Wednesday, November 19, 2014

He Still Doesn't Get It

After bungling their handling of the Ray Rice situation so badly, the NFL did the right thing and suspended Adrian Peterson without pay for the rest of the season.  He can't even apply for reinstatement until April 15.  Yet according to Peterson and his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, this punishment was too harsh.  Too harsh!?  They're kidding, right?

Throughout this entire ordeal, Adrian Peterson has proven that he simply doesn't get it.  He beat his four-year-old child with a switch.  Peterson claims he was merely "disciplining" his son.  Well, that would be fine if the police hadn't gotten involved.  When they deem it was serious enough to press child abuse charges, it's a pretty clear indication that Peterson went too far.  Regardless of whatever explanation Peterson tries to offer, he was indicted for child abuse.  The fact that he copped a plea deal is completely irrelevant.

Despite the pending charges in Texas, the Vikings actually allowed Peterson to play against the Patriots in Week 2.  And if that wasn't bad enough, Vikings fans showed absolutely no class and incredibly poor taste by coming to the game wearing their Peterson jerseys and bringing their homemade "switches" with them.  It was only after the incredible backlash that Peterson and the Vikings agreed he'd be placed on the commissioner's exempt list until the legal situation was resolved.  In other words, he was suspended with pay.  That alone is a joke.

Then Peterson agreed to his plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge.  As a result, his time on the Commissioner's Exempt List came to an end.  And in Peterson's mind, that meant he'd be free to rejoin the Vikings.  Further proof that Adrian Peterson's world is completely different than the world that the rest of us live in.  I really do think he truly believes he hasn't done anything wrong.

The problem is, there was no way Roger Goodell was going to let him play again this season.  Everyone knew that.  Except apparently for Adrian Peterson.  In Peterson's mind, being off the exempt list equaled reinstatement.  That's not even close to what the NFL said.  The NFL said that they weren't going to take any action until the case was resolved.  Once it was, Peterson was suspended, without pay, for the rest of the season under the personal conduct policy.

But Peterson couldn't accept that.  He's crying foul.  Through the NFLPA (which I don't blame for acting on the behalf of one of its union members), he filed a grievance, claiming, among other things, that he was promised by an NFL executive the time on the exempt list would count as time served when considering any league discipline.  They also claimed that the NFL was inconsistent in its ruling, citing the incredibly light two-game ban Rice initially received.  Never mind the fact that the personal conduct policy was rewritten in wake of the Rice saga and the minimum suspension is now six games.  All of this, they argued, was a violation of the CBA and he should be reinstated immediately.

Peterson had a hearing scheduled with the NFL.  He didn't bother to attend.  Another sign that he doesn't get how serious this situation actually is.  Goddell said exactly that in his letter to Peterson, expressing concern that he doesn't fully appreciate the "seriousness of his conduct."  Goddell added: "You have shown no meaningful remorse for your conduct.  When indicted, you acknowledged what you did but said that you would not eliminate 'whooping my kids' and defended your conduct in numerous published text messages to the child's mother.  You also said that you felt 'very confident with my actions because I know my intent.'  These comments raise the serious concern that you do not fully appreciate the seriousness of your conduct, or even worse, that you may feel free to engage in similar conduct in the future."

He immediately appealed the suspension.  The arbitrator, Shyam Das (the same guy who was famously fired my MLB for overturning Ryan Braun's suspension) ruled in favor of the NFL.  He explained that, in his opinion, the league didn't violate either the letter agreement or the CBA.  As a result, he remains on the exempt list until his appeal can be heard.  More importantly, he stays off the football field, which is the last place he belongs.

Adrian Peterson may be right about one thing.  The NFL might be looking to make an example of him after how badly they screwed up with Ray Rice.  So what?  That doesn't make Peterson a victim, which is what he would have you believe.  The victim here is the defenseless four-year-old boy.  Not the 30-year-old professional football player.

What Ray Rice did was bad.  He deserved to be suspended.  So did Adrian Peterson.  Especially because what Peterson did was worse.  The sooner he gets that, the better.  Then maybe he'll get some sympathy from me.

We're a society built on second chances.  I don't think Adrian Peterson should be denied the opportunity to play in the NFL again.  But he doesn't deserve that opportunity yet.  Especially since he doesn't even comprehend what's going on.  A second chance?  How about getting a clue first?  Once you do that, then we'll talk.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Rest of Week 11

Things are starting to get interesting in the NFL.  During the Bills-Dolphins game on Thursday night, they flashed up a graphic with the AFC playoff picture and 12 teams were on it.  That's right.  Midway through the season, only the Raiders, Jets, Jaguars and Titans have no chance at making the playoffs in the AFC.  And the Steelers and Ravens are tied for last place in the AFC North at 6-4, while New Orleans, the first-place team in the NFC South is 4-5!  Crazy stuff.

