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Posted on: September 24, 2009 12:39 pm
Edited on: May 11, 2010 9:03 pm
 

AL MVP race

It doesn't seem long ago when multiple players pounded 50+ home runs and 140+ RBI in a season.  A few years ago, .300, 30, 100 would not be anywhere near MVP caliber.  In the post-steroid era, those numbers can put you in the thick of an MVP race, particularly in the American League this year.

There are 5 potential AL MVP candidates to discuss.  We're going to exclude pitchers, so the likes of Zach Greinke and Mariano Rivera will not be considered. 

You can make a case for others, but these seem to be the clear top 5:

Kendry Morales.  The 26-year old Angels first basemen had a huge breakout season and carried the team offensively through extended injuries to Torii Hunter and Vlad Guerrero.  Much of this was during a stretch while his team battled Texas for the division title.  He finished the season hitting .308 with 34 home runs and 108 RBI.  Morales was the key run-producing bat for a first place team, but likely falls short when you dig a little deeper.

Morales only scored 86 runs in a high scoring Angels lineup.  He maintained a healthy .355 OBP and OPS of .924, but those numbers fall short of some other candidates.  He strikes out with relative frequency at 117 K's vs. 46 walks.  Morales typically bats 6th with Hunter and Guerrero in the lineup, which right or wrong, makes it a little harder to justify league MVP.  Combine the above with Morales playing a less critical defensive position and he doesn't quite fit the bill.  

Miguel Cabrera.  There are a lot of similarities to Morales' resume.  Cabrera is also a 26-year old first basemen that was the primary offensive cog on a winning team.  Unlike Morales, Cabrera has been putting up big numbers for years and shouldered even more weight in Detroit.  He was the only feared hitter in an otherwise inconsistent Tigers lineup.  He played in 160 games and finished at .324, 34, 103.  Despite a mid-season run producing slump, he had superb numbers across the board.  

There is one glaring deficiency for Cabrera...the lack of a playoff appearance.  Detroit lost a one game playoff to Minnesota and finished 2nd in the AL Central.  To make matters worse, Cabrera was mired in controversy over the critical last weekend of the season.  He made headlines for an altercation with his wife, in which he was heavily intoxicated with a 0.26 BAC at 5am on Saturday morning.  Detroit lost 2 out of 3, which allowed Minnesota to force a tiebreaker.  Cabrera went 0-11 during the series while nursing a serious hangover.  Cabrera may have been the frontrunner if the season finished differently, but he will not win the award.

Derek Jeter.  Could this be the year the Yankee captain is given the career achievement MVP?  It's possible.  Mr. consistency again finished with stellar numbers, while primarily hitting leadoff in baseball's most potent lineup.  He eclipsed 200 hits for the 7th time, finishing 2nd in the majors with 212.  He hit .334 with an OBP of .406.  Jeter also stole 30 bases and scored 107 runs.  At the age of 35, Jeter showed no signs of slowing down. 

The big knock on Jeter is that he drove in far fewer runs than any other candidate.  This is to be expected as a leadoff hitter, but he hit a mere .259 with runners in scoring position.  That is likely the biggest blemish to his MVP credentials.  Joe Mauer, for example, hit over 100 points higher with RISP.  Jeter had another fantastic year, anchoring baseball's best team, but the award will come down to the next two candidates.

Mark Texiera.  Bottom line is this guy is a d-bag and plays for a team many of us love to hate.  He's a phony in the media and a cry baby on the field.  That said, Texiera made a huge impact in his first season with the Yankees.  He led the AL wtih 122 RBI, 344 total bases, and tied for the HR lead at 39.  He was the key offensive difference maker in propelling the Yanks back to the top spot in baseball. 

One thing, however, that isn't reflected in the stats is Texiera's dependance on support in the lineup.  He was a completely different hitter early in the year without A-rod's presence behind him in the cleanup spot.  Despite my personal bias, you can't argue Texiera had a great season on a great team...but he's the runner up in my book.

And your 2009 AL MVP winner is........

