Terry Francona‘s pursuit of a third Manager of the Year Award as Cleveland Indians skipper was foiled on Tuesday as Minnesota’s Paul Molitor was named the American League’s winner of the award in the annual Baseball Writers’ Association of America voting.
Molitor received 18 of 30 first place votes, while Francona was second with 11.
Francona, who was recognized with the award in his first year as Tribe manager in 2013 and again last season after the team’s surprise run to the seventh game of the World Series, missed out on becoming the first manager to win consecutive awards since Atlanta’s Bobby Cox won the award in the National League in 2004 and 2005.
Molitor led the Twins to an improbable turnaround during the 2017 season, taking the young club from the basement of the AL Central to a Wild Card berth. The Twins went 59-103 in his second year at the helm in the Twin Cities in 2016, only to turn around their poor performance with an 85-77 record during the 2017 season, making his Minnesota team the first club to follow a 100-loss season with a trip to the playoffs the next year. His Twins gave the New York Yankees a scare in the AL Wild Card Game, only to lose a tough 8-4 final in the Bronx.
Unlike the 2013 and 2016 seasons, Francona’s Tribe were expected to do big things in 2017, but ultimately fell short. In the end, the award, voted on prior to the team’s collapse in the first round of the playoffs, compared the high expectations for the Indians to the far lesser expectations of the Twins and the higher expectations for the Houston Astros and their manager, A.J. Hinch, who fell apart late in the 2016 season and missed out on a run through the playoffs. They were eliminated in the ALDS in five games by the Kansas City Royals in his first year as the team’s skipper in 2015.
Now in his third season as Houston’s manager, Hinch’s club would defeat the Boston Red Sox in four games in the American League Division Series and the Yankees in seven games in the American League Championship Series before winning the team’s first World Series in seven games against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He finished third in the voting.
Francona’s Indians put together an incredible season, lost in the poor performance in October. The club won 22 consecutive games in August and September, establishing new AL and modern day Major League records in the process. Unfortunately for the Tribe, a deep run through the postseason was not in the cards as the club instead dealt with injuries to starting pitchers Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar, outfielder Michael Brantley, and designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, with the latter occurring in Game 2 of the ALDS. While the team seemed to draw energy from the loss of the big offseason addition to come back from a big deficit in Game 2, the Tribe lost each of the next three games to suffer an early elimination from the playoffs.
The Indians won 102 games during the 2017 season, the second-highest total in franchise history and the most won in a 162-game schedule. The Indians won 100 games in the strike-shortened 144-game 1995 season, when it lost the World Series in six games to the Atlanta Braves, and won a franchise-record 111 games in 1954 before being swept in the Fall Classic by the New York Giants.
The 102 wins were the most by a Francona-led club in his 17-year managerial career. The Red Sox won 98 games in 2004 in his first year at the helm in Boston, when he ended the long “Curse of the Bambino” in Beantown. Francona now has 13 straight winning seasons to his credit.
On the National League side of the Manager of the Year voting, a former Indians player was guaranteed a win as Arizona’s Torey Lovullo, Colorado’s Bud Black, and Los Angeles’ Dave Roberts were all finalists for the honor. Lovullo, who took the Diamondbacks from a 69-93 performance under Chip Hale in 2016 to a 93-69 finish and an NL Wild Card victory over Black’s Rockies in the NL Wild Card Game before falling in three games to Roberts’ Dodgers in the NLDS, was selected as the senior circuit’s best manager of 2017.
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