I voted for Gennett's great night at Great American Ball Park because to me, Scooter, of all people, hitting four home runs in a single game was quite possibly the best encapsulation of the unexpected 2017 season in one moment.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor, MLB.com columnist and MLB Network contributor. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.