The following list consists of the top five shortstops currently in the Major Leagues in my opinion.
- Derek Jeter– I hope this pick does not surprise anyone because Mr. Jeter has been nothing short of outstanding for the better part of the last two decades. Since his first full season in ’96, Jeter’s season-low in games played is 119. Only five times in seventeen seasons has he hit under .300; four of those times he hit in the .290’s. A great contact hitter, Jeter keeps his strikeout total low, and is also a very talented base-stealer. Jeter has recorded 200+ hits in a season eight out of his seventeen seasons, which is nothing short of phenomenal. He is coming off of a serious ankle injury this season, so keep your eyes open to see whether or not he can be the same player he was a year ago.
- Jose Reyes– Some may not realize how good Jose Reyes is because of his awful situation in Miami, but in reality, Reyes has been very solid for the past few years he has been in the league. His first full season came in 2005 with the Mets, in which he hit .273. Reyes, like Jeter, is a fantastic contact hitter who does not hit for much power. On occasion he can put a ball out of the park, as he did nineteen times in 2006. The only real problem I have with Reyes’ game is his fielding is sometimes very shaky. There have been several seasons in which he has made fifteen or more errors. Fielding aside, Reyes is one of the better base-stealers in the recent years. In 2007, he totaled a whopping seventy-eight stolen bases! He has gotten off to a slow start this year in Toronto, but look for Reyes to pick it up now that he is out of Miami.
- Troy Tulowitzki– Tulowitzki is personally one of my favorite shortstops in the league, due in large part to his passion for the game day in and day out. When he broke into the league in 2007, he hit a stellar .291 while playing in 155 games. The only downside to Tulo is his lack of consistency as an everyday player. Only twice in six years has he played in over 150 games. He is not a base-stealer like Reyes or Jeter, but he is still an above average baserunner. Fielding-wise, Tulowitzki is a stud. His career high in errors is eleven, and he has a career fielding percentage of .985. He is off to a good start this season, as are his Rockies who have started the season 3-1.
- Hanley Ramirez– Coming in at number four is Hanley Ramirez. In his early years, Ramirez was known as a big time young player as he broke out with the Florida Marlins. His missed a little less than half the season in 2009, which led to his worst season in the pros. He batted over .300 for four straight seasons, 2007-2010, and has a career average of .298. When he got out of Miami halfway through last season, he admittedly struggled a little bit with his new Dodgers team. He was also recently injured in the World Baseball Classic so he has not played in a game so far this season. Ramirez commits a significant amount of errors each season, which is why he dropped toward the bottom of my list, but he is also a fantastic base-stealer like Jose Reyes.
- Starlin Castro– Starlin Castro rounds out my top five because I believe he is the best young shortstop, and maybe even player in the game today. Though Castro hasn’t been playing that long, he has been an all-star two out of his first three years. He has accumulated a .295 batting average over his first three seasons, and in 2011 he totaled 207 base hits. He is not a known power hitter but he did put fourteen balls out of the park in 2012, a season in which he played every single game. On the negative side, Castro is sometimes a very shaky fielder. When he messes up once, there is a good chance he will get down on himself and mess up again in the near future. Though still not great, he has progressed his fielding over the last season or two and I believe that with time and effort, he will become an MVP caliber player in the next three to five years.
Other notable shortstops include Jimmy Rollins of the Phillies, Alexei Ramirez of the White Sox, and Elvis Andrus of the Texas Rangers.
Wait, did I just see the Royals on ESPN? I have caught myself thinking this more already than any other season in recent years. Dayton Moore and the Royals have finally gone all in for this 2013 season. With a huge trade for James Shields, the Royals were finally able to go from being one of the worst starting rotations in the history of the MLB to one of the better rotations in the AL. To go with a better rotation, they Royals have offensive threats that could contribute to a rare winning season.
The biggest X-factor this season is health. The Royals have invested so much this season, so if James Shields or Salvador Perez gets injured, fans can kiss this season goodbye. Concerning health, the major statistic I see is which starter pitches the most innings. Last year, the starters went just six innings too often. Though the bullpen was dominant, the relievers were typically worn out. The Royals trade for Shields has given Kansas City a workhorse. It has also given the Royals and Ned Yost options for their rotation and bullpen.
