Back in September I made up my personal short list of potential candidates for MLB awards. Official announcements will be made soon after World Series games conclude. Today, I'm posting my final list of players most deserving of this years hardware.
MVP - Joe Mauer (C, Minnesota)
Cy Young - Felix Hernandez (Seattle)
Rookie of the Year - Andrew Bailey (CL, Oakland)
Manager - Mike Scioscia (Angels)
Comeback Player - Aaron Hill (2B, Toronto)
MVP - Albert Pujols (1B, St. Louis)
Cy Young - Adam Wainwright (St. Louis)
Rookie of the Year - J.A. Happ (P, Philadelphia)
Manager - Tony LaRussa (St. Louis)
Comeback Player - Chris Carpenter (SP, St Louis)
Just like every other season, I'm sure plenty of controversy surround winners and runner-ups. Many think Zack Greinke should be AL Cy Young. It wouldn't surprise me if he won it. In my book, Hernandez had a better season and helped his team win more games. AL MVP is a crowded race. Plenty of votes will be spread out between Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Miguel Cabrera and Kendry Morales. The NL side is more straight forward. Cy Young might become the only exception. Wainwright and teammate Carpenter should end up 1-2 on official ballots.
Six blind mice. How many more bad umpiring calls will take place before the end of the World Series? It has often been said the best umpires go unnoticed. Attention has been focused on umpires throughout the playoffs and now in the World Series too. There have been plenty of bad calls. Not boderline bad. Flat out missed calls.
During the regular season umpiring crews consist of four men. Two more are added to watch the outfield lines, home runs and attempted diving catches come playoff time. In theory, six umpires should rarely make mistakes. So, what's been happening in '09? Nearly every playoff series has been filled with controversy. Luckily, most didn't alter game outcomes. Here are a few off the top of my head.
Joe Mauer (Minnesota) hit a clear double down the left field line in Yankee Stadium. Left field umpire (one of the two extra's) was in perfect position to make the correct call. Nope. It was ruled a foul ball.
The worst had to be this one. ALCS Game 4, Yankees Cano and Posada clearly were tagged out to end the inning but only one was called out.
In the same game (as show in above video), Yankees Swisher should have scored a run on a sacrifice fly. Instead, 3B umpire said he left early and called him out for an inning ending, rally killing double play. Another play involving Swisher happened earlier when hs could have been called out on a pickoff play at 2B.
Last night, 1B umpire was out of position. 1B Ryan Howard was credited for catching a liner and turning a double play. Even Howard knew the ball initially hit the ground. His actions gave it away. Howard tried throwing to 2nd for a force play and threw wide of 2nd allowing Posada to reach safely. Had he caught the liner all he had to do was step on 1B for a double play. There was no need to rush a throw to 2nd.
Momentum has picked up for baseball to finally institute instant replays. Playoff games this year has added ammo. I really hope this never happens. Bad calls, for better or worse, is part of baseball. Replays do exist for questionable home runs in dispute. If baseball were to start replaying every close call the game would quickly become monotonous. Could you imagine how long games would become? Managers racing out of dugouts after every bang-bang play at first. Sometimes to slow down an effective pitching performance or to cool off hot bats. No thank you. A topic for another day.
Sooner or later, before the Series ends, a blown call or two will factor into final scores. It's been amazingly bad. This is without mentioning always disputed balls and strikes. I can't remember ever watching so many goofs with such frequency. In most cases, umps aren't out of position. They've been right on top of plays enjoying clean angles. Go figure. It's been contagious.
Fox blew their live coverage last night when Yankees manager Joe Girardi popped out of the dugout to argue at first. Fox almost immediately cut away to commercial then tried unsuccessfully to recap what we missed. It was a key play at a key point in time and Fox cut away from the onfield action to make a few bucks. Give me a break. This is the World Series. Make your commercial money after the play was resolved. Yankees players sat for an extended period in the dugout while the entire umpiring crew huddled. Radio listeners were the only ones to catch live action play by play.
I'm sure these six blind mice do not want to be center of attention. Or to be remembered as the crew credited for baseball adopting instant replay. Open your eyes ump!
