Sunday, November 19, 2017

Football Picks, Week 11

Thanksgiving is next week, which means the NFL season is starting to enter the home stretch.  Pretty soon, we're going to see playoff races appearing on the screen along with the time and score graphics for every game.  And speaking of playoff races, we're going to get some clarity in both conferences over the next couple of weeks.  There are a lot of teams bunched up in the standings, but they're all going to play each other in the coming weeks, so, at the very least, we'll figure out the tiebreakers as those teams prepare for January.

Lions (5-4) at Bears (3-6): Detroit-The wild card battle in the NFC features about five teams and is likely going to go down to the wire.  The Lions are one of those teams in the mix, but they're currently on the outside looking in.  Detroit needs every win it can get, especially in the games its supposed to win.  And this one falls into that category.  The Lions know that in order to have any shot at making the playoffs, they have to go into their Thanksgiving matchup with Minnesota at 6-4, not 5-5.

Jaguars (6-3) at Browns (0-9): Jacksonville-Ordinarily this would be the game circled on the Browns' calendar as the one they might actually win.  Not this year, though.  Jacksonville is currently holding on to a wild card, and the Jaguars can move into sole possession of first place with a win thanks to the Titans' loss in Pittsburgh on Thursday.  Will Cleveland keep it close?  I think so.  The Browns have been more competitive at home.  Will they stay ahead of the 49ers and Giants in the race for the No. 1 pick?  Probably.

Ravens (4-5) at Packers (5-4): Green Bay-Brett Hundley just might've saved the Packers season last week.  They looked lost without Aaron Rodgers...until Hundley led them to a win last week in Chicago.  Now Green Bay's right back in the playoff discussion.  The Ravens know that in order for them to be involved in any sort of playoff discussion, they need to go into Lambeau and win.  Easier said than done, even though Baltimore is the Vegas favorite in this game for some reason.

Buccaneers (3-6) at Dolphins (4-5): Tampa Bay-This game was supposed to be in Week 1, but Hurricane Irma had other plans.  So instead, the Dolphins and Bucs lost their bye week.  Which, frankly, they could both use.  Miami played three straight prime time games for some reason and lost them all, getting crushed twice.  Tampa Bay hasn't been much better.  But they're at least coming off a win, even if it is over the Jets.  I don't know how the Dolphins are going to score, though, so I'll take Tampa.

Rams (7-2) at Vikings (7-2): Rams-When was the last time the best game of the week was a regional early game?  If this was FOX's doubleheader week, I'm sure they would've moved this one to 4:00, but alas, the most important game so far in the NFC playoff race will be seen only in Minnesota and Southern California.  Which is a shame.  Because the Rams are incredibly fun to watch, and the Vikings are just a good, solid team.  The Rams' next two games are against the Vikings and Saints, so that three-way tie at 7-2 will finally be settled.  LA needs to split to have any chance of getting a bye (not to mention holding off Seattle).  I think they can win both, though.  Their offense translates well anywhere, and I actually like the matchup against the Vikings' defense.

Redskins (4-5) at Saints (7-2): New Orleans-Why are people still not talking about the Saints?  Seven in a row and counting.  They absolutely smacked the Bills last week.  On the road.  Against a defense that isn't as bad as Drew Brees made them look.  Washington's defense is slightly better than Buffalo's.  But Drew Brees at home is something different entirely.  The Saints keep rolling.  They go marching on to 8-2.

Chiefs (6-3) at Giants (1-8): Kansas City-I don't think this is what the NFL and CBS were intending when they set this one up as the "marquee" early game in their doubleheader week.  The Chiefs have seen their lead in the AFC West become a little more comfortable not because of anything they've done, but because the Raiders and Broncos keep losing.  The Giants keep losing, too.  Last week's embarrassment in San Francisco was by far the lowest point in a dismal season.  Ben McAdoo won't be fired during the season, but he'd better start brushing up that resume.  Because come January 1, he'll be looking for employment elsewhere.  Oh, yeah, the Giants are unlikely to be favored in any game the rest of the way, so 1-15 is a real possibility.

Cardinals (4-5) at Texans (3-6): Arizona-Two teams that have had disappointing seasons meet in Houston.  Fun fact: the NHL is now considering Houston for its inevitable 32nd team.  Anyway, that has nothing to do with anything other than the fact I saw it the other day and found it interesting.  As for the game, I still don't know what type of team the Texans are supposed to be without DeShaun Watson and J.J. Watt.  While they search for their identity, the Cardinals are gonna come flying into Houston and get to .500.

