The Orioles went from 69 wins to 93 under Buck Showalter.
For most of the 2012 season, the Manager of the Year awards in the American and National Leagues looked as if they'd be kept to the I-95 corridor that connects Baltimore to Washington, D.C.
Baltimore Orioles skipper Buck Showalter looked like the obvious choice in the AL, leading his team to an improbable challenge of the New York Yankees in the AL East. Meanwhile, neighboring manager Davey Johnson led the Washington Nationals to the best record in the NL.
But as the season progressed, other candidates emerged for consideration—at least one of whom could end up winning an award that appeared to be decided long ago.
Will the voters go with a tried-and-true storyline or look a little deeper in deciding who should be Manager of the Year? Who will win and who should win? Here's one opinion as to how the final voting should go.
Guiding his team to the best record in the National League seems to be a good place to start with Davey Johnson.
The Washington Nationals were expected to be a sleeper contender in the NL East this season, perhaps capable of giving the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves a run. But the Nats took a major jump forward in their development with what eventually became the most complete team in the NL.
But it wasn't easy for Johnson early in the season. He had to deal with injuries to outfielder Michael Morse and closer Drew Storen in spring training. Catcher Wilson Ramos suffered a season-ending knee injury. Jayson Werth broke his wrist, sidelining him for three months.
The Nationals skipper also had to deal with the phenomenon of Bryce Harper being called up to the majors. Not only did Johnson have to figure out where he best fit in the lineup—eventually settling on the No. 2 spot—but frequently had to rein in his rookie's impulsiveness while not discouraging Harper's aggressiveness on the basepaths.
Perhaps most importantly, Johnson had to manage the season-long drama that was Stephen Strasburg and his innings limit.
In hindsight, Johnson and general manager Mike Rizzo didn't handle the Strasburg situation as well as they could have. Chris Sale was utilized much better by the Chicago White Sox, as was Kris Medlen by the Atlanta Braves, allowing them to pitch at the end of the season.
But Rizzo's plan for Strasburg was affected by the Nats' sudden success. Had he or Johnson realized their team would be a top NL contender, perhaps Strasburg would have been handled differently.
Instead, Johnson made the call in early September to shut Strasburg down. Such a move could have derailed a team, but the Nationals kept on winning and finished as the top team in the NL.
The manager or coach who guides an excellent team to a winning record and division title doesn't usually receive as much credit as the skipper who takes a bad team and makes them into a good one.
But even before the San Francisco Giants won the World Series, Bruce Bochy earned consideration for NL Manager of the Year. (This is a regular-season award, after all.)
As of May 27 this season, the Giants were 7.5 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers for first place in the NL West. Tim Lincecum was having his worst season as a major leaguer, the middle infield was providing very little run production and third baseman Pablo Sandoval was out with a broken hand.
Bochy never gave up on Lincecum. Even when Lincecum had the worst ERA among qualified starting pitchers in the league, Bochy saw that his pitcher had good stuff yet was missing his spots. More importantly, he hadn't defeated himself mentally. Bochy knew that the Giants needed Lincecum to win and that eventually paid off in the postseason.
The Giants also had to deal with the surprise of Melky Cabrera testing positive for PED use and being suspended 50 games.
Suddenly, San Francisco was without one of its best hitters. Additionally, Cabrera alienated his teammates and the front office with his denials and attempts to cover up his positive test. Bochy's calm hand kept the team together and used this incident as motivation to win without their suspended teammate.
The Giants certainly got some help from the front office, acquiring infielder Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence. But the manager is the one who has to fit those pieces together and get them to play as a team.
All of the effort paid off with the Giants' second World Series championship in three years, an accomplishment that should have Bochy ticketed for the Hall of Fame.
Turning a team around from 69 wins in 2011 to 93 victories in 2012 is usually enough to warrant heavy consideration for a Manager of the Year award.
Baltimore Orioles skipper Buck Showalter will likely win honors for the best manager in the American League for leading his team from a last-place finish in the AL East last season to second place and a wild-card playoff bid this year.
The O's were expected to finish last again in their division while the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Tampa Bay Rays battled for playoff contention. As of July 18, Baltimore was 10 games out of first place and looked as they could live down to those last-place expectations.
But as the Yankees began to deal with injuries—especially with their starting pitching—the Orioles began to chip away at that deficit. Baltimore's record in one-run games was a phenomenal 29-9, a testament to Showalter consistently making the right moves in later innings, especially with his bullpen.
Making that climb more impressive is the Orioles were doing it with a less-than-stellar starting rotation.
Wei-Yin Chen was a constant throughout the season, but Showalter had to cobble together a rotation among Jason Hammel, Tommy Hunter, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman while working through the struggles of Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz. By the end of the season, Joe Saunders was part of the mix as well.
Showalter also nudged Adam Jones toward the best season of his career and got the most out of players such as Chris Davis and Nate McLouth.
Additionally, the O's skipper showed his adaptability by putting rookie Manny Machado in at third base. It seemed like a desperate move at the time, especially in moving the shortstop prospect to the hot corner. But the Orioles took a chance on talent and that gamble made the team better.
Baltimore fell short in the AL East race and divisional playoff series to the New York Yankees. But the Orioles did defeat the favored Texas Rangers in the one-game AL wild-card playoff, adding just one more surprise to a season full of them.
Just who are these Oakland Athletics?
That's a question baseball fans, reporters and analysts asked throughout the season—but especially during the playoffs—as this team seemingly made up of no stars or recognizable names emerged to dethrone the Texas Rangers for the AL West title and took the Detroit Tigers to the five-game limit in the ALDS.
To say that the A's had no stars isn't accurate, of course.
Josh Reddick emerged as one of the AL's best right fielders. Yoenis Cespedes justified the hype and advance billing attached to him as a prospect coming from Cuba. And a handful of rookie starting pitchers showed that they could handle major league competition from the beginning.
But manager Bob Melvin took what appeared to be a roster of ill-fitting pieces and locked them together into a division title winner.
His job became even more daunting later in the season as Bartolo Colon was suspended 50 games for PED use, Brandon McCarthy was sidelined with a head injury after being hit by a line drive and Brett Anderson went down with an oblique strain.
Yet Melvin took a starting rotation full of rookies, who accelerated their development faster than Oakland likely envisioned, and timely hitting from players like Brandon Moss, Josh Donaldson and Seth Smith to challenge the Rangers for the AL West lead.
As the Rangers' pitching fell apart and star players like Josh Hamilton faltered down the stretch, the Athletics took advantage and seized the opportunity presented to them. On the last day of the season, the A's looked like the hungrier team while the Rangers looked weary.
That effort should win Melvin the AL Manager of the Year award. There really is no wrong choice between him and Showalter. But if Melvin can do this again next season, when the A's won't be as much of a surprise, he'll have definitely earned postseason honors.
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