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Fair or Foul: Darkhorse candidates for each MLB award

The 2020 Major League Baseball season came to a close Sunday, and as the 16 teams that will play on prepare for the postseason, now is also the time to think about the year-end awards. Here are two candidates for League Most Valuable Player, the Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year and Manager of the Year who have gone largely unnoticed this season.

MVP Candidate: Salvador Perez — Catcher, Kansas City Royals

Perez has rebounded more than nicely after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2019. Although the shorter season skews all statistics, it cannot be ignored that Perez has looked as expected defensively, while putting up his best offensive numbers yet.

With an on-base slugging percentage of nearly 1.000, Perez has provided some relief during another terrible season for the Royals. He still takes absolutely no walks with just three in 150 plate appearances, but he’s getting the job done.

MVP Candidate: Marcell Ozuna — Outfield, Atlanta Braves

Ozuna is another beneficiary of the shortened 2020 campaign. After two lackluster seasons in St. Louis with the Cardinals, his tenure in Atlanta seems to be earning him lots more money. 

Aside from missing zero games and leading the National League in home runs, he has given the Braves a new triple threat in the lineup with him: Ronald Acuña Jr. and Freddie Freeman. Ozuna has returned to the level of production from his 2017 breakout season and the Braves will look to him to step up more in the playoffs.

Cy Young Candidate: Devin Williams — Relief Pitcher, Milwaukee Brewers

Everyone knows Williams will get Rookie of the Year votes, but his Cy Young candidacy deserves more recognition. 

Through 22 appearances and 27 innings pitched, Williams has allowed just one earned run, while striking out 17.7 batters per nine innings and posting an ERA+ of 1,375. That last number means he is pitching at a level of more than 1,000 percent above the average pitcher. 

That just proves he deserves some votes for this award too.

Cy Young Candidate: Clayton Kershaw — Starting Pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers

The veteran lefty looks back and better than ever this season. With a 2.16 earned run average through 10 starts, a 0.840 walks-and-hits-per-inning-pitched percentage and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings, the 32-year-old looks vintage as the Dodgers push ahead as the National League’s No. 1 seed. 

After two straight seasons where he had a notable drop in velocity and production, Kershaw has returned to the level that won him three Cy Young Awards.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: Alec Bohm — Third Baseman, Philadelphia Phillies

Although his fielding has been as poor as expected, Bohm’s offense has been reciprocal: as great as expected. Bohm finished the season batting 0.338 and has provided life to a Phillies team that has been very up and down this year. 

The one knock on Bohm is that his power hitting is not quite there yet. However, there’s time for that to develop, and he looks like he can hit anything that gets thrown to him.

Rookie of the Year Candidate: James Karinchak — Relief Pitcher, Cleveland Indians

For a while this season, Karinchak looked like the American League’s version of Williams. Just like how Williams gets the job done with a great fastball-changeup combination, Karinchak does the same with a fastball and curveball. He too is striking out more than 17 batters per nine innings and looks great in the back of Cleveland’s bullpen. 

As the Indians head to the postseason, Terry Francona will be counting on the 25-year-old to pick up where the team’s great starting pitching leaves off.

Manager of the Year Candidate: Charlie Montoyo, Toronto Blue Jays

With such a young core to manage heading into 2019, Montoyo’s Blue Jays went 67-95 last season. That makes it all the more stunning that they did quite well with a 32-28 record this season, and that they will play in October. 

While Rick Renteria of the Chicago White Sox will likely win the award for doing exactly what Toronto has done but better, don’t overlook how Montoyo has led this team to a quick turnaround and a trip to the postseason in 2020.

Manager of the Year Candidate: Terry Francona, Cleveland Indians

The Indians were supposed to begin regressing in 2020. Corey Kluber was gone, Mike Clevinger got traded and the offense was led by just Francisco Lindor and José Ramírez. Shockingly, the Indians’ pitching, despite all the subtractions, looks better than ever. 

Shane Bieber might win the Cy Young Award and league MVP. The bullpen, led by Brad Hand, Karinchak and Nick Wittgren, looks great. Zach Plesac and Triston McKenzie are helping revive the pitching core. 

All told, Francona has helped guide this team from expectations of disappointment to being a playoff contender.

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