Bills (5-4) at Chargers (3-6): Buffalo-Despite two straight losses, including a thorough beat down by the Saints last week, the Bills still currently hold the second wild card in the AFC.  The hard part of their schedule is coming up, though, making this week even more vital.  New England twice and Kansas City still await.  In order to avoid facing a must-win situation against those heavyweights, they need to win the games they're supposed to.  Like this one.

Bengals (3-6) at Broncos (3-6): Denver-It's funny.  The Giants are perhaps the only team in the NFL that's a bigger mess than Denver, yet it's the Giants' only win of the season (on a Sunday night at Mile High) that got the Broncos into this funk.  Cincinnati's also mired in a 3-6 hole, so something's gotta give.  With the game at Mile High, I'm leaning in a Denver direction.

Patriots (7-2) vs. Raiders (4-5): New England-Nueva Inglaterra did a very smart thing in preparation for this game.  They were just in Denver, so instead of going back East, they just stayed at altitude all week in advance of their matchup with the Raiders in Mexico City.  Sure, you have teams stay on the West Coast all week when they have back-to-back games out there, so this isn't a completely out-of-left-field idea, but it's still just another example of one of those things that make the Patriots the Patriots.  Evidently, it doesn't matter what country they're playing in, Robert Kraft and Bill Belichick are still going to out think you.

Eagles (8-1) at Cowboys (5-4): Philadelphia-Finally a Sunday night game that doesn't seem so completely random!  In fact, we're getting a Sunday night staple.  One of those classic NFC East rivalries.  Week two of Ezekiel Elliott suspension, which now at least has some clarity.  And it comes as the Cowboys are about to start a vital three-game homestand.  They're three games behind the Eagles, so they know that a Philadelphia win all but eliminates any chance they might have of repeating as division champions.  I think we'll see the Cowboys shifting their attention to the wild card, though.  Because, as we saw last week, they don't have a running game without Zeke.  It'll be interesting to hear what Tony Romo thinks of everything when he does the Cowboys-Chargers game on Thanksgiving.

Falcons (5-4) at Seahawks (6-3): Seattle-Every time we think we're gonna see the Seahawks from the last couple of years show up, something crazy happens.  Like last Thursday night.  They beat the Cardinals in those hideous fluorescent green uniforms, but lost two members of the Legion of Boom in the process.  Sounds like the perfect time for Atlanta to take advantage.  Although, the Falcons are still having trouble scoring.  And even a Seattle defense that's missing a few keys guys is still formidable.  Especially with the 12th Man going nuts on a Monday night.

Thursday Night: Pittsburgh (Win)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 9-5
Overall: 89-58

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Two Very Different MVPs

One is rather large.  The other is diminutive.  One crushes mammoth home runs and strikes out a lot.  The other hits the ball all over the place and rarely strikes out.  Yet they're the leading two candidates for AL MVP.  Proof that baseball players really do come in all shapes and sizes.

Aaron Judge took the baseball world by storm in 2017.  He went into Spring Training hoping to secure a starting job.  By the All*Star break, he was all anybody wanted to see or talk about.  Then in September, he went on an absolute tear, as the Yankees cruised to a wild card spot and ultimately Game 7 of the ALCS.  All of it amounted to a rookie home run record and a unanimous Rookie of the Year nod.

But it was a six-week swoon that cost Judge the chance at joining Fred Lynn and Ichiro as the only players to win Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.  Even with that six-week slump, Judge's numbers would still probably be enough to warrant MVP honors in any other year.  Except this year it likely won't.  Because of that tiny guy playing second base in Houston.

Perhaps more than any other player on the Astros' roster, Jose Altuve deserved to be part of a World Series winner this season.  He's been the face of that franchise for a long time.  He's the one who endured all the losing, only to now enjoy the spoils of that rebuild.  Altuve's also been one of the best players in the American League pretty much since the Astros came over to the AL.  Which is why it's fitting he'll get a long-overdue MVP award the same year he gets a World Series ring.  He led the AL in batting average and hits and ranked second in runs while playing an outstanding second base for a team that won 101 games.  He even stole bases, finishing third in the AL with 32!

Cleveland's Jose Ramirez was the third-place finisher in the American League, and deservedly so.  Because if not for Altuve and Judge, we'd be seriously talking about Ramirez and the season he put together.  In fact, he's not the only Indian who'll be in the top five of MVP voting.  Because Edwin Encarnacion was one of the main reasons why the 2017 edition of the Indians was better than 2016 version in a lot of ways.

