Rough Start, Strong Finish to '22 Season
PLUS: DAN'S PICKS FOR INDIVIDUAL PLAYER AWARDS
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Did you know…
Kyle Wright, the first Braves pitcher to win 21 games since Russ Ortiz in 2003, went undefeated after Aug. 4 with an 8-0 record . . .
Teammate Max Fried allowed two runs or less in eight straight starts against the Mets in Truist Park . . .
Austin Riley finished the regular season leading the National League with 79 extra-base hits, second in the majors, while fellow Atlanta infielder Matt Olson had 78 . . .
In winning their fifth straight NL East crown, the 2022 Braves overcame their biggest deficit: 10 1/2 games on June 1 (the 1993 team, then in the NL West, were 10 games down to the San Francisco Giants before rebounding to win by one game) . . .
Before the Braves beat him last Saturday, Max Scherzer of the Mets had been 3-0 with a 2.21 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 20 1/3 innings against Atlanta . . .
Pete Alonso is the first Met with multiple 40-homer seasons.
2022 Season Finishes Strong After Rough Start
By Tyler Maher
The regular season officially ended Wednesday, which means it’s time to turn the page to the postseason. But before we do, I want to look back on the past six months of baseball, which actually turned out to be pretty compelling.
It seems like forever ago now, but the season got off to a bumpy start in April. The lockout was still fresh in everyone’s minds, especially after delaying Opening Day by a week. Offense was way down, causing the baseball itself and pace-of-play to once again become major topics of discussion. Numerous star players quickly became sidelined by injuries and Covid-19 after an unusual off-season and spring training abbreviated by the 99-day lockout.
Taking all that into account, it was a little harder than usual to get into baseball this year. The typical optimism of April had been soured by lingering controversy, pessimism, and a generally negative vibe. Thankfully, the season eventually found its rhythm and provided some amazing moments and story lines, as it always does.
The main narratives were the overwhelming individual dominance of Aaron Judge and Shohei Ohtani. After turning down a massive contract extension offer from the New York Yankees, Judge went out and had one of the greatest offensive seasons in baseball history. His at-bats became must-watch events in September as he pursued a Triple Crown and chased down Roger Maris’ 61-year-old American League home run record, finally surpassing the Yankee legend on the season’s penultimate day.
Meanwhile, Ohtani continued to wow us by doing things that no player has ever done before. He had his best season to date as a pitcher while turning in another terrific campaign at the plate. Were it not for Judge’s historic season, he’d be the runaway MVP for the second year in a row.
While Judge and Ohtani were operating at the peak of their powers, we also got too see all-time legends achieve incredible milestones that probably won’t be reached again for some time. Miguel Cabrera’s 3,000th hit was one of the main highlights from early in the season, especially since no active player is particularly close to accomplishing it. His feat was overshadowed by an even rarer accomplishment when Albert Pujols became just the fourth player to reach 700 career home runs, turning back the clock after a decade of declining performance.
Speaking of superstars, we also saw one switch teams midseason after weeks of speculation. The Washington Nationals shocked the baseball world by putting Juan Soto on the block after he rejected a mammoth 15-year, $440 million extension, and even more stunningly, they actually traded the 23-year-old phenom in a blockbuster deal with the San Diego Padres. There’s never been a trade quite like it, which made it easy to overlook the number of notable moves during the first two chaotic days of August. For the second straight season, the MLB Trade Deadline lived up to the hype.
And while the standings generally played out as expected, there were still some pleasant surprises. The New York Yankees built up a massive lead in the first half, only to nearly blow it in the second half before righting the ship in September. The Los Angeles Dodgers set a new franchise record in wins, the New York Mets returned to relevance (but couldn’t hold off the Atlanta Braves), and even the Baltimore Orioles sneaked into contention for awhile after years in the AL East basement.
So all in all, it’s been a pretty good season so far. There’s still one more chapter, of course, as the ending has yet to be written. Hopefully it’s as dramatic and engaging as the last few months have been.
Tyler Maher is a Content Editor for The Duel who is still excited for the postseason even though the Red Sox aren’t playing in it.
Judge, Verlander, J-Rodriguez Are Easy Choices For 2022 Awards
By Dan Schlossberg
Every fall, members of the Internet Baseball Writers Association of America pick their award winners.
So do members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, an older group composed primarily of beat writers in major-league cities.
As a columnist for Here’s The Pitch, official newsletter of the IBWAA, I reserve the right to put my picks in print — even though they mean even less than an inter-league game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals.
Most of the picks are tough, as they always are, but there are two notable exceptions.
After hitting 62 home runs, making a run at a rare Triple Crown, and leading the Yankees to a 100-win season, Aaron Judge stood taller than the 6’7” he actually measures.
Among other things, he hit more than 20 homers than the next-best guy — a feat last accomplished by Babe Ruth. He also had 30 more runs scored than the runner-up, duplicating a previous feat by Ruth and Rickey Henderson.
Before Judge did it this year, only Ruth and Ted Williams led their league in home runs, extra-base hits, walks, runs, and times on base by at least 10 (in all five categories), according to my pressbox colleague Jayson Stark.
