The 2012 season is far from over with every AL divisional race up for grabs and 8-10 teams still in the thick of the wildcard races. But regardless of what transpires between now and the end of October, here is what most impressed me in what has been an interesting, if not remarkable, season.
Jersey Guy: about two months ago, I noted to a friend that Mike Trout reminded of Lenny Dykstra, but a better all-around hitter. Boy, did I speak too soon. What a misinformed comment that was. He’s more like Mantle and Mays, a five-tooler if there ever was one. Honestly, I almost forgot Albert Pujols was playing for the Angels, that’s how compelling this young guy from Jersey has been. I’m not sure how a 20-year-old can be this good and I don’t know how much better he can be. Will he be another Mickey or Willie or will he settle in and be more of a Fred Lynn? Not offense to Lynn, king of the 23-homer season and a very fine player, but I’m hoping Trout takes our breath away for the next 10-15 years.
Davey Johnson for President: 26 years after leading the Mets to their last World Series title, Johnson is leading the Nationals to . . . who knows? Davey was all but forgotten until he took over the Nats last season. At the time, he figured to be a just a caretaker until they found someone more permanent. Well, he’s a caretaker like Jack McKeon was a caretaker for the Marlins back in 2003 — and we know how that turned out. Johnson has handled this talented young team with remarkable skill and balance, especially with the specter of Stephen Strasburg’s shutdown hanging over the team for much of the season. I don’t know how much a role Johnson played in the handling of Strasburg (probably less than his agent, Scott Boras), and I don’t know if it was the right decision, but if he can get this team deep into the post-season without his young ace, then he will impress me even more than he has thus far. It’s not a stretch to say he is the most effective leader in our nation’s capitol.
Buck’s O’s: Across the Beltway from Johnson, here’s a skipper who has done what Bobby Valentine could not: return to the bigs, annoying, acerbic attitude and all, and find success once again. The fact that Showalter has done it with the O’s, perhaps baseball’s worst run team over the past 15 years (and who last went to the post-season under with Davey Johnson at the helm), is all the more impressive. I thought his team would fold by the All-Star break, but Buck has kept on the Yankees’ tails right to the end. As for Bobby V, he will be highlighted in my next post: those that have impressed me the least in 2012.
R.A. Dickey: Imagine how bad this Mets season would be without their ace knuckleballer? Don’t answer that question, please. He’s the only reason to pay attention to this otherwise irrelevant team, which once again has imploded in the second half. Although he’s cooled off a bit since his torrid pace in June and July, Dickey is still a leading candidate for the Cy Young Award (Seaver, Gooden, Dickey — I love the way that sounds). I think if he’s right there with the other leading contenders (Gonzalez, Cueto, Cain), he should get the nod. The other day, John Harper of the New York Daily News suggested that some voters may hold it against Dickey because he’s a knuckler. Anyone who feels that way has it all wrong. No knuckleballer has ever won the award (Phil Niekro and Wilbur Wood finished second in the voting in 1969 and 1972, respectively), and for good reason: there are so few people on this planet who can even throw the damn pitch, let alone possess great command of it. Dickey should get extra consideration for what he’s accomplished, especially at the ripe age of 37. Not to mention pitching for team with an anemic offense, leaky bullpen and swiss cheese defense.
The Captain: another 200-hit season, the eighth of his career. Hitting near .330 and still in contention for the AL batting title. Clutch hit after clutch hit. This is the guy who looked like he was fading fast three years ago? By the end of next season, Derek Jeter should be no worse than sixth on the all-time hits list. Realistically, he should end his career in the top three, behind Rose and Cobb. And is it crazy to think he can even pass Rose before he hangs up his Pinstripes? Far less crazy than the rant by blowhard Skip Bayless, who last month suggested that maybe Jeter was spiking his Gatorade with banned substances. I can do nothing but tip my hat (yes, a Mets cap) to Jeter, for playing at the highest level, with class and dignity, year in and year out. Take a hike, Skip. Save your hot air and cynicism for mere mortals.
Philly Revival: It hurts me to write this, but I (begrudgingly) have no shortage of respect for Charley Manuel and his team. Their best days have passed, but hold off on the funeral just yet. All season long they struggle, in part to injuries, in part to sluggish play. But here we are, mid-September, and they’re in the hunt for wildcard. There’s just too much fight in this team (and too much pitching). It’s really no surprise that as September approached, they went one way and the Mets went another. Despite the Mets winning seven of nine in Philly this year, these two teams are still far apart — in talent and character.
Billy Ball: Just when we were starting to write off Money Ball as a noble but fading model for building a winning ballclub, here are Billy Beane’s cash-strapped Oakland A’s pushing the two-time defending AL champion Rangers and their high salaried All-Star lineup right down to the wire. One look at the A’s lineup — primarily a bunch of punchless .240 and .250 hitters — and a pitching rotation that discarded two All-Stars (Cahill, Gonzalez) in the off season, and you wonder how this team is playing as well as anyone down the stretch. Pitching. Defense. Steady bullpen. And most importantly, sound management. But I still don’t get it.