Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Francona, Hurdle Top Managers

Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle were named Managers of the Year today after leading their respective teams to impressive turnarounds and postseason berths.

Following a one-year hiatus in the broadcast booth, Francona returned to the dugout and guided Cleveland to 92 wins and the American League's top Wild Card spot. Few expected the Indians to contend in the wake of a miserable 2012 that saw them lose 94 games, but Francona's touch (as well as key additions like Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Scott Kazmir) helped Cleveland reach the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Francona's 2011 Red Sox famously choked away their all-but-guaranteed playoff spot by going 7-20 in September, but this year he flipped the script. Cleveland went 21-6 in September, winning ten in a row to close out the regular season and nearly catch Detroit in the AL Central. They were unable to carry that momentum into their Wild Card playoff game, however, falling to Tampa Bay 4-0.

This selection was a bit of an upset, as many predicted John Farrell would win the award after taking Boston from worst to first. Farrell did a commendable job in the aftermath of the Bobby Valentine fiasco, but he also inherited a much more talented roster than Francona did. Boston's payroll was roughly twice that of Cleveland, meaning Francona had to make do with far less. Both teams drastically exceeded expectations, but the Indians overachieved more so than the re-tooled Red Sox, who made significant upgrades over the winter (Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino) and enjoyed a good deal of positive regression to the mean (such as healthy years from David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and John Lackey). Cleveland finished one game behind the Tigers. Who could have seen that coming?

The National League selection was much easier. Clint Hurdle helmed the Pittsburgh Pirates, a team that had not experienced a winning season since 1992, to 94 wins and the NL's top Wild Card slot. Hurdle oversaw the two most recent of those losing years, both of which were heartbreaking disasters that saw Pittsburgh contend for much of the summer, only to fall flat on its face in August and September.

This time around, Hurdle helped them get over the hump. There was no late-season collapse, no slipping on the banana peel just before the finish line. They battled St. Louis for the division crown all summer long and were in first place as late as September 16th, but settled for the Wild Card when they were unable to hold off the Cardinals. The same thing happened in the NLDS when Pittsburgh took a 2-1 series lead, only to let St. Louis storm back and win the series behind the stellar pitching of Michael Wacha and Adam Wainwright.

Oh well. There's always next year.

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