Joe Mauer.  Of course.  Mauer had one of the more remarkable offensive season's in recent memory...as a gold glove catcher...a position which most teams feel fortunate to find a .270 hitter.  Mauer was about 100 points better, leading the majors with a .365 batting average - his 3rd AL batting title in 4 years.  The aspect that elevated Mauer from 'top catcher' in the game to possibly 'top player' (no offense Albert Pujols) was his power surge.  He missed the entire month of April and belted 28 HR's and 96 RBI.

Mauer led the league in Batting, Slugging, OBP, and OPS.  He was even better with runners in scoring position...and even better than that with 2 outs and RISP (i.e., clutch).  His patient approach at the plate clearly frustrates pitchers and helps other hitters around him.  There are numerous other statistics and examples, but it's clear Joe Mauer was the most valuable player this year.  Not to mention, his Twins won the AL central in a fascinating race down the stretch with Detroit, capped by a one game playoff.

 

Category: MLB
Posted on: January 21, 2009 6:44 pm
Edited on: January 21, 2009 7:03 pm
 

Cards don't have a prayer...pun intended Kurt

Bill Parcells would commonly point out that anything can happen once you get into “the tournament”.  Perhaps never before has it been more evident than with the Arizona Cardinals this year. 

 

The fact is Arizona just isn’t that good.  They might be the worst team on paper to play in a Super Bowl. 

 

You have to give the Cardinals credit for peaking at the right time and playing their best football when it matters most.  Unfortunately for the Cards, reality will set in on February 1 when the glass slipper falls off. 

 

This is a team that went 6-0 in divisional play against the dreadful NFC West.  Those opponents rang up a combined record of 13-35.  That means outside its woeful division, the Cardinals had a record of 3-7.  Furthermore, those wins came over three months ago!  That’s right, put them in the NFC East and this team doesn’t sniff the playoffs. 

 

Out of the 12 playoff teams, odds makers gave Arizona by far the slimmest chances of winning a Super Bowl at 50-1.  So, how did this Cinderella story find its way to Tampa?

 

It started with a home victory against Atlanta.  It’s hard to take away from the winning team but watching that game, I couldn’t help feel that Atlanta was the better team.  Somehow Arizona found a way to neutralize Atlanta’s potent running game and leave it up to rookie quarterback Matt Ryan.

 

Despite an impressive rookie campaign, it was a too tall an order to put a team on his shoulders in a road playoff game.  In a theme that has continued in subsequent games, Arizona controlled the line of scrimmage.  Atlanta finished with a season low 60 rushing yards.

 

Next came the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte.  Carolina was a trendy Super Bowl pick and seemingly had everything going…a stout defense, outstanding running game, and a seasoned quarterback.  Arizona entered the game as a 10-point underdog. 

 

Carolina lost the game as much as Arizona won it.  The Panthers marched downfield for an opening drive touchdown, capped by back to back impressive runs by the lethal combo of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart.  It appeared to be business as usual for Carolina.

 

Then all hell broke loose.  Larry Fitzgerald took the life out of Carolina and Jake Delhomme finished the game with 5 interceptions. 

 

Delhomme was off all night and it seemed the Cardinals had a beat on almost every throw.  The Fox commentators seemed to think Arizona saw something on tape they were exploiting.  I believe it was the classic case of a team over-looking a seemingly inferior opponent.  Arizona came to play and Carolina was making plans for the NFC championship game.      

 

Finally, there was last week against Philadelphia.  The Eagles were playing as well as anyone, coming off impressive wins at Minnesota and the defending champion New York Giants.  Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid had something to prove after much discussion about their respective dismissals in Philadelphia.  Not to mention, this was familiar territory for the Philly duo.

 

The game opened with each team appearing to have ability to move the ball.  The difference was Warner making big throws and McNabb failing to.  Although his stat line was impressive, McNabb missed several critical throws, including two in the first half that would have led to sure touchdowns. 