At least some of this madness will start to get settled out soon.  This week we've got some good ones that might prove to be very important down the road.

Thursday Night: Miami (Win)

Vikings (4-5) at Bears (3-6): Minnesota-So...I've officially given up on Chicago.  The Bears are winless at home, but were at least respectable in road games.  Then they went to Lambeau and got shellacked by the Packers.  This team's not as good as I originally thought.  I won't have any confidence in the Bears' ability to win a home game until they actually show me they can.

Texans (4-5) at Browns (6-3): Cleveland-It's mid-November and the Cleveland Browns are in first place.  And their schedule continues to be favorable.  I was skeptical when they hired him, but right now I'd have to say Mike Pettine is one of the leading candidates for Coach of the Year.  This week's opponent is J.J. Watt and Houston, and the Texans need to find a way to steal this one if they want to stay in the playoff hunt.  Will they be able to do that?  I'm not so sure.

Seahawks (6-3) at Chiefs (6-3): Seattle-This is one of those big matchups this week I was talking about.  The Chiefs are a-comin'.  They've won four in a row.  The defending champs have won three straight.  But they're both in second place behind very good teams in Denver and Arizona.  The loser here might be looking at a wild card at best.  With Carson Palmer's injury, the Seahawks smell blood in the water.  They'll go into Kansas City and get the victory.

Broncos (7-2) at Rams (3-6): Denver-Speaking of the Broncos, they head to St. Louis.  Ever since Peyton came to town, Denver has been remarkably consistent.  The Broncos simply don't lose to teams they should beat.  Yes, they're 7-2.  But their losses are to Seattle and New England.  Not exactly bad losses.  The Rams beat the Seahawks, but they play them all the time.  The Broncos they don't.  Denver should win pretty handily.

Bengals (5-3-1) at Saints (4-5): New Orleans-Good news, Bengals fans!  The game's not in primetime, so there's a chance!  Except going to New Orleans ain't exactly easy, the Saints' loss to the 49ers last week notwithstanding.  The Saints being in first place isn't weird.  Them being in first place with a losing record is.  Hopefully New Orleans pulls it out and we don't have another week with a sub-.500 first place team.

49ers (5-4) at Giants (3-6): San Francisco-The 49ers might've saved their season with last week's victory in New Orleans.  The Giants need to win this one in order to save theirs.  They've lost four straight and the schedule's not getting any easier.  This is the game during this run of playoff teams that I think they've got a chance at stealing.  I'm picking San Francisco, but I'm not counting the Giants out.

Buccaneers (1-8) at Redskins (3-6): Washington-Just like the Giants, Lovie Smith's Tampa Bay Bucs badly need a win.  Last week's game against Atlanta looked to be their chance, but they ended up dropping that one pretty handily.  Now they get the Redskins.  Problem is it's in Washington.  When two not-good teams face each other crazy things can happen, but I've gotta think Washington's got the upper hand.

Falcons (3-6) at Panthers (3-6-1): Carolina-It's been a strange journey for the 2014 Carolina Panthers.  They were 3-2.  They're 0-4-1 since, and they have four straight losses since the tie.  They're clearly headed in the wrong direction.  With that being said, four of Carolina's last six games are in the division, which is great for them, and it gives them plenty of opportunity to get back to the top of the NFC South.  I'll take the Panthers at home.

Raiders (0-9) at Chargers (5-4): San Diego-The Raiders are still talking to San Antonio about moving.  Because Mark Davis is evidently as senile as his dad and can't use simple logic to realize that LA just makes way too much sense.  That's why they're 0-9.  Make that 0-10.  The franchise is simply clueless.

Eagles (7-2) at Packers (6-3): Philadelphia-One of the marquee games of the week will probably go a long way in determining playoff positioning in the NFC.  They're both on a roll.  They've each won four of their last five.  This is one of the first big tests for Philadelphia, too.  Keep in mind they haven't played the Cowboys yet.  The Packers are favored (as they should be), but I can see the Eagles going into Lambeau and pulling out the victory.

