A year after claiming the National League Manager of the Year Award, Brian Snitker was denied a bit of history in his bid to become the first back-to-back winner since mentor Bobby Cox in 2004.
Mine was among those ballots that went Snitker’s way. As a voting member of the Baseball Writers Association of America assigned this award, our ballots were due before the postseason. Obviously, the events that unfolded in October would have changed everything, hence the Nationals’ Dave Martinez -- he of the eventual world champions -- not even make the finalists, while those who did all saw their version of a gut-wrenching end to the postseason.
But that’s the point, isn’t it? What happens after the 162-game grind ends just doesn’t matter.
What did matter as this voter made his picks was defying expectations, weathering storms and getting a team to rally around them.
Here’s how I put together my list of the NL’s best managers:
1. Brian Snitker, Braves
Projected to finish as low as fourth in a retooled and reloaded NL East -- where the ring-grabbing Nationals were the favorite -- Snitker led the Braves to a second straight 90-win season and another division crown. Yes, the heartache with which Atlanta bowed out of the postseason takes the wind out of the sails and skews the accomplishments of the six-month grind. But with Washington bearing down on them -- and turning “best record in baseball since May 24” into their personal tagline -- Snitker’s Braves kept the Nats at bay, winning three of four at SunTrust Park from Sept. 5-8 and then taking two of three in D.C. a week later. With four teams above .500, the NL East was the deepest division and Snitker, for guiding this mix of veterans and young studs through it, sat atop my ballot.
2. Mike Shildt, Cardinals
The Cardinals went out and landed Paul Goldschmidt and had the NL’s most dominant pitcher after the All-Star break in Jack Flaherty, so it makes sense that they claimed the Central crown. But consider that Goldschmidt had an abysmal 58 wRC+ in June -- further frustration after a 9-18 month in the win-loss columns -- the starters were next-to-last in first-half fWAR (3.6) and St. Louis was 5 1/2 games back on June 9 and it becomes that much more impressive that Shildt led the Cardinals to a second half in which they were 22 games above .500. It was all enough for St. Louis brass to give him a new three-year extension that runs through 2022.
3. Craig Counsell, Brewers
If a player’s MVP candidacy can hinge on a last-month surge, then why not a manager’s push as well? Counsell took a Brewers squad that was 12 games below .500 in May and five games back on Sept. 10 when they lost reigning NL MVP Christian Yelich on to a fractured kneecap and won 13 of the last 18 games -- and an MLB-best 20 games in the final month -- to claim the second wild card spot. No team had a better ERA in September than Milwaukee’s 3.01, that coming off ranking 12th in the NL at August’s end, a testament to his in-game machinations with a staff that was heavy on September call-ups.