It's also a Major League rule that Mike Trout must finish in the top 10 of MVP voting...even though he missed 50 games with a broken thumb.  I kid (only slightly), but there are still plenty of names worthy of a place on that 10-man ballot.  Like Nelson Cruz of the Mariners, Brian Dozier of the Twins, Justin Smoak of the Blue Jays, Eric Hosmer of the Royals.  Even World Series MVP George Springer, who had an awesome regular season, too.  And, even though Baltimore struggled, Jonathan Schoop had a pretty spectacular year.  You could make an argument for Chris Sale, too.

The top three are pretty clear.  As for the rest of my AL MVP ballot, it looks like this: 1. Altuve, 2. Judge, 3. Ramirez, 4. Encarnacion, 5. Cruz, 6. Springer, 7. Dozier, 8. Sale, 9. Hosmer, 10. Smoak.

Meanwhile, in the National League, the question facing the voters is how much value to place on the numbers put up in September by a guy whose team was out of it.  But those numbers were hard to ignore.  Giancarlo Stanton was hitting home runs at a ridiculous rate despite the fact that other teams' sole purpose when playing the Marlins was trying to stop him.  And they still couldn't do it!  He was a man on an island.  And he thrived.  It wasn't just the 59 homers or 132 RBIs either.  It was the 32 doubles and 123 runs while missing just three games.

Now there's the once-again ongoing debate about whether or not Stanton's going to still be in Miami next season.  None of that matters right now.  What does matter is that he was the best player in the National League this season.  And, in the absence of a close challenger on a contending team, the Marlins' record is easy to overlook.  Because Stanton put up MVP-type numbers that deserve to be rewarded.

I'm sure that probably angers some Diamondbacks fans, who are still waiting for the perennially underrated Paul Goldschmidt to get his due.  Sorry, but I don't think it's this year.  In fact, I've got him fourth on my ballot (more on that later).  Which is to take nothing away from the solid numbers he once again put up in the desert.

So who do I have above Goldschmidt?  Well, how about a pair of Colorado Rockies?  Like Goldschmidt, Nolan Arenado usually falls into that criminally unheralded territory.  Well, this year he finally broke out.  The World Baseball Classic certainly helped, and he followed it up with his first career All*Star start.  And why not?  He ended the season with a .309 average, 37 homers and 124 RBIs.  Meanwhile, his teammate Charlie Blackmon was my midseason MVP for the numbers he put up in the first half.  He cooled off a little bit in the second half, but still finished as the NL leader in hits (213), runs (137) and triples (14).  Blackmon also had 37 home runs and 104 RBIs...out of the leadoff spot.

And let's not forget the pitchers.  Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw receive MVP votes every year (including Kershaw's well-deserved win in 2014).  This year I think Kenley Jansen deserves a bunch, too.  (It's funny how closers have a better chance of getting MVP votes than Cy Young votes.)  And for good measure, let's throw in their Dodgers buddy Justin Turner, who'd probably garner a lot more support had he played more than 130 games.

At midseason, I was really feeling the Daniel Murphy MVP love, but, like Blackmon, he also cooled off considerably.  Still, 43 doubles and a .322 average are nothing to sneeze at.  And, let's not forget the fact that he's been mired in mediocrity in Cincinnati for all these years take anything away from Joey Votto.  Had the Reds been any better, his .320/36/100 would look a lot better.  And they still look pretty good.
While I don't think it's a lock, I think it's pretty clear at the top.  Stanton's the MVP.  Spots 2-10 are where you'll definitely see some variation, though.  Because there were a lot of names worth discussing in the National League.  For what it's worth, here's my top 10: 1. Stanton, 2. Arenado, 3. Blackmon, 4. Goldschmidt, 5. Votto, 6. Jansen, 7. Turner, 8. Kershaw, 9. Scherzer, 10. Murphy.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Cy Young Races

I have a feeling my streak might end here.  I went 4-for-4 on the Rookies and Managers of the Year, but I have no idea who's going to win the Cy Young.  I think it's pretty clear in the AL, but the NL is basically a coin flip between (who else?) Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw.  A convincing case can be made for either one, and I don't think the other would be a bad choice.

Before I go into the two main guys and make the hard choice between them, let's look at the others who will probably fill out a number of ballots, which made the NL Cy Young decision even harder this year.  We'll start with third-place finisher Stephen Strasburg, who finally pitched to his potential this season and gave the Nationals a true No. 2 behind Scherzer.  Strasburg went 15-4, ranked third in the NL in ERA (2.52) and was third in WHIP (1.02).  He also had 204 strikeouts, two more than a certain Dodgers lefty (albeit in one additional start).