NFL Week 8 has a few must see games. Highlighting this weekends schedule is Brett Favre's return to Green Bay (4-2) playing for the Cheeseheads arch rival Minnesota Vikings (5-1). Favre already beat his former team on a Monday Night game back in week 4 as he threw for three touchdowns. Can he do it again? Also on my list is: Giants (5-2) @ Philadelphia (4-2) coinciding with Yankees @ Philadelphia World Series Game 4 later on Sunday night... rivals Miami (2-4) @ Jets (4-3) usually put on a great show... and MNF game Atlanta (4-2) @ New Orleans (6-0). There is one complete dud of a matchup, Rams (0-7) @ Lions (1-5). I'm surprised Vegas put out a betting line on this one!
Last week I correctly predicted 9 of 13 games bringing my season total to 66-37. Here's how I see this week unfolding:
Week 8 (home team in BOLD):
Houston 24 BUFFALO 13 - Both teams on two game win streaks. Houston is the better team and will prevail.
CHICAGO 26 Cleveland 3 - Browns are just what is needed for this Chicago team after two straight defeats.
Seattle 33 DALLAS 27 - Seattle's passing attack should feast on weak Dallas secondary. Cowboys looked good vs tough Atlanta team last weekend. This is an anything can happen game. Whoever wins the line of scrimmage battle should walk away victorious.
DETROIT 7 St. Louis 6 - Two pathetic teams suit up. They'll only look good heading out of the locker room.
Denver 23 BALTIMORE 21 - Undefeated Broncos vs Ravens team needing a bounce back game after 3 straight losses. Ravens offense has great rythm. Defense struggling BIG time.
INDIANAPOLIS 43 San Francisco 10 - Manning is playing near flawless football. SF's weaker offense can't keep up even with Smith returning to starting status as QB.
Miami 26 JETS 24 - Dolphins imploded after a great first half vs Saints last week. Jets D faces a difficult challenge vs wildcat formation in Dolphins clock controlling offense.
Giants 23 PHILADELPHIA 20 - NY coach Coughlin is running no nonsense practices after back to back lackluster losses. Eagles won ugly vs Redskins last week. Another anything can happen game. I'm sticking with my home town team.
Jacksonville 30 TENNESSEE 10 - Oh how the mighty have fallen. Titans from 13-3 to 0-7 after this game. Tennessee's owner wants a QB change. Will Fisher comply?
SAN DIEGO 30 Oakland 6 - SD too tough for leaderless Raiders.
ARIZONA 35 Carolina 14 - Wow. I was way wrong about Carolina heading into this season. They've been terrible. Cards aren't very good but they're winning and Warner might throw for 400 in this one.
Minnesota 34 GREEN BAY 23 - Packers & fans continue lashing out at Favre. Now they're saying '96 GB team was much better than '09 Vikes. As if it matters. Favre shows up old mates... again.
NEW ORLEANS 31 Atlanta 27 - (Monday Night Football) - Atlanta fell apart vs Dallas. Now they're playing a much more confident and undefeated Saints team. I actually like Atlanta in this one... then again, I thought they'd have no problems vs Dallas.
Baseball's two best teams are getting ready to face off in tonight's opening game of the 2009 World Series. Philadelphia Phillies are trying to become the first team to win consecutive titles since 2000 and the first National League repeat champion since Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" went back to back in 1975-76. Standing in their way is the last team to repeat, New York Yankees. Yankees are taking aim at their 27th franchise World Series title.
World Series 2009 is one of the best pairings in recent history. Both teams have very talented lineups, pitching staffs, fielders and managers. Here's how I break it down position by position. On paper, Philadelphia vs New York could turn out to be one of the best ever.
Starting Pitchers: Even
Home ballparks for both clubs favor power hitters and pitchers had better beware. It looks like 3 man rotations for both clubs.
Lee, Martinez & Hamels go for Philly vs Sabathia, Burnett & Pettitte for NY. All 6 rely in changing speeds for maximum effectiveness. None are strangers to post-season play. At times all have pitched like future Hall of Famers. Going deep into games is an essential ingredient for success which will be no easy task against baseball's best lineups. Philadelphia's bullpen during the regular season was very inconsistent. NY had better success. On paper, I'm rating them as equal. We'll soon see how well they can handle pressure packed situations with everything on the line.
Ok, before New York fans have a cow, here's why. Posada is by far the better hitter. But, he's yet to come through in the clutch this post-season on a consistent basis. If he does get hot then Phils are in trouble. His pitch calling is also very suspect. Plus, Burnett would rather pitch to backup Molina which could factor into Game 2. I don't see Posada riding the bench and this could throw off AJ's effectiveness or confidence.