Lions (7-2) at Cardinals (8-1): Arizona-Little did FOX know when they moved Eagles-Packers to 4:00 that Lions-Cardinals was going to be just as marquee a matchup.  This is Arizona's first game since Carson Palmer was lost for the season, so let's see how much of an impact that has on the team with the best record in football.  Taking on the Lions defense isn't exactly the most fun thing to do when you have your starting quarterback, let alone your backup.  Huge game.  Winner has the inside track towards at the very least a first round bye, if not home field advantage in the NFC (or, in the Cardinals' case, the entire postseason).  In Arizona, I give the slight edge to the home team.

Patriots (7-2) at Colts (6-3): Indianapolis-This matchup has lost some of its cache ever since Peyton went to Denver.  Brady vs. Luck isn't quite at that level yet.  This is a huge one, though.  The Patriots are on a roll.  They've scored a lot of points during their five-game winning streak.  Except the only good team they've beaten during this run was Denver, who they had the chance to play at home.  That will probably matter down the road, just like the Colts' loss to the Broncos could have a bearing on postseason seeding.  But if the Colts beat the Patriots, they'll all have three losses and be 1-1 against each other.  That could make things very interesting in the AFC the rest of the way.  Andrew Luck likes the spotlight.  The Patriots need a reality check.  That adds up to a Colts victory on Sunday night.

Steelers (6-4) at Titans (2-7): Pittsburgh-Losing to the Jets was a very Steelers thing to do.  Every time you start thinking Pittsburgh is on the rise, they go and lose a game they really have no business losing.  Roethlisberger was unstoppable for two straight weeks.  Then they go and lose to the Jets?  You can't do that and expect to win a division as competitive as the AFC North.  They really can't afford to slip up again in Nashville on Monday night.

BYE: Baltimore (6-4), Dallas (7-3), Jacksonville (1-9), Jets (2-8)

This Week: 1-0
Last Week: 8-5
Season: 95-52-1

Thursday, November 13, 2014

2014 MVPs

It's been a long time since a pitcher was named National League MVP.  It was so long ago that there were only 20 teams in the Majors, the postseason consisted of just the World Series, and man had yet to walk on the Moon.  Bob Gibson took home the honors in 1968, when he had an otherworldly 1.12 ERA in the "Year of the Pitcher." 

After 46 years, that's going to change.  Because anyone who doesn't think Clayton Kershaw was the most dominant, most important, most valuable player in all of baseball in the year 2014 either doesn't know what they're talking about or only saw him giving up Cardinals home runs in the Division Series.  And don't give me any of that "pitchers shouldn't be MVP" crap.  The rules say they're allowed to, and Justin Verlander won in the AL three years ago, so there goes that argument.

Any knowledgeable baseball fan knows that this year's NL MVP race shouldn't even be close.  In fact, it should be almost as unanimous as his Cy Young.  Because even if you don't think pitchers should be MVP, you can't argue with Kershaw's impact on the Dodgers' season. 

His pitching stats stand by themselves.  That's why he won his second straight Cy Young unanimously.  But his pitching stats aren't even the reason why Kershaw should be the runaway choice as National League Most Valuable Player.  The Dodgers went 20-1 over his final 21 starts, and ended up 20 games over .500 over the whole season in games Kershaw started.  They finished 94-68, which means they were only six games over in the games he didn't start.  So, Clayton Kershaw simply being on the field gave the Dodgers a better chance of winning than when he wasn't.  Without him, they don't win the division and they probably don't even make the playoffs.  They're just another slightly above-average team.

That's not to take anything away from the other two finalists.  Giancarlo Stanton perhaps could've given Kershaw a run for his money had he not missed the final three weeks of the season after that horrific hit by pitch on September 11.  The most feared offensive player in the NL still ended up leading the league with 37 home runs, and he finished second in RBIs.  And he's the only guy in the Marlins lineup, which means Stanton gets the Barry Bonds treatment a lot of the time.

Andrew McCutchen was a deserving winner last season, and he's a finalist again this year.  He's the main reason for this Pirates renaissance that has resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances after 21 straight losing seasons.  Like Stanton, McCutchen was great this season.  In any other year, their performance might've been MVP-worthy.  But everything they did pales in comparison to Clayton Kershaw.  He had a regular season for the ages.

Clayton Kershaw had a special season, and he's going to make history.  He'll not only become the first National League pitcher to win MVP in 46 years, he'll become the first left-handed pitcher to win since the Tigers' Guillermo Hernandez in 1984 and the first lefty starter to be named MVP since Vida Blue in 1971 (and the first NL lefty since a certain former Dodger in 1963).  It'll also be the first time since the Rookie of the Year was first awarded in 1947 that a National League position player didn't win a single postseason award (although that has happened four times in the American League, including 2011).