Traditionally, it's been difficult for relievers to enter into the Cy Young discussion.  Zach Britton had an incredible season for the Orioles a few years ago and didn't come close, and Mariano Freakin' Rivera's highest Cy Young finish was second in 2005.  The last reliever to win the Cy Young was Eric Gagne in 2003, and he had to go 55-for-55 in save chances in order to get it.

Where am I going with this?  The current Dodgers' closer had a hell of a year, and if not for Scherzer and Kershaw being Scherzer and Kershaw, Kenley Jansen might've had a legitimate Cy Young chance.  He went 41-for-42 in save chances and had a 5-0 record.  Jansen's strikeouts (109), WHIP (0.75) and batting average against (.177) were all ridiculous for a guy who only pitched 68.1 innings.

They require five names on the Cy Young ballot, and the fifth name on mine is Arizona's Robbie Ray.  He only threw 162 innings, the minimum for ERA qualification and fewer than any of the other starters in the discussion.  But, Ray was 15-5, ranked fourth in ERA (2.89), held opponents to a .199 average and struck out 218, a rate of 12.1 per nine innings.  For a playoff team.

But the real question is whether it went Scherzer-Kershaw 1-2 or vice versa.  Scherzer threw 200 innings, led the league in strikeouts, batting average against and WHIP, and finished second (behind Kershaw) in ERA.  Kershaw, meanwhile, was vintage Kershaw.  He wasn't 2014 MVP Clayton Kershaw, but, if not for a DL stint, he might've been.  The Dodgers didn't lose a game he started from the beginning of May until after the All*Star break.  The league-leader in wins and ERA, he only walked 30 guys all year.  In 27 starts.  That's barely one per start!  And Kershaw still managed 200 strikeouts despite only pitching 175 innings.

Like I said, it's close.  So what will be the deciding factor?  Scherzer threw 25 extra innings and had four complete games to Kershaw's two.  But...Kershaw only had one bad start (except for Game 5 of the World Series), and the Dodgers were 23-4 in his starts.  Washington, meanwhile, was 21-10 with Scherzer on the mound.  They're both aces.  But they can't both win.  So, I give the nod to Kershaw.  Scherzer 2, Jansen 3, Strasburg 4, Ray 5.

Over in the American League, everyone thought Chris Sale had the Cy Young locked up in August.  Then the somebody changed the Klubot's battery and he became lights out down the stretch.  To the tune of 5-0 with a 0.84 ERA in September.  He gave up just four earned runs (and six runs total) and issued a mere three walks over his final six starts.  Overall, he finished 18-4 with a 2.25 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and .193 opponents batting average.  It was a bit of an upset when Kluber won the Cy Young in 2014.  It'll really be an upset if he doesn't win a second in 2017.

Which isn't to say Sale was a slouch.  His first year in Boston was awesome, which is why he looked like a lock for the season's first five months.  The sheer number of strikeouts (308) was mind-boggling, especially when you consider he only walked 43.  Sale's year was excellent.  It just wasn't as good as Kluber's.

Meanwhile, Luis Severino went from exiled to the bullpen at the end of 2016 to the Yankees' ace at the end of 2017.  His 14-6 record is deceiving because got a lot of no decisions in Yankee wins.  And Severino often went toe-to-toe with the opposing team's ace, and usually held his own.  The number speak for themselves anyway.  Severino emerged as one of the best pitchers in the American League this season.  He finished third in this year's Cy Young race, but it won't be too long before he wins one.

My ballot is filled out by Justin Verlander and Carlos Carrasco.  Verlander had a resurgent season going in Detroit when he was traded to Houston at literally the last minute, and he put the Astros over the top.  The Astros didn't lose a game he started until Game 6 of the World Series.  I know you can't base an entire season on one month.  But his September/October is still fresh in everyone's minds and was so good that it can't be ignored.  Carrasco, meanwhile, went 18-6, tying his teammate Kluber for the AL lead in wins.  He also had an undefeated September and was clearly the best No. 2 starter in the American League.  Carrasco ranked among the top five in strikeouts and WHIP, and he was sixth in ERA.

Kluber's the clear winner in the AL.  I've got Sale second, followed by Severino, Verlander and Carrasco.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Managing to Make the Playoffs

Unlike the ultra-suspenseful votes for the AL and NL Rookie of the Year, it's at least somewhat up in the air who's going to win the Manager of the Year awards.  Well, at least in the National League it's going to be a tight vote between a pair of NL West rivals that met in the Wild Card Game.  In the AL, you could easily make an argument for any of the three finalists (and a certain fired manager of a team that wears Pinstripes), but I think one clearly stands above the other two.

