Tracking the World Series MVP

Tracking the World Series MVP
October 24, 2013, 1:30 pm
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A few words come to mind when describing the Cardinals performance and effort last night at Fenway, but they’re all nasty words. Words that your grandmother, kindergarten teacher or principal owner of the Boston Red Sox might call naughty. Words that could very well get me fired. So, I’m trying something different today, and every day until we crown a champion of this 2013 season: The World Series MVP Watch.

Here’s how it works —

First, while we still don’t know all that much about where this series will go from here, we do know it’s very likely that the 2013 World Series MVP will be a member of the eventual 2013 champs. Why? Because they’ve handed out this award every season since 1955, and only one player* from a losing team has ever been named most valuable. You’ve got a better chance of hearing Tim McCarver tell a two-minute story in less than 15 minutes than you do of seeing that again.

(*Yankees 2B Bobby Richardson, 1960.)

With that in mind, by tracking the MVP contenders, whether it’s after one game or two games or seven games or eight, we can get a pretty good feel for the state of the series. Why one team is winning, which players are leading the charge, which players are holding their own and might emerge if the series takes a turn. We can also have some fun.

So . . .

For this first edition, I’ll run through all the candidates, from favorites to the dogs, as determined by Bovada. The numbers in the parenthesis after each player’s name were the odds of him winning as of yesterday at 8:05 pm. The words that follow provide some context on what happened after 8:05 pm.

It’s kind of like an episode of 24 (except absolutely nothing like an episode of 24) —

I'll update the list after every game.

The World Series MVP Tracker

David Ortiz (8/1): Ortiz was the MVP favorite heading into the series. This despite the fact that he struggled big time in the ALCS, that he might sit out a game or two in St. Louis, and that — hey, what do you know? Turns out Vegas knew what they were doing. Because it took all of one game for Ortiz to step up and remind everyone whose f*cking city Boston is.

He only received credit for one home run (the full stat line: 2-3, with a homer, two runs, three RBI and one Hulk Hogan leg drop onto home plate), but his near miss in the first inning might prove more valuable than anything. You know, why knock in four runs when you knock out the Cardinals best player?

Status: After one game, his chances are looking strong to very strong, to (Nooooo! Don’t do it!) Boston Strong.

Dustin Pedroia (17/2): Pedroia went 2-4 in Game 1, with two runs scored and an RBI. He’s clearly back on track after a frustrating start to the postseason. And here’s the best part:

The first three games of the ALCS were, from an offensive standpoint, the most troubling stretch of the Sox season. In Game 1, they were held hitless through eight and two-thirds innings. In Game 2, they were held hitless through five and two-thirds innings. In Game 3, they were held hitless through four and two-thirds innings.

Somehow, they won two of three games, but that success wasn’t sustainable, and the whole issue of “How long will it be until the Red Sox get their first hit?” was starting to take on a life of its own.

But then it died, and the reason is Pedroia. Since Game 3 in Detroit, he’s 4-4 with four singles in the first inning of Boston’s last four games. Last night happens to be the first time one of those singles resulted in a run, but after everything the Sox went through, just breaking the ice and putting a hit up on the board goes a long way.

Status: It’ll take more than first inning hits, but he’s still in the running.

Carlos Beltran (9/1): Well, at this point, I guess we just have to wait and see what the future holds for Beltran, but either way: Holy crap.

Just looking back on that play — the blast, Beltran casually chasing after it, the catch, the throw, that sick look on his face — there’s so much going on there; so many different what-ifs, side stories and potential ramifications that could drastically alter the face of the series. It could be the plot of Sliding Doors 2.

Status: Day-to-day.

Michael Wacha (10/1): Young Sky Wacha (I don’t know. Sorry.) takes the hill tonight, and if he can pull the Cardinals even after Wednesday’s beat down and before heading home for Game 3, he’s permanently in the MVP conversation.

For what it’s worth (and this goes for Koji as well as Wacha*): Only six players in baseball history have won the LCS and World Series MVP in the same season. The last guy to do it was David Freese in 2011. Before that it was Cole Hamels in 2009, Livan Hernandez in 1997, Orel Hershiser in 1988, Darrell Porter in 1982 and Willie Stargell in 1979.

Status: Stay Tuned.