Speaking of the American League, it looks like the Tigers' MVP streak is going to end at three.  That's because Miguel Cabrera decided to roam amongst us mere mortals in 2014.  And as a result, Mike Trout won't finish second to him this year.  After finishing second behind Cabrera in each of his first two Major League seasons, it looks like the third time's the charm for Trout to finally win his first MVP award.  The funny part is that this might've been the third-best season of his career.  But this was also the year that Mike Trout made his postseason debut, as the Angels put together the best record in baseball.

Trout should be almost as much of a runaway as Kershaw, maybe more.  It's been fairly obvious that he's going to win for a while now that the only real question regarding the AL MVP race was who's going to finish second to Trout.  And I've gotta admit, I was surprised by the other two finalists.  Victor Martinez of the Tigers and Michael Brantley of the Indians.  Where's Nelson Cruz?  Where's Robinson Cano?  Where's Jose Altuve?  Where's Jose Abreu?

Don't get me wrong, Martinez and Brantley certainly did their part in justifying their roles as finalists.  V-Mart proved his value every day.  And perhaps the most important thing he did was force Tigers opponents to pitch to Miggy by offering the type of protection that Prince Fielder didn't.  Martinez also crushed 32 homers for good measure.  Brantley, meanwhile, had his breakout season for the Indians.  He had 200 hits, 40 doubles, 20 homers and 20 steals, becoming the first hitter in Cleveland history to do that.

I'm not saying these guys don't deserve to be finalists.  I'd just have them a little lower on my 10-man ballot.  In fact, here's what it would look like in the AL: 1. Trout, 2. Cruz, 3. Martinez, 4. Abreu, 5. Brantley, 6. Cano, 7. Altuve, 8. Cabrera, 9. Josh Donaldson, 10. Jose Bautista.  And in the NL: 1. Kershaw, 2. Stanton, 3. McCutchen, 4. Adrian Gonzalez, 5. Madison Bumgarner, 6. Matt Carpenter, 7. Adam LaRoche, 8. Buster Posey, 9. Justin Morneau, 10. Freddie Freeman.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

2014 Cy Youngs

I don't know who the other two finalists for NL Cy Young are.  Nor do I care.  If the postseason counted, Madison Bumgarner would perhaps give Clayton Kershaw a run for his money.  But it doesn't.  So he won't.  Kershaw is going to win so unanimously, it's not even worth pretending somebody else has a chance.

He was the most dominant player in baseball this year.  That's why he's most likely going to take home major hardware two days in a row.  And he deserves to.  Because as great as Justin Verlander's 2011 Cy Young/MVP season was, Kershaw's 2014 was that much better.  If they were allowed to, I bet some of the voters would put Kershaw both first and second on their ballot.  His second straight Cy Young (and third in four years) will be unanimous, and his MVP might be close.

For what it's worth, the battle for second place is between Adam Wainwright and Johnny Cueto.  Wainwright may get the better of Kershaw in the playoffs, but when it comes to the Cy Young race, he plays second fiddle to the Dodgers lefty.  This is the fourth time in six years that he'll finish in the top three, and probably the third time in four years that he'll finish second to Kershaw.  Cueto will likely be third.  He went 20-9 with a 2.25 ERA and led the National League in strikeouts, but his body of work for a Reds team that failed to make the playoffs simply doesn't stack up.

The only real suspense on Cy Young day comes over in the American League, where it's King Felix against Corey Kluber and Chris Sale.  In this one, who's going to win is actually a mystery.  It's really anybody's guess.  Perhaps the most interesting thing about this trio is that none of their teams made the playoffs, making this much more of a wild card.

Felix Hernandez looks like the favorite, and he'd get my vote.  A couple years ago, he won the Cy Young on a last-place Mariners team, which I strongly disagreed with.  But this year, I'll have no problem with it.  The Mariners were actually relevant this year.  He wasn't pitching in meaningless games from July on.  Quite the contrary actually.  He started Game 162, which Seattle needed to win if they were to have any chance of forcing a one-game playoff to get into the Wild Card Game.

Even though Seattle came up just short, he pitched like the ace he is.  It would've been nice to see Felix Hernandez finally pitching in the playoffs (although, the Mariners likely would've lost the Wild Card Game without him pitching), but he might get that chance next year.  As for 2014, he was his usual dominant stuff.  King Felix's record was just 15-6, but that can be overlooked because of his league-leading 2.14 ERA, under-1.00 WHIP and career-high strikeout total.  Even more impressive, he pitched his best within the division, which featured a pair of playoff teams.