Most teams that lose Game 7 of the World Series (in extra innings) have a bit of a letdown the following season.  Not so for Terry Francona and the Indians.  Cleveland was even better in 2017, notching an AL-best 102 wins and putting together a ridiculous 22-game winning streak.

Like Cleveland, Houston was supposed to be good.  I just don't think anyone figured the Astros would be this good.  But they got off to a hot start and never looked back, winning the AL West by 21 games.  Yeah, the Astros are loaded with talent, but they don't win 101 games without the leadership of A.J. Hinch, which was on full display in the World Series.  The votes were cast before the World Series, so the Astros' title run doesn't count, but Hinch was as responsible for their success as Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa.

The fact that Joe Girardi isn't even a finalist relieves a potentially awkward situation (although, it would've been the second time that he won Manager of the Year and got fired in the same year).  I'd actually rank Girardi's managing job in 2017 above that of Francona's.  The Yankees were supposed to be a year or two away.  Instead, they went all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS against the eventual champions.

My choice in the American League, though, is the Twins' Paul Molitor.  Cleveland and Houston were supposed to be good, and the Yankees didn't completely catch everyone off guard.  Minnesota did.  The Twins won 59 games in 2016.  They were one of the worst teams in baseball.  This year they won 85 and made the playoffs (comfortably) with a largely unheralded cast that wasn't much different.  Molitor's a Hall of Fame player, and he's proving to be just as good a manager.

I'd be surprised if it isn't Molitor receiving the hardware.  He's the most deserving.  In fact, if I had a ballot, it would look like this: 1. Molitor, 2. Hinch, 3. Girardi.

Over in the National League, we know the Manager of the Year is coming out of the NL West.  And this one's got a little more competition.  Between Torey Lovullo and Bud Black. 

Dave Roberts, last year's winner, managed his way to a World Series loss (which doesn't count for Manager of the Year, so it won't be held against him).  But he also led the Dodgers to the best record in the Majors, including an insane 43-7 stretch and another 12-6 stretch to end the season right after they lost 16 of 17.  And did I mention how many players the Dodgers used this season?

He won't win for a second year in a row, though.  Because the jobs done by Lovullo and Black were simply better.  The Dodgers were supposed to be this good.  Arizona and Colorado weren't.  Yet they ended up meeting in the Wild Card Game.  Black's won this award before, after leading the Padres to second place and 90 wins in 2010.  Lovullo, meanwhile, lived up to all the potential everyone saw in him in his first season as a Major League manager.

Black took a Rockies team with all of its regular built-in challenges and won 87 games, as Colorado made the playoffs for the first time in a decade.  The Diamondbacks, though.  That really came out of pretty much nowhere, and Lovullo deserves a lot of credit for that.  Arizona flipped its record from 69-93 to 93-69, which was tied for the fifth-best record in baseball.  Both teams had star power, but with Colorado's lineup, you kinda figured they'd eventually be a contender.  As for the Diamondbacks, they had Paul Goldschmidt and not much else.

That's why my pick for NL Manager of the Year is Torey Lovullo.  The rookie manager pushed all the right buttons in leading Arizona to its first winning record and playoff appearance since 2011.  Is it as impressive as what Molitor did with the Twins?  No.  But it's just as unexpected.

A lot of people view Roberts as the favorite, but everyone knew the Dodgers would be good.  They didn't anticipate it from the Diamondbacks.  And the biggest difference with that team from last year to this year was its manager.  That's why my vote goes to Lovullo.  Black second, Roberts third, Milwaukee's Craig Counsell (my midseason choice) fourth.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Two Dominant Rookies

We've reached one of my favorite weeks of the year (at least from a blogging perspective).  It's MLB awards season.  For the next four days, the winners of Baseball's four major postseason awards will be announced, starting with the Rookies of the Year.  It's a good thing they're starting with the rookies.  Because we've all known who's going to win the Rookie of the Year awards since the All*Star break.

Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger both had historic rookie seasons.  Judge will be unanimous in the AL, and Bellinger will probably be unanimous in the NL.  That hasn't happened in 20 years.  Not even in 2001, when Albert and Ichiro were the Rookies of the Year, was the vote unanimous in both leagues (one AL voter put CC ahead of Ichiro that year).  Which speaks much more about the seasons Judge and Bellinger put together than the quality of the rookie class.