Ruiz has been sensational in the playoffs for Phils (.346, 7 RBI). Defense has been solid, clutch hitting and good pitch calling. He's the hotter player right now (not the better player).
1B: Edge Phillies
Phils Ryan Howard is a monster at the plate. 14 post-season RBI in 9 games while batting .355. He's one of baseball's best clutch hitters. Howard vs Rivera in 9th inning situations will keep nervous fans sitting on the edge of their seats. Howard's defense has improved but is still shaky and a booted ball or bad throws could be game changers.
Mark Teixeira recovered from a slow start in pinstripes to become the AL leader in HR and RBI. However, he's struggling in the playoffs (.205). Time and time again he failed to deliver this postseason with runners in scoring position and is not looking good at the plate. Yanks need him to get back on track. Defensively, there's no better.
Phils fans turn to have a cow. Utley possesses great power (31 HR). His playoff defense hasn't been great. 2 playoff RBI isn't exactly clutch hitting either.
Robinson Cano is starting to turn it on after many failures to deliver with runners in scoring position. He must come through as bottom 3rd of lineup needs to produce. His defense has been excellent.
SS: Edge Yankees
Rollins can explode at any time. However, 2009 performance is far below career numbers. He struggled in playoffs so far (.244, 0 BB, 0 SB) except for a clutch game winning double on a meatball pitch. His defense is always strong. As Phils leadoff hitter, he needs to get it going vs a Yanks staff usually around the strike zone.
Yanks have Captain Jeter. He's been on fire (.297, 3 HR, .455 OBA). He's baseball's all time playoff hit leader (164). He's patient at the plate and usually comes thru in clutch situations. He's the table setter. Yanks will go as far as Jeter takes them.
3B: Edge Yankees
3B is the greatest disparity in my position by position analysis. Pedro Feliz will never be confused with Alex Rodriguez offensively or defensively. Feliz playoff stats are horrible (.161, 2 RBI). His defense hasn't been great either. However, never underestimate a slumping player. World Series are often won by non star-like characters when opposing pitchers take them for granted.
Alex Rodriguez has been enjoying the greatest postseason of his career. Can he keep it going vs Lee & Pedro? He's in the zone (.438, 5 HR, 12 RBI) coupled with flawless defense. ARod's biggest career challenge to date... producing in World Series play.
Phils might have a slight edge here with Ibanez. Ibanez was 1st half MVP candidate. But, he's struggled to regain his stroke at the dish. While Ibanez didn't hit for much of an average during playoffs (.236).. he has come thru time and time again with runners on base (9 RBI). He's been subbed out in late inning defensive situations but does play a decent LF.
Yanks Johnny Damon is a big game player waiting to turn it on. 24 regular season HR, 107 runs scored. So far, only batting .238. But, Phils pitching style is exactly the type he thrives on. We'll soon see. Damon has no arm in LF and can't throw anyone out. He's been lifted for stronger arms in late innings.
CF: Edge Phillies
Victorino is Phils leading hitter in playoffs (.361). He's showing no signs of slowing down after batting .292 during regular season. This guy will become a hero in the City of Brotherly Love if he remains the Phils catalyst. He's an excellent defensive CF to boot. He'll see plenty of activity.
Yanks free swinging Cabrera (.314) has deceptive playoff numbers. His average appears good in the surface, but he's failed in many clutch situations and is tied with RF Swisher with 11 K's. Not a good formula at the bottom of Yanks lineup. It might be time to give Gardner a shot. It won't happen since Gardner is Damon's late inning defensive replacement.
RF: Edge Phillies
Werth is tied with ARod for most playoff HR's this year (5). This kid keeps getting better. Werth is the Phillies key player in this series. Can he handle pressures of World Series play in NY? Probably. Coming in hitting .281, 5 HR, 10 RBI. Utley, Howard & Werth hit 3-4-5 and usually come through when needed in late game situations.
Swisher became Yanks everyday RF after Nady's season ending injury. He played very well during regular season (29 HR, .371 OBA). Playoffs have been another story (4-32, .125, 0 HR, 1 RBI, 11 K). He looks lost at the plate with feeble pop ups and plenty of strikeouts. He's a slug on the bases who is not alert. He seems to get picked off with ease. Luckily, his defense has been very good from tracking down balls to strong throws.
DH: Edge Yankees
Phils might play around with DH. Rumors state Ibanez might DH vs lefties with Francisco in LF. Matt Stairs might play vs righties.