Kluber, meanwhile, came out of nowhere to notch a league-leading 18 wins for Cleveland.  He was also second in the AL in strikeouts.  I saw him pitch on Paul O'Neill Day at Yankee Stadium, and he was completely dominant in a 10-strikeout performance.  From off the radar entirely to a Cy Young finalist.  Not a bad year for Corey Kluber.  But it doesn't compare to Felix Hernandez's.

Our third finalist is Chris Sale, who we might be talking about as the likely winner if he hadn't missed six weeks early in the season.  Because of that, he made only 26 starts.  But he was sooooooo good in those 26 starts, going 12-4 with a 2.17 ERA.  Give Chris Sale a full season and he will win a Cy Young Award.  It's not going to happen this year, though.  It wouldn't be fair to the other two to give it to a guy that missed that much time.

So, it turns out there might not actually be that much suspense in the AL after all.  It won't be as much of a runaway as Kershaw's victory, but I fully expect Felix Hernandez to win his second Cy Young Award.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

2014 Managers of the Year

Neither of the Rookie of the Year races brought much suspense.  Jose Abreu was unanimous and Jacob de Grom went in as the prohibitive favorite, although the margin was wider than I expected.  But the Managers of the Year?  That's anybody's guess.  Buck Showalter and Bruce Bochy are the favorites, but I'm not sure either one is a lock.  Especially in the AL, I expect the Manager of the Year vote to be the closest of the entire awards season.

All three finalists in the American League are deserving of the award.  A lot of people were calling for Mike Scioscia to be fired at the end of last season.  Then this season, he saw Oakland race out to a seemingly insurmountable lead in the AL West thru the All*Star Break.  But the Angels, despite a makeshift rotation, quietly chipped away at Oakland's lead and ended up with the best record in baseball.  Of course, many people have been expecting this out of Anaheim for a couple years, but you can't discount the job Scioscia did this year.

In any other year, we'd be talking about Mike Scioscia as a serious contender for AL Manager of the Year.  But, in 2015, he finished third.  This is a two-horse race between Buck Showalter and Ned Yost.  And, really, I'd be OK with either winning.

Buck Showalter almost won Manager of the Year honors after leading the Orioles to the wild card in 2012.  This year he took it a step further.  The Orioles won the AL East for the first time since 1997.  Despite having Chris Tillman as their No. 1 starter.  Despite losing their starting catcher to Tommy John surgery, their starting third baseman to a knee injury and their starting first baseman to stupidity.  Yet, this team that seemingly did nothing other than hit home runs and win walk-offs, never went away, winning a division that includes the Yankees and Red Sox and finishing with the second-best record in the AL.

A vote for Buck Showalter would be completely fine with me.  He did an amazing job in Baltimore this season and would certainly be a deserving winner.  But this choice is so close that it's almost a coin flip.  And my vote would go to the other guy.

This is nothing against Buck Showalter or how great a job he did this season.  But I'm going with Yost for a couple reasons.  Mainly, he changed the culture in Kansas City.  The Orioles were in the playoffs two years ago, so it didn't really surprise anyone that they were this good.  The Royals came out of nowhere.  Most people expected the Tigers to run away with the AL Central, but Kansas City wouldn't go away and Detroit had to wait until the last day to clinch. 

But most importantly, the Royals ended their 29-year playoff drought.  And Yost deserves a lot of the credit for that.  It all finally came together for a team and a city that had gotten so used to losing.  Ned Yost was a big part of that.  Voting was done after the regular season, so the Royals' run to Game 7 of the World Series doesn't count, but in my opinion, that doesn't matter.  The Kansas City Royals were the story of baseball this season.  Ned Yost should be the AL Manager of the Year.  Showalter a close second, Scioscia third.

Over in the National League, it's Bruce Bochy against two of the guys he beat in the playoffs, Clint Hurdle and Matt Williams.  Amazingly, Bochy has never won Manager of the Year before, so some are viewing this as somewhat of a lifetime achievement award.  But if we're only considering the regular season, I'm not sure Bochy's the way I would go. 

He worked wonders with that mix-and-match starting rotation and masterfully got around key injury after key injury.  But it looked for a while like the Giants and their archrival Dodgers were the two best teams in the National League, and we were looking forward to a great pennant race between the two.  Except San Francisco collapsed in September and ended up as the road team in the Wild Card Game.  Of course, it was an even-numbered year, so San Francisco won the World Series anyway, but, as I said before, the postseason doesn't count.  If it did, it would be the lefty that pitches for Bochy's team that we'd be talking about as MVP.