Andrew Benintendi and Trey Mancini are technically "finalists" in the AL, but I don't think they'll be waiting nervously for the phone to ring.  Benintendi was the projected AL Rookie of the Year by a lot of experts, many of whom never saw Judge coming, entering the season.  He had a solid year, so it's no surprise that he finished second.  Mancini finishing third was a bit of a surprise, but number three behind Benintendi really could've been anybody, and I'm sure there were plenty of rookies who got third-place votes (assuming Benintendi was a unanimous second).  Personally, I would've gone with Rafael Devers or Yuli Gurriel, but I have no problem with Mancini.  And, again, we all know that being considered a "finalist" is merely a formality.  Judge won the award.

Likewise, Bellinger won the award going away in the National League.  Josh Bell of the Pirates and the Cardinals' Paul DeJong.  I'm assuming Bell finished second and DeJong was third, but, again, the winner is obvious.  In fact, Bellinger's win might be even more obvious than Judge's.  He was head and shoulders above all other National League rookies, which is made even more remarkable when you consider he wasn't even called up until the end of April.

Bellinger is the latest in a long line of Dodger rookie standouts.  He'll be their 18th Rookie of the Year (twice as many as any other team in Baseball) and their second in a row after Corey Seager's win last season.  Bellinger will also likely become the third straight unanimous NL Rookie of the Year.  And rightfully so.  Because his 2017 campaign was simply outstanding.

He didn't figure into the Dodgers' original plans for this season, either.  Most people figured Bellinger would be a September call-up.  But an injury to Adrian Gonzalez pushed up his arrival to late April, and that's when the Dodgers took off.  They started just 9-11 before going on a ridiculous run that saw them flirting with the all-time wins record before cooling off and finishing at 104. 

And Bellinger was such a huge part of it that they couldn't take him out of the lineup.  First base, the outfield.  It didn't matter.  He played anywhere, setting an NL rookie record with 39 home runs in the process.  He also led the Dodgers with 97 RBIs.

For all the home runs Bellinger hit, that paled in comparison to Judge's total.  He belted 52 long balls, many of the tape-measure variety, to break Mark McGwire's rookie record.  For most of the season, he wasn't just the clear Rookie of the Year front-runner, he was a leading candidate for AL MVP (and if not for that terrible six-week stretch in July and August, he likely would've won both).  Judge was THE story in baseball for much of the season.  More than that, he was the FACE of baseball this season.

The last Yankee to win Rookie of the Year was some guy named Jeter in 1996.  His career turned out alright.  He wore Pinstripes for 20 years and won five World Series with the Yankees.  I'm not saying Aaron Judge will have the same type of career that Derek Jeter had.  But he seamlessly stepped into the role as the Face of the Yankees, a title that has been vacant since Jeter retired.

Coincidentally, one of Jeter's teammates on the Yankees dynasty in the late 90s was Clay Bellinger, Cody's dad.  Cody Bellinger, who put together a rookie season that would be talked about as one of the best ever if it didn't happen to take place in the same year as Aaron Judge's.  Either way, we'll be talking about both of their rookie campaigns as historic.

Their being crowned as the Rookies of the Year on Monday will be a mere formality.  The fact is Aaron Judge and Cody Bellinger both won the award months ago.  That's what happens when two of the best rookie years in Major League history happen to occur in the same season.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Football Picks, Week 10

It's Week 10.  Which means we're on the back end of the NFL schedule.  And games are going to start to take on extra importance as playoff contenders meet or those on the outside looking in try to make their push.  Then there are games like Giants-49ers.  But, the bad teams all have to play somebody, too, so it might as well be each other.  But even that one has some appeal for the Mike Mayocks and Mel Kiper, Jr.'s of the world.  They're playing for the better draft pick!  Woo hoo!

Saints (6-2) at Bills (5-3):
Buffalo-The Bills are currently holding on to a wild card spot, but the easiest part of their schedule is behind them.  That's why losing to the Jets last Thursday night really wasn't good if they want to finally make the playoffs in a year that starts with 20.  Meanwhile, the Saints are sitting in first place in the NFC South.  This really has the look of a must-win game for Buffalo, which still has the Chiefs and two with the Patriots left.  New Orleans is favored, but playing outdoors in crazy cold and terrible weather is not conducive to that offense.  I like the Bills.

Packers (4-4) at Bears (3-5): Chicago-We've had a couple glances at the Brett Hundley-led Packers.  And those glances haven't been impressive.  I think this will end up being a lost season in Green Bay.  I'm not even sure they can beat the Bears in their current state.  Especially since Chicago notched a pair of impressive wins over Baltimore and Carolina to their bye.

