What’s The Count Again?

As Earl Weaver (or was it Casey Stengel?) once sort of said, “Managing is simple. You’re going to lose 50 games no matter what you do. You’re going to win 50 games no matter what you do. It’s the other 62 you try not to screw up.” With those words from an acknowledged master this week I’m going to discuss who has been the best managers in major league baseball thus far in the 2011 season. As with the players on the field, basic stats don’t always tell the story. Sometimes you have to trust what your eyes see and not what the stats tell you. As with many things, reputations can prove to be deceptive.

When you consider that the difference between a .500 season and making the playoffs is about ten or twelve wins per season, (about two wins per month) being able to run a game properly and set up late game situations to your advantage becomes of the utmost importance. The line between making the playoffs and watching them on television is indeed a fine one and in those crucial 62 games, mistakes in and beyond strategy can make all the difference.

The Five Best This Season.

1.       Joe Maddon. I look at the statistics for the Tampa Bay Rays and the mostly no name roster and wonder how this team continues to contend. The Rays had to completely redo their bullpen this past offseason, they lost Evan Longoria for six weeks, their lineup consists of mostly utility players, and yet they would be contending for the playoffs if not for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees. Maddon makes few mistakes and has his players believing that they can win 162 games per season

2.       Terry Francona. Certainly he has the horses year after year to get into the playoffs but if it was that easy, anyone could do it. Not only does Francona have to deal with 25 egos every day, but the Boston press is not known for shrugging it’s shoulders and saying we’ll get them tomorrow. This season he has dealt with injuries and/or poor performances from his pitching staff and a catching situation which has left much to be desired.  Despite his calm appearance, Francona is very much hands on and knows when to leave things alone and when to make something happen.

3.       Fredi González. Following a legend is never easy. Not having future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones for much of the season, a player who is the heart beat of the Atlanta Braves is never easy. Dealing with a team which has seen Jason Heyward stumble badly in his sophomore season and having center field, until recently, be a giant hole defensively and offensively doesn’t help.  Neither does having the Philadelphia run away and hide from the rest of the eastern division. But González has stayed calm, used his young players well (even if some pundits claim he is over using his bullpen), and has the Braves pulling away with the wild card lead.

4.       Kirk Gibson. The Arizona Diamondbacks still strikeout at an alarming rate and their redone bullpen, while a big improvement, still hasn’t convinced me that they can get to the playoffs. It’s also very difficult to tell if Gibson knows how to run a game at this level or not.  But Gibson seems to be willing this team into the playoffs. His football mentality has his players afraid to do anything else but win. Even with the loss of Stephen Drew for the season and having to use Lyle Overbay at first and failed phenom Sean Burroughs off the bench, the Dbacks refuse to give up. Gibson brings enough energy for the entire roster.

5.       Manny Acta. Admittedly the American League Central is a very weak division, and the Cleveland Indians have fallen behind after a very strong start. No one would have given the Indians even this much of a chance but Acta has taken a virtually no-name team, especially the pitching staff, and kept them in the race. His two big guns, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner have been out on and off for much of the season and yet the team continues to grind out wins behind an unknown pitching staff and great team defense. He has very quietly kept this team’s head above water and while unlikely he can get them to the playoffs this season, Acta is teaching these young guys how to win.

Those are my five picks for 2011. Some have the horses and are expected to win. Others don’t. Both can be equally difficult. Both take different personalities. Both types are interesting to watch.

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