With just two teams remaining in the 2011 MLB playoffs, it is time to consider one of the most monumental awards the baseball world has to offer: Manager of the Year.
In the National League, the 2011 Manager of the Year should be Arizona Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson.
Though several other names in the National League merit serious consideration for the award, at the end of the day it is Gibson who did the best job managing his team. But before we look at Gibson's accomplishments, let's consider some other candidates who could not top Gibson.
Fredi González, Atlanta Braves
Prior to mid September, the Braves manager was certainly in the running for the prestigious award. Unfortunately for González, his team entered an inescapable tailspin as the season entered its final month.
Fortunately for Fredi, however, the Boston Red Sox on the AL side suffered a far more devastating collapse, which effectively detracted many fans from seeing the Braves suffer down the stretch.
In the end, the Braves were not supposed to reach the postseason. 2011 was a transition year for Atlanta, featuring several newcomers stepping up and several veterans getting injured throughout the season.
As former All-Stars fell around him, the leadership of first-year Braves manager González was clearly felt, as the Braves nonetheless overcame hardship and put themselves in position to make the postseason.
Unfortunately, the team collapsed in September, and the first man to replace future Hall of Famer Bobby Cox was unable to pull them up fast enough. The always threatening St. Louis Cardinals surpassed the Braves during the final series of the season, and the Braves failed to reach the postseason for a second consecutive year.
Atlanta's September collapse effectively takes González out of Manager of the Year consideration.
Tony La Russa, St. Louis Cardinals
Speaking of the always threatening St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis played a pretty average season until the month of September.
Even so, the team's September comeback was as much a result of Atlanta's downward spiral as it was St. Louis' miraculous play. The Redbirds surely played a spectacular month but would have never made the playoffs had Atlanta not collapsed.
During the final week of the 2011 regular season, St. Louis took two out of three from Chicago, winning one game purely because of a wild pitch and bases-loaded walk by struggling Cubs pitcher Carlos Marmol. In the final series, they lost the opening game to the NL-worst Houston Astros and predictably won their next two games.
Any team fortunate enough to arrive at the World Series deserves consideration for all MLB awards, and La Russa is no different when it comes to Manager of the Year.
With Albert Pujols, Lance Berkman and Matt Holliday, to name three Cardinals, the deck was well stacked and further enhanced by the acquisitions of Edwin Jackson, Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel.
For their talent level, the Cardinals did not produce the kind of regular season performance that generally results in a skipper receiving the Manager of the Year Award.
Ron Roenicke, Milwaukee Braves
After the Brewers said goodbye to 2010 manager Ken Macha, they selected Ron Roenicke to fill the position.
They acquired former Royals ace Zack Greinke and former Blue Jay Shaun Marcum to strengthen the rotation. Takashi Saito joined Milwaukee's bullpen, which figured to be absolutely dominant in the NL Central as 2011 began and was bolstered by the addition of Francisco Rodriguez midseason.
With the return of All-Stars Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun (also an MVP candidate) and Rickie Weeks, the Brewers were projected to win the NL Central and possibly play for the NL pennant.
The Brewers had finished the 2010 season in third place, nine games back of the second-place Cardinals. In 2011, however, the Brewers first battled the Cardinals for the NL Central lead and then pulled away and secured the division championship in September.
Roenicke guided his team through the playoffs, defeating the overmatched Diamondbacks with a thrilling 10th-inning walk-off win in Game 5 of the NLDS. In the NLCS, however, the Brewers faltered and lost to the momentum-bearing Cardinals in six games.
Roenicke had a wonderful debut season, but unfortunately for him, there was one NL manager who had an even better season than he did. Roenicke should finish in second place to the final Manager of the Year candidate.
Kirk Gibson, Arizona Diamondbacks
The Diamondbacks suffered a tumultuous 2010 campaign, firing manager A.J. Hinch following a 31-48 start.
Bench coach Kirk Gibson was named the interim manager in July but could not steady the doomed Diamondbacks, as they finished the 2010 season in the cellar of the NL West, 27 games out of first place and 32 games under .500.
In 2010, the Diamondbacks had a bright spot in pitcher Edwin Jackson, who threw the second no-hitter in franchise history while in Tampa Bay. Unfortunately, Arizona dealt Jackson to the Cardinals prior to the 2011 season.
The 2011 season began with an ominous prediction that the Diamondbacks would once again achieve last place in the NL West. Instead, Arizona proved experts wrong, as it entered the All-Star break only three games behind first-place San Francisco.
The Diamondbacks soared through the second half of the season, ultimately winning the National League West with a record of 94-69, 29 games better than their 2010 mark.
The Diamondbacks had less talent to work with, though they still had tremendous talent in the likes of Cy Young candidate Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Josh Collmenter and Joe Saunders. Gibson effectively managed his bullpen throughout the season, resulting in his staff recording 75 holds and a league-leading 58 saves.
Arizona didn't put up very impressive offensive numbers until the final home games of the season, which included a miraculous Ryan Roberts walk-off grand slam after being down by five runs in extra innings.
By season's end, the Diamondbacks had hit a grand slam in four consecutive home games, a feat estimated to occur in one out of every 130,634 sets of four consecutive home games.
Winner: Kirk Gibson
Gibby wins this award for several reasons.
First, he took a team of collectively average players, inferior to the Brewers or Cardinals squads, and turned them into an exciting club.
Second, in Gibson's first full season as manager, he took a last-place team and brought it to the top of the NL West. Gibson defied expectations, increased the Diamondbacks' win total by 29 and brought Arizona to the playoffs, in which it was defeated by a team with better players.
This dramatic and unexpected turnaround, with players who were unable to produce last year, is why Arizona's Kirk Gibson should be the National League Manager of the Year.