Browns (0-8) at Lions (4-4): Detroit-Detroit's in a tenuous position.  The Lions probably aren't going to make the playoffs.  But they're going to hang around until the very end.  And they're going to be a team no one wants to play down the stretch.  Cleveland, meanwhile, is still trying to figure out when and where that first win will come.  Don't forget whose record their challenging.  Question: when the Browns finally do win, will the 2008 Lions celebrate the same way the '72 Dolphins do every year?

Bengals (3-5) at Titans (5-3): Tennessee-Either Tennessee or Jacksonville is going to win the AFC South (they play each other in Week 17, so watch that be the Sunday night game).  The Titans have been on the verge for the past couple years, and this might be their opportunity to shine.  Before their bye, they won back-to-back games against not good teams in very different ways.  They won a shootout against Indy, then needed overtime in a 12-9 barn burner in Cleveland.  Good teams find different ways to win.  Even if they don't have a good day against a bad team.  And that's exactly what the Titans have done this season.

Steelers (6-2) at Colts (3-6): Pittsburgh-Andrew Luck's season is over, and he's headed to Europe to get a second opinion about his shoulder.  Although, just as I was moving the Colts into Browns-49ers territory, they went and got a road win in Houston last week, so maybe they aren't complete pushovers after all.  Which means the Steelers better be careful.  Pittsburgh's coming off its bye, though.  Which means a rested Steelers offense ready to put up some points.

Jets (4-5) at Buccaneers (2-6): Jets-Remember that bold prediction I made at the beginning of the season that Tampa Bay would be a playoff team?  Yeah, I was wrong.  They haven't won since Week 4, when they needed a last-second field goal against New York's other "football" team.  Do I think this one is winnable for the Bucs?  Yes.  Do I think they will win?  No.

Vikings (6-2) at Redskins (4-4): Minnesota-Interesting move by the Vikings to activate Teddy Bridgewater.  It made sense to put Bradford on IR, but I didn't think they would activate Bridgwater if they didn't intend for him to play, and making a quarterback change right now would be plain stupid.  The Vikings have a two-game lead in their division and can realistically think about a first-round bye.  They shouldn't mess with what's been working.  Especially against a Washington team that has all kinds of confidence after winning in Seattle last week.

Chargers (3-5) at Jaguars (5-3): Jacksonville-Jacksonville is in the very unfamiliar position of actually having meaningful games to play in November and December.  And the Jaguars have a chance to beef up their record over the next two weeks, as they take on the Chargers and Browns.  The Chargers are actually a lot better than their record indicates.  But I think they'll probably end up in the same situation as usual.  Competitive game, comes down to the last few minutes, the other team finds a way to beat them.

Texans (3-5) at Rams (6-2): Rams-Seattle was still considered the favorites in the NFC West until everything that happened on Thursday night.  As it is, the first-place Rams have a chance to maintain that division lead in a matchup that would've been much cooler if it took place on the Sunday of the World Series.  But we'll just have to settle for getting it now.  Which is fine.  Because we'll still get a chance to watch Jared Goff and that Rams offense have all sorts of fun, just like they did last week at the Meadowlands.  (Finally what we're talking about with this team is the product on the field instead of all the people not in the stands to witness it.)

Cowboys (5-3) at Falcons (4-4): Dallas-After weeks of will he or won't he, it looks like we finally have a resolution on the Ezekiel Elliott suspension.  Sure, the timing of it is bad, especially since the Cowboys are on a roll, but it's better to have it happen now than run into the playoffs.  Which are a real possibility for Dallas again.  The Cowboys have won three straight and are right back in the thick of things.  The Falcons, meanwhile, look to have that Super Bowl hangover we all predicted.

Giants (1-7) at 49ers (0-9): Giants-When was the last time a Giants-49ers game meant absolutely nothing?  In the 80s and 90s, this once-marquee matchup was always reserved for Monday night.  Now it's the No. 5 regional game on FOX that no one will actually be able to watch (except us lucky ones in New York!) because it's on the same network as the national game at the same time.  This might be San Francisco's best chance to actually get a win.  If they do, Eli Manning deserves to get benched.

Patriots (6-2) at Broncos (3-5): New England-For all their success in the Bradicheck Era, Sports Authority Field has been a house of horrors for the Patriots.  The Broncos simply seem to have their number, especially in Denver.  We all remember that Sunday night game two years ago when Brock Osweiler beat them in the snow.  The Patriots remember it, too.  And we all know what happens when New England is out to prove something.

