NL Manager of the Year Rankings: Don Mattingly, Davey Johnson Leading the Race
Last week, I said that I didn't feel there were five legitimate candidates for the NL Manager of the Year award. The past seven days did nothing to change that opinion.
Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle was making the hardest charge among the top candidates with his team tied for first place in the NL Central. But four consecutive losses last week doused the Pirates' hot streak, and they begin this week four games behind the Reds for the division lead.
Whatever chances Hurdle had to supplant Don Mattingly and Davey Johnson for one of the top two spots in our rankings may have been shot down there. But there's still plenty of time for that to change.
No offense to Fredi Gonzalez, but will a true fifth candidate eventually emerge to join the top contenders for NL Manager of the Year? Here are the four skippers that currently look like the favorites for the award.
5. Fredi Gonzalez, Atlanta Braves
Last week: No. 5.
As we said in the introduction, no offense intended to Fredi Gonzalez. He's doing a good job managing an Atlanta Braves team that's fighting for second place in the NL East. But his team has been streaky this season, while Gonzalez has shown maybe a bit too much patience with some players.
The past week wasn't a great one for the Braves as they were swept at home by the New York Yankees and lost two of three to the visiting Baltimore Orioles. Being gracious hosts isn't exactly the objective in baseball.
Maybe it's just an interleague play thing and AL East teams just aren't a good matchup for the Braves. But if that's the case, Gonzalez's team has another rough week ahead with three games at Yankee Stadium followed by three more at Fenway Park.
How Gonzalez handles his starting rotation in the next week or two could help determine his suitability for NL Manager of the Year consideration.
With Brandon Beachy now on the disabled list, the Braves are calling up Jair Jurrjens from Triple-A Gwinnett. If Jurrjens fails, the Braves have other options with Julio Teheran and Kris Medlen. But Gonzalez has to figure out who's the best choice for his team right now. Choosing badly could be costly.
4. Terry Collins, New York Mets
Last week: No. 4.
The New York Mets had the look of a team that made its last stand a week ago. Losing two of three to the division-leading Washington Nationals, followed by a three-game sweep by the New York Yankees, very well could have knocked the Mets out of serious contention.
Yet the Mets then swept the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field, behind two excellent pitching performances by Chris Young and R.A. Dickey. And when Johan Santana struggled for the second consecutive start, the offense came through with nine runs. Winning with both pitching and hitting is the sort of thing that good teams do.
But the Mets raised questions about their long-term playoff prospects again by suffering a three-game sweep to the Cincinnati Reds at Citi Field. The lineup scored only five runs in those three games, while Dillon Gee and Jonathon Niese were roughed up in their respective starts.
So just how good is Terry Collins' team?
His patience with Ike Davis might finally be paying off. Davis looked better suited to be the first baseman for Triple-A Buffalo all season. But Collins stuck with him, believing Davis needed to keep facing major league pitching. Collins has shown a deft touch in sticking with players that other managers would probably have written off by now.
3. Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates
Last week: No. 3.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates were to go on and win the NL Central, Clint Hurdle would be a lock for the NL Manager of the Year award.
But the Pirates confirmed that story was probably too good to be true by losing four straight games last week and falling four behind the Cincinnati Reds for the division lead. Taking two of three from the Cleveland Indians showed that the Pirates still have some fight. Hurdle still has them believing. But do they really have the ammunition to pull this off?
Hurdle may need some help from his general manager. Losing Charlie Morton for the season was a significant blow for the Pirates. Elsewhere in the starting rotation, Kevin Correia and Brad Lincoln are struggling as well. One spot to fill in the rotation was going to be tough enough, but filling two will be extremely difficult.
The Pirates may have seen their best chance pass already. But if Hurdle continues to keep his team competitive in the NL Central, especially if they're short-handed on the pitching side, he'll deserve heavy consideration for NL Manager of the Year.
2. Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals
Last week: No. 2.
Plenty of teams are going to be swept by the New York Yankees this season. But after looking dominant against the AL East in their previous six games, the Washington Nationals had the needle scratched off their album this past weekend.
Maybe it was just one of those series for the Nats. They may have been due for some bad games after playing so well in recent weeks. Whatever could go wrong basically did go wrong against the Yankees.
The Nationals should continue to maintain their NL East lead on the strength of their pitching. Their starting rotation and bullpen are deep. Designating Brad Lidge for assignment showed how strong the relief corps is, and it should become even more so once Drew Storen returns from injury.
But Davey Johnson does have one formidable task facing him. How can he get Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse going at the plate?
It's impressive that the Nats have played so well without two of their top offensive players contributing much to the effort. Johnson has shown considerable patience with them. (In fairness, Morse is basically going through his spring training after recovering from his lat injury.) But this could be his most difficult puzzle of the season to solve.
1. Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers
Last week: No. 1.
Don Mattingly's team had kind of a bumpy week, losing two of three to the Los Angeles Angels in interleague play. Maybe asking closer Kenley Jansen to pitch three straight days was pushing him a bit too far. But the Los Angeles Dodgers recovered nicely by taking two of three from the Chicago White Sox at Dodger Stadium.
Mattingly also showed some feistiness on Sunday. He was ejected for the fourth time this season while arguing with umpire Jerry Meals as to whether Matt Treanor left third base too early on a sacrifice fly that would have tied the ballgame.
The Dodgers eventually won, 2-1, in 10 innings on a walk-off RBI single by Dee Gordon. Mattingly's team has fought for those types of wins all season long.
The Dodgers still have the best record in baseball, though the Yankees are catching up fast. Compiling the third-best run differential in the majors, with MVP candidate Matt Kemp missing considerable time this sesaon, is certainly impressive. But the Dodgers have benefited from excellent starting pitching.
And perhaps most importantly, Mattingly has managed to put the right players in the positions to succeed all season long. No one has done a better job of making the right decision for his team this season.
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