*Dibs on the band name “As Well As Wacha”.

Yadier Molina (12/1): The Sox didn’t steal any bases last night. They didn’t even try. And moving forward, we can probably assume that Molina’s mere existence will drastically limit that portion of the Sox attack. That’s value. And that, combined with his reputation, will keep Molina in contention if the Cardinals make this a series.

So, forget MVP. The more important question is this: Do you think the rest of the Molinas all get together and watch these games? I’m talking about one gigantic Molina Family Viewing Party. If so, Fox needs to get camera out there. They can just switch the feed every time McCarver starts to get in a groove.

Status: Pure Molina.

Jacoby Ellsbury (12/1): He didn’t get a hit last night, and in general, the presence of Molina may slightly decrease Ellsbury’s overall value. But let’s not understate the importance of his leadoff walk last night.

Wainwright doesn’t walk people. He threw more innings (241.2) than any pitcher in baseball this season, but only walked 35 batters. By comparison, Clay Buchholz walked 36 batters in 108 innings. Wainwright had only walked one batter in 23 innings this postseason. And over the course of 34 starts this year, how many times do you think he walked the first batter of a game?

Once. Now twice. Ellsbury worked hard in that at-bat, fought off a two-strike pitch, got on base and right inside Wainwright’s head. As a bonus, he scored.

Status: Still a contender. Might eventually need a few stolen bases to get over the hump.

Koji Uehara (15/1): Safe to say that one more blowout like last night will pretty much eliminate Uehara from MVP consideration. That’s because you need at least three significant appearances to win the World Series MVP as a reliever. Not by law, but that’s what history suggests.

Only four relief pitchers have ever won it.

Most recently, it was Mariano Rivera in 1999, who went 1–0 with two saves in three appearances against the Braves. Before him, it was John Wetteland in 1996, who had four saves in five appearances, again against the Braves. Before him, it was Oakland’s Rollie Fingers who went 1-0 with two saves in four appearances against the Dodgers. Finally, there was Brooklyn’s Larry Sherry in 1959, who went 2–0 with two saves in four appearances against the Yankees. And in typical 1959-fashion, those four appearances added up to 12.2 innings.

So yeah, Koji has his work cut out for him. He may not even have a chance.

Status: And it doesn’t help that he just won the ALCS MVP. Regardless of what he does, it will be easy for voters to justify going with someone else.

Matt Holliday (12/1): Holliday helped the Cardinals save some face with his ninth inning blast off Ryan Dempster. Then again, “hitting a homerun off Ryan Dempster in the ninth inning of an eight-run game” is one step above “pantsing a homeless guy” on the Brag About it Meter.

Status: If nothing else, Holliday padded his stats nicely. Left himself with a decent foundation should he ultimately help lead the Cardinals to a title.

Shane Victorino (12/1): Narrative-wise, he had some momentum coming off his Game 6 grand slam, but an 0-4 showing last night didn’t help his MVP chances. More concerning, he didn’t get hit by a pitch.  

Status: It’s a long series, but not looking good.

Then again, “Don’t worry . . . about a thing . . . Because —"

Xander Bogaerts (12/1): His late-game RBI was a big one for his MVP candidacy. It gave the voters something to fall back on from Game 1. And in this case, that “something” just happens to be Bogaerts becoming the youngest American Leaguer since Mickey Mantle to knock in a run in the World Series.

Status: “Hey, gang. Did you know Bogaerts is from Aruba?” — guess who?

Adam Wainwright (14/1): Wainwright made 34 regular season starts this season, and pitched at least six innings in 31 of them. He made three 2013 postseason starts before last night and pitched seven innings, nine innings and seven innings, respectively. He gave up a total of four earned runs, struck out 20 batters and walked only one.

That’s not the guy we saw last night.

Looked like his name should be Adam Wasdin. (I know, just be happy I spared you “Adam Aintright”)

Status: Would be easy to write him off, but there’s still the potential for Wainright to start Game 4 and Game 7. In other words, it would be easy, but it’s way too early.

Mike Napoli (15/1): According to ESPN Stats & Info, Napoli’s three-run double made him the first player in Major League history to pick up 13 RBI over his first eight World Series games.