Dolphins (4-4) at Panthers (6-3): Carolina-Apparently the NFL thinks America really wants to watch the Dolphins.  Miami gets to play in prime time for the third straight week, this time with a Monday night trip to Charlotte.  The first two didn't go that well.  Although, they were at least competitive against the Raiders, so I'll give them that.  Can they make it 0-for-3 against the Panthers?  Probably.  Carolina's been playing some good football and should go into its bye at 7-3.  They'll also know whether or not the Saints lost.  And if first place is on the line, you know they'll really come to play.  Either way, it's bad news for the Dolphins.

Thursday Night: Seattle (Win)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 7-6
Season: 80-53

Saturday, November 11, 2017

BYU & the Big 12: It Makes Too Much Sense

As another college basketball season dawns, we once again have to get used to a bunch of schools in new conferences.  The biggest change this season is Wichita State's move from the Missouri Valley to the American, with Valparaiso replacing them in the Missouri Valley.  The Big 12, meanwhile, continues to hold strong at 10, even though that represents the smallest membership of any Power 5 conference.

I don't think there's a person out there who doesn't think the Big 12's name will be accurate again some point soon.  They proclaim to be happy with 10, but have also been actively engaged in expansion talks with a number of schools.  Big 12 expansion is going to happen.  Probably sooner rather than later.  And there's one school that would be a perfect fit on a number of levels.

Let's bring this back to football for a minute, since we all know football (specifically football money) is what drives everything in major college athletics.  Until this year, the NCAA rule was that you had to have 12 teams in order to have a football championship game.  That meant the Big 12 was the only Power 5 conference without enough teams to have one.  They were OK with that until the College Football Playoff started...with the Big 12 teams sitting at home and watching as the champions of the other four major conferences got a chance to pad their resumes.

Make no mistake, this rule change was designed solely to help the Big 12.  Because as soon as the rule change was announced, the Big 12 announced that they were once again going to hold a football championship game starting this season.  The last time they had a championship game, they had 12 members and two divisions.  Don't be surprised when that happens again.

If the Big 12 does expand, the Texas schools all want Houston to join.  That makes total sense.  Houston is within the Big 12 footprint and had longstanding rivalries with many Big 12 schools back when they were all in the Southwest Conference.  Plus, Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, and the Big 12 has been absent in the Houston market since Texas A&M bolted for the SEC.

But Houston's not the school I'm talking about.  I'm talking about the school that would be Houston's expansion partner.  BYU.  BYU checks off all the boxes.  It would be stupid for the Big 12 not to see that.  And it would be stupid for BYU not to see that.

BYU is the biggest college football fish out there not already in a Power 5 conference.  Their fan base is huge, and they have a national following.  They left the Mountain West to become a football independent for a number of reasons, one of which was scheduling freedom.  But I've checked out BYU's football schedules over the past couple of seasons.  And it's not like they play Notre Dame's schedule.  They wouldn't exactly be hurt by swapping out San Jose State and UMass for Texas and Oklahoma.  They'd also gain access to the Big 12's bowl games, another plus.

A move to the Big 12 would help all of BYU's other sports, as well.  When they moved out of the Mountain West, they joined the West Coast Conference in all other sports.  And it's ridiculous how much BYU dominates in the WCC.  Everyone knows the Big 12 is a stronger conference.  BYU wouldn't dominate, but they wouldn't be in over their heads, either.  And the recruiting boon would be felt across the board.  BYU would still be good at all the sports they're already good at.  And they'd probably become good in the ones they aren't.  They'll be better just by being in the Big 12.

There's another incentive for BYU to join the Big 12.  BYU TV.  Every other major conference either already has its own TV network or has one in the works.  The Big 12 doesn't.  Because the conference doesn't have its own network, Texas is able to have the Longhorn Network.  (That's one of the reasons they stayed in the Big 12.)  Likewise, BYU would be able to enjoy the best of both worlds.  They'll get to reap the benefits of their own network while also reaping the benefits of the Big 12 conference deal.

That conference deal should be the biggest reason why BYU would be an attractive candidate for the Big 12.  When those conference rights are back up for negotiation, think of how much better the conference's position will be if they were to add both the Houston and Salt Lake City markets.  They'd also be selling the prospects of Texas-BYU and BYU-Oklahoma football games, which you know would be incredibly appealing to any network.  The resulting increased rights fees would make splitting the revenue 12 ways instead of 10 much easier for everyone to handle, as well (the Big 12 doesn't distribute money evenly anyway, Texas and Oklahoma get more).

To me, it seems like a no-brainer.  BYU should be in the Big 12.  It would be good for them.  It would be good for the conference.  It's really too obvious not to do it.  This would be a smart move all the way around.  Which is why it needs to happen sooner rather than later.