OK, Clint Hurdle, we're finally taking notice of you and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Spoiler alert: There's not much movement in this week's National League Manager of the Year rankings.
Everything's holding pretty steady, as the skippers that were already among the top contenders for the award have had to navigate some choppy waters recently, but they've kept steering their respective ships in the right direction.
Getting pushed off the list of top five candidates is Houston Astros manager Brad Mills. His place in the rankings was based largely on his keeping the Astros competitive in the NL Central despite a roster that looked ready to finish last in the majors for the second straight season. With two wins in their last 10 games, Mills and his team might be sliding down to that level.
So that opens up one spot on our list for a new manager. Here is how this week's list of top five candidates for the NL Manager of the Year award shakes out.
Will Clint Hurdle's Pirates be a midseason surprise for the second straight season?
I'm not sure I'm ready to live in a world in which Clint Hurdle is named the best manager in the National League. His insistence on playing small ball with a lineup that's not scoring many runs, as well as managing the bullpen around the save rule makes my forehead ache.
However, I think we're all going to be OK, as Hurdle likely won't win NL Manager of the Year. But where he has the Pittsburgh Pirates right now has to be acknowledged. The Bucs are tied for second place in the NL Central with the St. Louis Cardinals with a record of 28-27.
Maybe this is more about how badly the Cards have been playing recently than how well the Pirates have done. After all, we're looking at two teams that are each one game over .500. And based on talent alone, there's no way the Cardinals and Pirates should be on the same plane.
Just look at the two teams' run differentials. Even with their recent offensive struggles, the Cards are still outscoring their opponents by 48 runs. The Pirates? They've scored the fewest runs in baseball and knocked out the fewest hits in baseball.
Yet here we are. Are the Pirates going to be the midseason surprise of the NL Central for the second consecutive season? If so, can Hurdle help keep his team in the race longer than they stayed in it last year?
Are Ozzie Guillen's Miami Marlins ready to take over first place in the NL East?
Last week: No. 4.
After beginning the season as one of baseball's surprising disappointments, the Miami Marlins are now poised to make a run in the NL East.
Ozzie Guillen's team came out of the weekend tied for first in the division with the Washington Nationals and with a three-game series against the Atlanta Braves this week, the Marlins have an opportunity to create some space between the top and bottom of the NL East.
Whether or not Guillen is able to make the right moves with his lineup could play a key role in how the Marlins succeed versus the Braves, in addition to a tough interleague play slate against the Rays, Red Sox and Blue Jays.
Giancarlo Stanton was the NL Player of the Month, giving Guillen an MVP candidate in the middle of his batting order. But opposing teams will soon avoid pitching to Stanton if Guillen can't find the right guy to bat behind him. He's publicly put the onus on Logan Morrison, so we'll see if Morrison responds to his manager's challenge.
Last week: No. 3.
After the Philadelphia Phillies won two of three games from the New York Mets last week, it seemed reasonable to ask if regular order in the NL East was about to establish itself again.
Were the Phillies ready to make a push? Were the Mets about to slide down the standings?
However, the Mets stood their ground, taking three of four from the St. Louis Cardinals at Citi Field over the weekend. Yes, the Cards are struggling after looking like the best team in the NL for much of the early season. But the Mets took the opportunity to right themselves, powered by some outstanding pitching in the four-game series.
Collins faced something of a no-win situation Friday night with Johan Santana pursuing the franchise's first no-hitter in its 50-year history. The Mets have treated Santana carefully in his first season since shoulder surgery, keeping him at around six innings and 100 pitches per start.
But history and a singular career achievement can change plans quickly, and Collins showed an ability to adapt on the fly.
He'll have to keep adapting, as the Mets face some tough roster decisions in the days and weeks to come. How will Collins work Jason Bay back into the lineup once he returns from a rib injury? Between Andres Torres and Ike Davis, which struggling player will sit down? Will the Mets finally send Davis to Triple-A Buffalo?
Which moves Collins decides to make could factor heavily into whether the Mets stay competitive in the NL East.
Last week: No. 2.
With the Washington Nationals' several injured players beginning to come back, the job Davey Johnson has done in managing the team through the early season looks more impressive.
How was this a first-place team with a lineup that featured Adam LaRoche and not much else?
Of course, the Nats have benefited from the best pitching in baseball. The starting rotation is led by two Cy Young Award candidates in Gio Gonzalez and Stephen Strasburg. And the late-inning relief corps, led by Craig Stammen, has done excellent work, as well.
But with the return of Michael Morse, the team's best power hitter last season, and the emergence of rookies Bryce Harper and Steve Lombardozzi at the top of the order, the Nationals' lineup suddenly looks rather formidable. The timing is fortunate, as the Nats have an important three-game series with the Mets this week before beginning a brutal stretch against the AL East for interleague play.
Taking a chance on Lombardozzi in the leadoff spot has paid off nicely, as he's become the on-base threat that the lineup needed. Harper's extra-base power and aggressive baserunning is ideally suited for the No. 2 spot, though he's run himself into inning-killing outs at times. Tutoring Harper to rein himself in a bit will be a test for Johnson.
Another test will be figuring out how to get Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa going. If he can get those two clicking, Johnson's job will become a bit easier.
Last week: No. 1.
The season figured to get more difficult for the Los Angeles Dodgers with Matt Kemp re-aggravating his left hamstring, an injury that will keep him out for at least four weeks.
Getting by without their best hitter and MVP candidate for a couple of weeks was one thing. But trying to compete with a hole in the middle of the lineup for more than a month is a major test for Don Mattingly's team.
Sure enough, the Dodgers lost seven of their last 10 games going into Monday night's game against the Philadelphia Phillies. What was the biggest division lead in baseball is now down to a three-game margin over the San Francisco Giants. But the bleeding may have been stanched with a win in Philly on Monday.
A big reason for the Dodgers' slide is the lineup averaging three runs per game without Kemp. Batting Juan Rivera and Bobby Abreu behind Andre Ethier in the middle of the batting order will only get a team so far.
Whether or not the Dodgers can stay in first place, which would obviously affect Mattingly's candidacy for NL Manager of the Year, might end up depending more on what general manager Ned Colletti can do to bolster a thin lineup. Can he get someone like a Bryan LaHair or Kevin Youkilis to help out in at third base or left field? With two additional wild card teams this season, potential trade partners might not be as willing to sell right now.
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