After leading the Milwaukee Brewers to the brink of their second-ever World Series appearance, two of the team’s biggest difference makers are now in line to be recognized as the best among their peers in the National League.
On Monday, outfielder Christian Yelich was revealed as one of three finalists for the NL’s most valuable player award along with Javier Báez of the Chicago Cubs and Nolan Arenado of the Colorado Rockies.
In addition, Craig Counsell was named as one of three finalists for the NL’s manager of the year award along with Brian Snitker of the Atlanta Braves and Bud Black of the Rockies.
The winners of the awards, which were voted upon by members of the Baseball Writers Association of America at the conclusion of the regular season, will be announced next week – MVP on Nov. 15 and manager of the year on Nov. 13.
Yelich, who turns 27 on Dec. 5, is considered the prohibitive favorite to be named MVP after hitting an NL-best .326 with 36 home runs and 110 runs batted in while logging an OPS of 1.000 in his first season with the Brewers. He was also a finalist for a Rawlings Gold Glove as a leftfielder, although he played most of his games in right.
The batting crown was the first ever for a Brewers player, and Yelich was in contention for the NL triple crown until the final day of the season. He also hit for the cycle twice, becoming just the fifth player ever to do so in the same season and the first to do it against the same team (Cincinnati Reds).
Yelich had a solid first half, hitting .292 with 11 homers and 43 RBI in 82 games to earn his first-ever appearance in the All-Star Game. But it was Yelich’s second half that separated him from the rest of the field.
Over the final 65 games, Yelich ranked first in the major leagues in hitting at .367, RBI with 67, on-base percentage at .449 and slugging percentage at .770 while his 25 homers ranked second overall.
And in the month of September, as the Brewers caught the Cubs and eventually passed them for the Central Division title, Yelich hit 10 homers and drove in 34 runs with a 1.313 OPS with 10 homers over 26 games.
Overall, Yelich became just the seventh player in major-league history to hit at least .325 with 35 or more homers, 110 or more RBI, 110 or more runs scored and 20 or more stolen bases in a season. Iván Rodríguez was the last player to accomplish the feat in 1999, when he was named American League MVP.
If he wins, Yelich would become the Brewers’ fifth-ever MVP. Ryan Braun was the last to win the award in 2011, with Rollie Fingers in 1981 and Robin Yount in 1982 and ’89 the others.
Counsell, 48, led the Brewers to a franchise-record 102 victories (including the postseason) and just their fifth-ever appearance in the postseason in his third full season as manager. Milwaukee’s 96 regular-season victories were also tied for the most in franchise history.
The Brewers played their best baseball when it mattered most under Counsell. Trailing the division-leading Cubs by 5 1/2 games on Aug. 28, they won 22 of their final 29 games to force Game 163 at Wrigley Field. Milwaukee went on to beat Chicago, 3-1, to clinch its second Central Division title.
The Brewers also won 12 straight games — one shy of tying the franchise record — from Sept. 23-Oct. 13. They swept the Colorado Rockies in the National League Division Series and then went to seven games in the National League Championship Series with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Counsell has been praised by those in the know as one of the premier tacticians in the major leagues, and it was his willingness to think outside the box with regard to using players at different and new positions and his starting pitchers and bullpen in unorthodox ways at times that helped allow him to get the most out of his team.
The Brewers have never had a manager of the year, which became an official award in 1983.