Clint Hurdle won last year and got the Pirates back to the postseason again, where they lost to the aforementioned Mr. Bumgarner in the Wild Card Game.  This might start to become a regular thing.

My vote wouldn't go to Hurdle either, though.  It would go to the former Giant, Matt Williams.  The job he did is very similar to the one Buck did across the Beltway.  So why do I think Williams deserves Manager of the Year and Buck doesn't?  Well, for starters, it's apples and oranges.  I also didn't say Buck doesn't deserve to win.  I just said Yost deserves to win it more.  But anyway, back to Williams.  He was a rookie manager, so that must be taken into consideration.  And he took a team loaded with talent to the best record in the National League, better than even the Dodgers team that most people thought was the Major Leagues' best.  The Nationals had that best record despite losing both Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman for extended periods.

Every button Matt Williams pushed this season worked.  And what he did was made even more impressive by the fact that he was the new kid on the block.  In a year where nobody really stood out head and shoulders above the others, I'll also give him credit for leading his team to the best record.

Bochy's probably going to win, if for no other reason than the fact that he's headed to Cooperstown (that was locked up with the third championship in five years), yet has never been Manager of the Year.  Even though this wasn't his best managing job.  I'd place Bochy second on my ballot, behind Williams and in front of Hurdle.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 Rookies of the Year

MLB awards season is here, which means it's time for my annual breakdown of the hardware that will be handed out on MLB Network each day this week.  It all starts on Monday with the Rookie of the Year Awards, two votes that have very little suspense.  The Mets' Jacob de Grom and Jose Abreu of the White Sox are going to win.  But just because I'm conceding that point doesn't mean that's necessarily the way my hypothetical vote went.

Let's start in the American League, where it's been a foregone conclusion that Abreu would win since the All*Star break.  It wasn't such a lock in the beginning of the season.  For the first three months, it was a two-horse race between Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka.  Tanaka was even being touted as the possible AL Cy Young Award winner at the All*Star break.  But after Tanaka got hurt, it was clear this award was going to Abreu.  It's going to be as much of a runaway as it was for Wil Myers last year and Mike Trout the year before.  It'll be a shock if it's not unanimous.

Since August, the only question surrounding the AL Rookie of the Year race was who would finish second.  I bet there are still a lot of voters who put Tanaka somewhere on their ballots, but it wouldn't have been fair to the other rookies to do that.  But as the season went on and the Yankees continued to struggle, I got to thinking about another Yankees pitcher who was making a strong case for himself.  And sure enough, Dellin Betances is one of the finalists.  Because he deserves to be.  I'd bet he finished second.  That's where he would've been on my ballot.

I was pretty sure Betances would be a finalist, but who would be the third one?  Well, it's Angels starter Matt Shoemaker.  I didn't really know much about Shoemaker until late in the year, but he ended up 16-4 for the team that had the best record in baseball.  The Angels had so many injuries to their rotation that Shoemaker ended up their No. 2 starter by the end of the season.  Definitely deserving of being a finalist, but he likely finished third.

If you were to handicap the eight award races and rank them from 1-8 in terms of which one is the biggest lock, Jose Abreu for AL Rookie would probably be No. 2 behind Clayton Kershaw for NL Cy Young.  (It's even more of a lock than Kershaw for MVP.)  I think my "vote" will probably fall in line with the actual voters: 1. Abreu, 2. Betances, 3. Shoemaker.  I'm a little surprised George Springer of the Astros wasn't among the Top 3, though.  In fact, replace Shoemaker with Springer on my ballot.

My vote differs slightly in the National League, though.  Jacob de Grom is the favorite, but he's not the guy I'd vote for.  In my opinion, the best rookie in the National League this season from Opening Day until the end of September was the Reds' Billy Hamilton.  It's not a knock on de Grom or any anti-Met bias I'm showing here.  I just think Billy Hamilton had a better overall season.

Hamilton flashed his blazing speed during a September call-up in 2013, leaving everyone hungry for more.  Heading into Spring Training, it was expected that he'd take over the center field job, which is exactly what he did.  The Reds' leadoff hitter from Opening Day on, he finished second in the NL with 56 stolen bases.  He also led all NL rookies in runs, hits and doubles, and played Gold Glove-caliber defense.  Most importantly, he played 152 games.  That's a rookie who contributed to his team's success from Day 1. 