Yanks strut out Matsui who has struggled (.233) in key playoff situations after a clutch '09 regular season (28 HR, 90 RBI). He was red hot during the final weeks but it hasn't carried into playoffs. His contribution in home games is vital.
Middle Relievers - Set up: Edge Yankees
Phils bullpen during regular season was horrific and cost this team a shot at 100 victories. They've done much better in '09 playoffs. Last season, their pen was instrumental is securing the title. They must pitch the games of their lives vs a potent Yanks attack in key situations for Phils to prevail. JA Happ, Chan Ho Park, Joe Blanton will be first out of the pen in early innings if needed or could take center stage in extra innings.
On the flip side, Yankees relievers enjoyed great success during the regular season after a horrendous '08 effort. Most have done well in the playoffs except for set up man Hughes who is clearly feeling the pressure of playoff baseball. Aceves has also faultered which might change Girardi's normal late inning plans. Joba Chamberlain will probably be the long middle reliever even though I'm all for him being used as a setup man and future closer.
Closer: Edge Yankees
Lidge was phenominal in '08 and pathetically bad in '09 until the playoffs. He might be back on track which is bad news for Yankees hitters. He's only given up 1 hit in 5 scoreless appearances spanning 4 innings. Not much of a litmus test but it's encouraging for a player coming off the worst year of his career.
Mariano Rivera owns the playoff record book for relievers. 37 postseason saves is 21 ahead of #2 (Lidge). He's most effective pitching only one inning per appearance.
Not much to speak of here for either team. Matsui will be the big name off the bench when games shift to NL Phillies. Otherwise, it's mainly late inning defensive replacements in LF or pinch runners.
Both teams love their managers. Most playoff moves have paid dividends (not all). Talented and well liked field generals who have kept clubs under control and believing in themselves no matter what the scoreboard reads. How they handle relievers could be the key to this series.
Philadelphia and New York lineups are very strong. Yankees have more power 1-9. Yankees play better overall defense. Yankees bullpen better. Yanks relying on early long ball power. Clutch hitting belongs to Phillies. Yankees pitchers used to facing tough lineups. Phillies pitchers used to NL DH-less weaker lineups.
Yankees in 6.
It's World Series time! The New York Yankees are trying to win their 27th title against the reigning champion Philadelphia Phillies. World Series 2009 has been dubbed the "Liberty Series" (deriving from Philadelphia's Liberty Bell and NY's Statue of Liberty). Tomorrow, I'll break down the Series position by position. Today.. let's talk nicknames.
Nicknames of famous athletes span generations. There's an old saying in baseball. "No player is bigger than the game itself." Normally, this statement holds true. Until, we start talking nicknames. "The Babe", "Charlie Hustle", "Mr October", "Say Hey Kid", "Stan the Man", "Iron Horse" and "The Splendid Splinter" are just a few from yesteryear who's nicknames live on forever. So, why is it not many World Series nicknames stick beyond "Subway Series"? There have been many but, trying to find a list on the internet is no easy task. Will the Liberty Series stick? Unless the Phillies and Yankees play a classic series, I doubt it.
World Series play has been dubbed "The Fall Classic". Can anyone recall individual series nicknames or slogans? Here's my short list.
1919 "Black Sox Scandal" is one of the better remembered slogans given after the Chicago White Sox played to lose, or "fixed" the Series by agreeing to lose games for money.
There have been 14 "Subway Series" derived from two New York teams playing for glory. The first 13 were named after NY Yankees vs Brooklyn Dodgers or New York Giants until the New York Mets played the Yankees in 2000 (14th).
1983 was the not so flashy "I-95" (Baltimore vs Philadelphia).
1985 "I-70", "Show Me Series" between Kansas City and St. Louis.
1989 "Bay Bridge Series", "BART" featured San Francisco vs Oakland.
2001 was dubbed "November Series". This was the first World Series played in November resulting from regular season games rescheduled in the wake of 9/11/01 attacks.
2009 "Liberty Series" and "Turnpike Series" are two names being thrown around in local newspapers.
Just think of how much additional revenue could have been made by MLB affiliated licensee's. Funny how every All Star Game seems to have taken on slogans relating to hosting cities. Not so on baseball's biggest stage?
Stay tuned for my detailed New York/Philadelphia position by position 2009 World Series analysis. Buckle up! On paper, this is the greatest Series matchup in years. They represent the best from American and National Leagues.