Braves shut out of individual awards - but have prize that matters

The Braves, led by manager Brian Snitker and first baseman Freddie Freeman, celebrate the one prize they all can share - the World Series Trophy - during a confetti-strewn affair at Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)
Caption
The Braves, led by manager Brian Snitker and first baseman Freddie Freeman, celebrate the one prize they all can share - the World Series Trophy - during a confetti-strewn affair at Truist Park. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

In this superlative season, it appears no Brave will walk away with any of the top individual superlatives.

Not the manager who took a clubhouse full of ground beef in August and somehow served up prime rib in October.

Not the young third baseman who harnessed his ADHD swing and pumped out 33 home runs and 107 RBIs. Some might let that gnaw at them during the offseason, but Austin Riley seems resistant to the termites of disrespect.

Not the exec who traded for both the National League Championship Series and World Series MVPs at the deadline, the baseball equivalent of finding a Rembrandt and a van Gogh tossed onto a Kirkland’s discount table.

Having just won a rather significant team trophy, no Brave really needs additional hardware. And because this is a team that seems like it can celebrate every bit as hard as it plays, who knows if anyone would really be in shape to accept another big prize this month?

The major baseball awards – MVP, Manager of the Year, Cy Young – all will be rationed out in the next week as baseball tries to remain in the conversation long after it has left the room. We know at this point that no Brave is even among the three finalists for these accolades, voted on by various card-carrying baseball writers of America and tallied prematurely before the postseason begins. Rather amazing that none of them showed up in at least a photo finish.

The Exec of the Year has come and gone, awarded to San Francisco’s Farhan Zaidi for the Giants’ surprising 107 regular-season wins. The prize was his before San Francisco lost to the L.A. Dodgers in five in their Division Series, and the Braves stormed to the World Series largely because of the maneuverings of GM Alex Anthopoulos. The Braves GM simply had a mid-season for the ages. To see more inspiring mid-course corrections, you have to reach all the way to the Apollo 13 mission. He was the blackjack player drawing a 5 every single time this summer that he was dealt 16, which was often.

While Brian Snitker was shut out of Manager of the Year consideration, one of the three finalists, St. Louis’ Mike Shildt, got fired three weeks ago. If the baseball gods have a sense of humor, Shildt shall win. Although that award likely will go to another Giant, the same Gabe Kapler who was overmatched during his time in Philadelphia.

And, man, speaking of those Phillies, considering that they possess the NL MVP favorite, Bryce Harper, and Cy Young finalist, Zack Wheeler, they must have been world-beaters. Alas, no, those two stood upon trembling shoulders and the Phillies finished 6-1/2 back of the Braves in the NL East.

None of the three National League MVP finalists – Harper, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis or Washington’s Juan Soto – advanced with their teams to the postseason. Valuable in this context doesn’t necessarily mean essential to winning. If only that metric were applied, then Riley certainly would have been the subject of more serious consideration.

It’s not unusual that the eventual World Series champion gets shut out of these awards. Last season – Freddie Freeman’s MVP year – the champion Dodgers claimed not a one. In fact, six of the previous 10 World Series champs were unrepresented.

And the same system has benefitted the Braves. When with the Blue Jays, Anthopoulos picked up an Exec of the Year prize in 2015, the year Kansas City won it all. Snitker got his Manager of the year in 2018, when the Braves broke a four-year drought to return to the postseason, losing the division series in four games (Boston won it all then). And, deserved but unverified by a title, there was Freemen’s MVP prize a year ago.

So, yeah, not factoring in the postseason is a big flaw in the baseball awards process. And some years, like this year, the system seems more cockeyed than usual.

Which leaves the MVP, the Cy Young, Manager and Exec of the Year often looking like consolation prizes, awarded to those who tried really hard but didn’t quite win out to the end, bless their hearts.

That these Braves didn’t sniff one of the big awards is almost a badge of honor in itself, further proof of the collective and still surprising nature of their championship. A team in which its most convincing Cy Young candidate may have been the bullpen as a whole, a team with a regular infield that averaged hitting 30 home runs each, a team whose greatest contributors in the playoffs were wearing someone else’s colors in June.

Such a team has the award it craved, the one it unquestionably deserved, the one determined by score, not subjectivity. So why feel slighted?

Leave the questioning of election results to the losers.

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