The critics will point to Hamilton's .250 batting average as being too low for a leadoff hitter.  And they'll also note that his production went down in September, while that might've been de Grom's best month.  But Billy Hamilton's late-season swoon coincided with his team's.  I don't know if it's coincidence or if the Reds struggled because he did, but I think that stat points to Billy Hamilton's importance to the Cincinnati Reds.  He was nearly as integral to his team's success as Abreu was.

Then there's this point.  Being in the Majors at the start of the season isn't a requirement to be Rookie of the Year.  I know that.  Mike Trout wasn't called up until May, and Wil Myers didn't make his debut until June.  But it's something that should be considered in a close race.  It's what made the difference last year, as Jose Fernandez won over the flashier Yasiel Puig in part because he did it for six months instead of four.  Hamilton contributed to his team's success from Day 1.  Jacob de Grom was in the minors for the first six weeks of the season and only made 22 starts.  With everything else being almost equal, that's why I give the edge to Hamilton.

So, I've got Hamilton winning this two-horse race, which is nothing against Jacob de Grom.  My brother-in-law actually went to his Major League debut against the Yankees in mid-May.  De Grom emerged as the Mets' de facto ace in September, when he went 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA and had one start where he struck out the first eight hitters of the game (the most amazing part about that to me is the first guy he didn't strike out was the opposing pitcher).  He's guaranteed himself a place alongside Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and, presumably, Noah Syndergaard, in a stacked 2015 Mets rotation that looks formidable.

Kolten Wong of the Cardinals is the third finalist, which means he finished third.  Frankly, I had forgotten Wong was technically a rookie until they announced the finalists last week.  He played in the World Series last year.  That's why I forgot.  But then I remembered trading David Freese and moving Matt Carpenter to third was part of an elaborate master plan to make the "rookie" Wong their starting second baseman this season.  My general dislike of the St. Louis Cardinals and how annoying they are also made me kind of just ignore their existence until they showed up in the NLCS yet again.  I don't think Wong was the third-best rookie in the National League this season, though.  He wasn't even the best rookie second baseman.  That would be Joe Panik.

It's not going to be the way the actual vote turns out, but I would've put Hamilton first and de Grom second on my ballot.  I definitely wouldn't have put Wong third, though.  I'd go with Diamondbacks shortstop Chris Owings, who had a pretty good year for a pretty bad team.

Assuming that Abreu and de Grom are the winners, though, both the White Sox and Mets would be ending pretty long Rookie of the Year droughts.  The Mets haven't had a Rookie of the Year since Dwight Gooden in 1984.  Fun fact, de Grom would be the fifth Met to win the award, and Darryl Strawberry is the only one of the five that wasn't a starting pitcher.  The White Sox, meanwhile, haven't had a Rookie of the Year winner since Ozzie Guillen in 1985.  I'm pretty sure the White Sox Rookie of the Year/Royals pennant connection is just a coincidence, though.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

The Rest of Week 10

It's Week 10, which means everybody has reached at least the halfway point of their schedule.  I originally wanted to do midseason NFL power rankings this week, but life got a little busy and I couldn't quite find the time.  So, instead I'll just include the Top 5 and Bottom 5 with this week's picks.

The Bottom 5 is incredibly easy.  The Raiders are by far the worst team in football, followed closely by the Jets (31), Jaguars (30), Bucs (29) and Falcons (28).  The best teams got shuffled around a little bit last week, but I think there are definitely five that stand out.  Dallas, which was No. 2 a few weeks ago, stays in the Top 5 despite back-to-back losses.  The Eagles come in just ahead of their division rivals.  Denver drops from No. 1 to No. 3 after its loss to New England, while the Patriots jump up to No. 2 after that win and the Cowboys' losses.  And the best team in the NFL?  That would be the 7-1 Arizona Cardinals.  That one was an easy call.  They're the only 1-loss team, they're in first place in perhaps the hardest division in the league, and they've got a number of good wins already on their resume.  No question the Cardinals have earned the No. 1 spot.

Now for the picks...

Thursday night: Cincinnati (Loss)

Chiefs (5-3) at Bills (5-3): Buffalo-This is perhaps the hardest game to pick this week.  The Chiefs have won three straight, including a victory in San Diego, to move into second place in the AFC West.  I don't think anyone is surprised to see them there.  The Bills, however, have surprised many by going 5-3 in the first half.  This is a very hard one to call.  But I've been in Buffalo in November.  It's not a fun place to be.  Especially for an opposing team.  The Bills get the W.