 

The most obvious came on a throw over the middle to Hank Baskett.  Nobody was within 15 yards of the fiancé to Girls Next Door alum Kendra Wilkinson.  He had more room for error on this throw than Brad Pitt on a pickup line.  Instead, McNabb drilled a low laser into Baskett’s shoelaces.

 

McNabb and Reid continued a playoff tradition of doing just enough “not to win” a huge game. 

 

We have to give Arizona some due credit.  Warner has played great.  Fitzgerald has made himself a legend.  Both lines won battles in the trenches.  The ball-hawking secondary.  Fantastic game plans by the coaching staff. 

 

After a magical run, the Cardinals now need just one more win against a rock solid Pittsburgh Steelers team.  A team that was dominant all season and now has a healthy Ben Roethlisberger and Willie Parker. 

 

This game has “route” written all over it.  The Cardinals will not find the weaknesses exploited in previous playoff opponents.  The Steelers will control the line of scrimmage.  They will pressure Warner and shut down quick passing outlets.  They will run the ball effectively.  They will win the turnover battle.  Roethlisberger will outplay Warner. 

 

The Steelers are the NFL’s best team and they will prove it in the Super Bowl.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 20, 2009 6:19 pm
Edited on: August 27, 2009 2:05 pm
 

Hockey a major sport?

It was difficult to think of a topic for my first blog entry.  Some of the obvious came to mind - i.e., upcoming super bowl, college hoops, etc.  I decided to stick with a topic near and dear to a kid from northern MN...hockey.

Following the 2004-05 lockout, which resulted in cancelling the entire season, the NHL has struggled to revive itself as one of the four major professional sports.  It was well on its way out of that elite company prior to the lockout, but it is even more evident in recent years.

One of the biggest issues is lack of a major TV contract.  Cable TV programming is with the Versus network.  Versus commits to at least 54 regular season games (usually 2 per week) and most playoff games that are not on network TV.  The contract was initiated following the lockout season and recently extended through 2010-11.  Financially, it made sense for the NHL and was the only viable option after the lockout.  Versus is owned by Comcast, which prevents its availability on many satelite or basic cable packages. 

The other national outlet is NBC, which televises a weekly Sunday matinee game.  It seems clear professional hockey sits at or near the bottom of NBC's totem pole.  This was evident in 2007 when NBC cut to horse racing during overtime coverage of an NHL playoff game. 

Whether Versus or NBC, the NHL continues to suffer from TV ratings that rank on par with the likes of snowboarding, bowling, and the WNBA.  Although the NHL has long been considered a poor TV sport because of the speed of play, this paints a very dim picture in comparison to the other 3 major U.S. sports.  

Another factor is the league's failure to market its star players.  There has been an increased effort in recent years, but today's Stars such as Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby are not on the same level as Mario Lemiuex and Wayne Gretzky when they reached stardom.  Teams are doing a nice job of marketing at the local level, but this is out of necessity to fill seats.  League commissioner Gary Bettman has rightfully received his share of criticism on this issue.   

There are certainly numerous problems to address, but the final one I will discuss is the lengthy regular season.  This could also apply to the NBA, but due to star power of its players, the issue is not as critical.  The playoffs are considred a "second season", which is true both in length and intensity.  Teams currently play 82 regular season games and up to 28 playoff games. 

The playoffs generate considerable more fan interest and the Stanley Cup remains the most prestigious and well-known trophy in sports.  As a devoted hockey fan growing up, I find it hard to tune in for regular season games.  In this blogger's opinion,  the regular season should be reduced by at least 30% to promote the playoff races earlier in the season. 

We all know the chances of that happening are virtually zero due to lost revenue in ticket sales.  However, it is my belief that the sport would benefit in the long run through more lucrative TV contracts and increased fan interest, which would lead to more profits split between teams. 

Whether it's TV, lack of marketing, or scheduling, the NHL has dug itself a hole bigger than the one between Jenna Jamison's legs.  This should be an exciting time for the league.  There is an abundance of extremely talented stars entering their prime.  If they don't figure out a way to grow the fan base and get people interested, nobody will care. 

Category: NHL
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com