In addition, Judge just missed leading in all three Triple Crown categories and the three slash-line categories in the Live Ball era began in 1920. Williams and Lou Gehrig did that while successfully completing seasons in which they won simultaneous batting, home run, and RBI crowns.
But wait! Judge wasn’t done. He posted a second-half OPS (on-base plus slugging) twice as good as the rest of his team combined!
Without Judge, the Yankees don’t win 100 games, don’t get a first-round bye for the expanded playoffs, and don’t get the home-field advantage that makes them such a formidable foe.
Shohei Ohtani, the defending MVP, deserved another after going 15-8 with a 2.35 ERA, 213 strikeouts in 161 innings pitched, plus 34 home runs and 94 runs batted in (with one game left). But his Angels finished more than 30 games out of first place.
That spot was occupied by the Houston Astros, who topped the AL with 105 wins heading into the final day. Justin Verlander’s ability to bounce back from Tommy John surgery was a major factor.
When ancient Houston ace Verlander wins the American League’s Cy Young, he’ll become the 11th pitcher — and seventh right-hander — to own at least three and will join Roger Clemens as the only pitchers to win the trophy at least 11 seasons apart. He’ll also become only the third starter in history with at least six top-two finishes (joining Clemens and Randy Johnson) and the fourth to win at age 39 or older — after Clemens (41), Early Wynn (39) and Gaylord Perry (39).
Just starting his career, Seattle center-fielder Julio Rodriguez rebounded from a slow start to enjoy an All-Star season. The American League’s Rookie of the Year Award could be unanimous.
No so in the National League, where it’s hard to separate the merits of Atlanta teammates Michael Harris II, another swift center-fielder, and fireballer Spencer Strider, who moved from relief to the rotation the same week Harris was promoted from Double-A. Almost immediately, the defending World Champions launched a 14-game winning streak that started them on the path to their fifth straight NL East crown. Harris gets the nod here because he changed the dynamic of the team’s defense, adding speed, power, and consistent clutch hitting.
The other Senior Circuit honors are also hotly contested.
Even though starters Julio Urias, Max Scherzer, Max Fried, and Kyle Wright had impressive seasons, the vote here goes to Mets closer Edwin Diaz, a strikeout machine. He didn’t lead the league in saves but he was definitely his team’s savior.
No Met has ever won an MVP award, though Pete Alonso will get serious consideration after winning the league RBI title and setting a club record in the process. Fellow first basemen Freddie Freeman, a perfect fit for the front-running Dodgers, and Paul Goldschmidt, who staged a spirited run for the NL’s first Triple Crown since 1937, also deserve votes, along with San Diego slugger Manny Machado, who carried the load when Fernando Tatis, Jr. missed the season. Dansby Swanson, a one-man show against the Mets with the NL East title on the line, will also get a look. But the vote here goes to Freeman, who already has one MVP on his trophy shelf.
Picking a Manager of the Year is no easier. Buck Showalter commanded instant respect and gave the Mets stability but could be blamed for not resting his stars. That leaves Brian Snitker as the likely winner, since his Braves overcame injuries that idled Ozzie Albies, Eddie Rosario, Adam Duvall, and Ronald Acuna, Jr. at various times.
In the American League, low-budget teams who beat all odds deserve some kind of acknowledgement. So that means Cleveland’s Terry Francona, whose team actually won the AL Central over the well-endowed White Sox and Twins, is American League Manager of the Year but Baltimore’s Brandon Hyde is a close second.
The Guardians have the worst nickname and lowest payroll in the majors but still manage to win — mainly after feasting on the their weak divisional sisters.
Other writers probably won’t agree but that’s what makes awards time so much fun.
Former AP sportswriter Dan Schlossberg of Fair Lawn, NJ is the author of 40 baseball books plus bylined stories for forbes.com, Latino Sports, USA TODAY Sports Weekly, Memories & Dreams, and Sports Collectors Digest. His e.mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
“This place has been electric all year. It’s just been a crazy good year, the energy in this place, the fans. Braves Country is real, man. These people love their Braves and we love them.”
— Braves manager Brian Snitker on his club’s 55-26 home record this season
Defrocked closer Aroldis Chapman has walked something like 17.8 percent of all the hitters he’s faced — the worst walk rate of any Yankees reliever with at least 30 innings since 1975 (Tippy Martinez) . . .
No team since the 1899 St. Louis Perfectos had ever lost 110 games one year and finished .500 or better the next before the 2022 Baltimore Orioles . . .
In those opening two losses by the Mets to the Braves last weekend, Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer combined to allow five homers, 14 hits and seven earned runs in 11 2/3 innings. In deGrom’s last four starts, his ERA ballooned to 6.00, though he did strike out 11 and walk none Friday night . . .
Shohei Ohtani’s one-year, $30 million deal with the Angels was by far the biggest ever given to an arbitration-eligible player . . .
After a brutal month-long slump, Atlanta’s Matt Olson not only topped the team in runs batted in (101) but was the National League’s final Player of the Week after a six-homer outburst when it counted most.
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