For pretty much the entire season, the baseball world has viewed Detroit skipper Jim Leyland as the runaway favorite for the Manager of the Year award. However, the Tigers are have struggled of late. Even after beating the White Sox last night, they have still lost 9 of their last 13 games and have seen their lead in the AL Central shrink to 5.5 games. Now, that's still a fairly sizable lead and I think it's early to be making doomsday statements, but the possibility that the Tigers could miss the playoffs is becoming more and more realistic. Kenny Rogers has fallen apart (1-3, 5.97 since the All-Star break) and Justin Verlander's arm is fatigued. The team is reeling, and if they fail to make the playoffs, it would be difficult to see Leyland being rewarded as the league's best manager.
Meanwhile, Gardenhire has done some very good things this year. We frequently get after him on this blog, and by no means has his decision-making been spotless, but it's hard to argue with the job he's done. The team has pieced together one of the great turnarounds in baseball history, while numerous young players are breaking out in a big way and a few veterans are having by far the best seasons of their previously mediocre careers. When so many players are doing this well, some credit has to be given to the coaching staff. And although I sometimes feel that he underuses Joe Nathan by restricting most of his appearances to ninth-inning save situations, it is clear that Gardy has handled the bullpen extremely well and is getting the most out his relievers.
Gardenhire has also seemingly gained the respect of not only his own players, but other players and coaches around the league. In a recent Chicago Sun-Times article about another Ozzie Guillen tirade, Guillen gave the following quote about Gardy:
"That's why I love the guy next door,'' Guillen continued Saturday, pointing to the Twins' dugout and manager Ron Gardenhire. ''He doesn't give a [expletive]. He doesn't worry about this and that. You win, you kicked our butt. When they clinched in 2004, I was the first one to go over there and congratulate them because they beat us."In a Pioneer Press article in late July, Charley Walters had the following Leyland quote:
"This has been no surprise to us at all," Leyland said of the Twins' remarkable comeback since early June. "We knew they would be back. They've got baseball players who play the game the way they're supposed to play, they've got great pitching and they've got a hell of a manager. This is going to be a three-team race, and next year, with Cleveland, it will be a four-team race."Back in February, I wrote that the 2006 season would put Gardenhire on the spot more than ever before. I noted that "my opinion of the man will be greatly shaped by what he does in the upcoming season." Well, after a poor start, I have been mostly impressed by the job Gardy has done and I think he deserves a lot of credit for what this team has accomplished.
Despite a rash of critical injuries, an inconsistent back of the rotation that has turned into a revolving door for minor league pitchers, and a roster comprised of numerous young and inexperienced players, this manager is somehow managing to win. I think Gardy deserves some recognition for that. He has finished near the top in the Manager of the Year voting three times in his four-year tenure as the Twins' skipper (third in 2002, second in 2003, second in 2004) and it is entirely possible that this may be the year he captures the award once and for all.