Pretty cool. Very irrelevant. But honestly, when Napoli’s feeling the way he’s feeling right now, nothing else is relevant. He’s on another level. When they take the field tonight, Napoli may very well be the most dangerous hitter in either line-up. And as long as he’s rolling — especially after losing out after his ALCS heroics — he’s in Ortiz territory as far as MVP potential.

At the same time, you never know when he’ll show up at the park and strikeout seven at-bats in a row. It’s fair to wonder how the National League rotation between he and Ortiz might affect his rhythm.

But right now, he’s a legit contender.

Status: Napoli SMASH

Jon Lester (16/1): So, this Vaseline story is interesting. (Always wanted to type that sentence). But regardless of what comes of it, and even with how great Lester was in Game 1, he’ll have to be just as good in Game 5 to earn any real consideration for MVP.

Again, the MVP isn’t the priority. We’re just talking here.

There was a time when it wouldn’t have been this hard for Lester to win a World Series MVP. From 1985-2001, 12 pitchers won the award, and that includes both Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, who shared the trophy in 2001. Still, for a long time, this was a pitcher’s game.

But for whatever reasons, in the 11 World Series since 2001, Josh Beckett (2003) and Cole Hamels (2009) are the only MVP pitchers.

Status: We’ll see, but how about Jon Lester’s career postseason numbers?

10 starts, a 2.07 ERA and a .214 average against. He’s allowed two or fewer runs in seven of those starts and has allowed more than three only once.

That’s a hell of a lot of Vaseline.

Matt Carpenter (16/1): Grounded out on three pitches to start the game. Struck out looking on four pitches to end the third. Compare that to how Ellsbury handled his first AB against Wainwright, and Carpenter’s losing this leadoff hitter match-up.

Status: But he’s an All-Star, a proven talent. He’ll make an impact before this is over. Look for it against Peavy and Buchholz.

Allen Craig (18/1): It was his first time in the line-up since September 4, so even seeing him get that one hit was a good sign for the Cardinals. At the same time, the fact that one hit is considered a good sign doesn’t reflect very well on his MVP candidacy.

Status: Game 1 aside, as long as Craig’s healthy and in the line-up, he’s a Most Valuable threat.

David Freese (18/1): Hit into a double play with the bases loaded in the fourth. Committed a throwing error in the seventh to extend the inning for David Ortiz’s two run shot. He also struck out twice, and while he did pick up a hit, he saved it for the ninth inning, with two outs and nobody on in an 8-1 game.

Status: Not looking like a repeat.

Clay Buchholz (20/1): There were questions as to whether he would be healthy enough to pitch in Game 4. And right now, the answer is yes. But there’s no question that he’s hurting. Buchholz isn’t close to 100 percent. That, and the fact that a Game 4 start means this will be a one-game series for Clay pretty much eliminates him from the MVP conversation.

Status: Who cares? The Sox just need one quality start.

Trevor Rosenthal (20/1): Rosenthal didn’t make an appearance on Wednesday night. That tends to happen to closers when they’re on the losing end of an 8-1 final. As a result, Rosenthal’s now thrown only one inning and exactly 12 pitches in the last nine days.

To be honest, I don’t know enough about the inner workings of Trevor Rosenthal to really know how much that might affect him — positively or negatively. Just something to consider.

Status: Eh.

Matt Adams (20/1): The big fella went hitless last night and only saw 13 pitches in his four at-bats. Not looking good, especially with him potentially losing reps to Craig once the series moves back to St. Louis.

Status: Adams SMASH!

Stephen Drew (28/1): It was going to take some kind of miracle for Drew to pick up another hit in these playoffs. An even bigger miracle for John Farrell to finally show Drew a seat on the bench. But no one could have imagined the miracle that unfolded when he stepped in last night.

A Gold Glove pitcher and one of the best defensive catchers of all time, miscommunicating and screwing up a play that the two drunkest guys in the bleachers could have made.

Status: WTF.

Three guys that weren’t listed in Bovada’s player pool, that I should quickly mention before we wrap things up.

Jonny Gomes: Understandable, seeing how Nava will get most of the at-bats in St. Louis.

John Lackey: Questionable to leave him out, but there might be a write-in after tonight’s start.

Pete Kozma: Not unless he wins for his contributions to the Red Sox.

And it’s on to Game 2.

Follow me on Twitter: @rich_levine.