Dolphins (5-3) at Lions (6-2): Detroit-Another battle of somewhat-surprising playoff contenders.  Things have finally all clicked for both the Dolphins and Lions this year.  Miami's in that massive group of 5-3 AFC teams, while the Lions are in first place in the NFC North.  Winner here's playoff chances become that much greater.  In Detroit, I'll take the Lions.  (Sidebar, this should've been the Lions' Thanksgiving game.  It's incredibly unfair to the AFC that all three Thanksgiving matchups are NFC vs. NFC.)

49ers (4-4) at Saints (4-4): New Orleans-Despite the fact that they're just 4-4, people are still talking about the 49ers as one of the best teams in the league.  I'm not sure I see it.  Arizona isn't going to come back to the pack, so San Francisco's looking at a wild card at best.  This week's opponent is a New Orleans team that might've finally turned the corner.  The Saints won a road game last week!  In the Superdome, they don't lose.

Steelers (6-3) at Jets (1-8): Pittsburgh-How many touchdown passes will Ben Roethlisberger throw this week?  Will it be more than the Jets quarterbacks (either one or both of them) throw to Steelers defenders?  Those are the only real questions I have about a matchup of one team that's headed in one direction and one that's clearly going the other way.  I have good news for you, though, Jets fans.  They can't lose next week!  It's the bye!

Falcons (2-6) at Buccaneers (1-7): Tampa Bay-Lovie Smith said point blank last week that his team isn't very good right now.  Well, neither are the Falcons.  The NFC South schedule is weird, though.  They always seem to back load the division games.  That's a good sign for both these teams.  Because winning the division is still a realistic possibility.  But they've got to win this game first.  Since it's in Tampa, I'll say the Bucs are the ones that do that.

Cowboys (6-3) vs. Jaguars (1-8): Dallas-Sorry, people of London, that the Jaguars are your "home" team.  At least you get to see the Cowboys, though.  Tony Romo said his back felt fine on the flight over, but whether or not he plays shouldn't be an issue.  It took a trip across the pond, but Dallas should snap its two-game losing streak.

Titans (2-6) at Ravens (5-4): Baltimore-Want to hear something amazing?  At 5-4, the Baltimore Ravens are in LAST PLACE in the AFC North!  (Meanwhile, the 4-4 Saints are in first place.)  After back-to-back losses, including last week's embarrassment in Pittsburgh, the Ravens have got to be happy to get out of the division.  They've got to be even happier to finally return home.

Broncos (6-2) at Raiders (0-8): Denver-It's hard to imagine, but there's actually a team out there that's more of a mess than the Jets.  It happens to be the only team the Jets have beaten this season.  The Raiders are downright embarrassing.  They put on a game effort last week in Seattle, but the two Super Bowl teams from last season in consecutive weeks is a daunting challenge for anybody.  Let alone a bad team like Oakland.

Rams (3-5) at Cardinals (7-1): Arizona-Now that they have the best record in the NFL, people have finally taken notice of the Cardinals.  They've created a lot of believers.  Now the hard part.  Keeping them.  And proving that their start wasn't a fluke.  They've already notched some impressive wins.  It's time to take care of business in the division.

Giants (3-5) at Seahawks (5-3): Seattle-The Giants have to be pretty grateful to share a city with the circuses surrounding the Jets and A-Rod.  Because, outside of a few obligatory "Fire Coughlin" cries, there's really nobody talking about their 3-5 record.  It doesn't get much easier over the next three weeks, either (at Seattle, San Francisco, Dallas).  It also doesn't help that the Seahawks know they need to win in order to keep pace with the Cardinals.

Bears (3-5) at Packers (5-3): Green Bay-The NFL's oldest rivalry comes to "Sunday Night Football."  The Bears are making their way towards that Bottom 5 list.  I don't know what it is about that team.  So much talent, yet they never seem able to put it together.  Aaron Rodgers, meanwhile, told the fans not to freak out when the Packers were 1-2.  Well, he was right.  When we last saw the Packers, it was also on "Sunday Night Football," and they were getting lit up by New Orleans (well, I didn't see it, I was watching the World Series).  That game, however, wasn't a rivalry game.  And it wasn't at Lambeau.

Panthers (3-5-1) at Eagles (6-2): Philadelphia-Just a couple weeks ago, everyone was really high on the Carolina Panthers.  Then they had that tie and it's been downhill from there.  Three straight losses and counting.  The Eagles, meanwhile, are one of the best teams out there.  Philly's going to add to Carolina's misery and make it four in a row.

BYE: Houston (4-5), Indianapolis (6-3), Minnesota (4-5), New England (7-2), San Diego (5-4), Washington (2-6)

This Week: 0-1
Last Week: 7-6
Season: 86-48-1