The starting rotation is bound to be better this year than last, but by how much? As I said earlier, the inning the starters consume will show the specific talents the Royals have in the bullpen. Right now, here is how I see the starting rotation shaping out:
1. James Shields: 15-10, 3.52 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 223 Ks, 58 Walks in 227.2 Innings
2. Ervin Santana: 9-13, 5.16 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 133 Ks, 61 Walks in 178 Innings
3. Jeremy Guthrie: 8-12, 4.76 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 101 Ks, 50 Walks in 181.2 Innings
4. Wade Davis: 3-0, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 87 Ks, 29 Walks in 70.1 Innings
5. Luis Mendoza: 8-10, 4.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 106 Ks, 59 Walks in 166 Innings
Remember when I said they Royals will have options this season? Well, what should the Royals do with Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen? I have always been a huge believer that the best way to motivate and get the best out of players is through pure competition. I hope Ned Yost has made it clear that no one’s starting spot is a lock. Mendoza has been pitching extremely well so far this offseason and spring training. While this does not matter too much, it does show that he is coming in ready to compete for a job. This season, the Royals will have something they have not had since they traded away Zack Greinke. The Royals will once again have a pitcher with whom they will expect a win no matter what in James Shields. “Big Game James” actually thrives off of pitching in games against the best teams and will get his opportunity in the Royals opener against Chicago White Sox. Plus, Shields will bring playoff experience to the staff.
The Royals’ bullpen has been the strongest part of the team because of young prospects coming in and producing immediately. Greg Holland and Aaron Crow are the “Leaders of the Relievers”. Both can come in with confidence that they will get the team out of any jam. The 5 players below are current locks on having a spot in the rotation due to how they have fared in the majors so far. Holland will close and Crow will be the set-up man just like last year. With Luke Hochevar being put in the bullpen, the relievers are starting to form a complete group.
Greg Holland: 7-4, 16 Saves, 2.96 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 91 Ks, 34 Walks in 67 Innings
Kelvin Herrera: 4-3, 2.35 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 77 Ks, 21 Walks in 84.1 Innings
Tim Collins: 5-4, 3.36 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 93 Ks, 34 Walks in 69.2 Innings
Aaron Crow: 3-1, 3.48 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 65 Ks, 22 Walks in 64.2 Innings
Louis Coleman: 0-0, 3.71 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 65 Ks, 26 Walks in 51 Innings
Nate Adcock, Will Smith and Everett Teaford are all fighting for one spot in the bullpen and it will most likely be this way the entire season. Will Smith did a better job than most expected last year as a starter but did not perform at a high enough rate to retain his role in the rotation.
The Royals will not intimidate opposing pitching staffs with their power, but will with their ability to run the bases, hit for contact and situational hitting. The biggest difference from last year to this year’s offensive attack is having Salvador Perez healthy. Along with Perez, look for Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to carry the load for this lineup For the most part, Gordon and Butler have been consistent. I expect Butler to finally jump into the thirty home run club and be the sole member from the Royals. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas could both take major strides this year as well. Hosmer should benefit immensely from playing with the USA team because he gets to see how the best players prepare themselves on a daily basis. I do not expect Perez to hit in the .300’s but around .280 mark. Though the Royals may lack strength in power, they more than make up for it in their athletic youth.
Alex Gordon (LF): .294/.368/.455, 14 HR’s, 72 RBI, 93 Runs in 161 Games
Alcides Escobar (SS): .293/.331/.390, 5 HR’s, 52 RBI, 68 Runs, 35 SB’s in 155 Games
Eric Hosmer (1B): .232/.304/.359, 14 HR’s, 60 RBI, 65 Runs, 16 SB’s in 152 Games
Billy Butler (DH): .313/.373/.510, 29 HR’s, 107 RBI, 72 Runs in 161 Games
Mike Moustakas (3B): .242/.296/.412, 20 HR’s, 73 RBI, 69 Runs in 149 Games
Salvador Perez (C): .301/.328/.471, 11 HR’s, 39 RBI, 38 Runs in 76 Games
Jeff Francoeur (RF): .235/.287/.387, 16 HR’s, 49 RBI, 58 Runs in 148 Games
Lorenzo Cain (CF): .266/.316/.419, 7 HR’s, 31 RBI, 27 Runs, 10 SB’s in 61 Games
Chris Getz (2B): .275/.312/.360, 17 RBI, 22 Runs, 9 SB’s in 64 Games
Come September, I expect the Royals to finish at 79-83. Lorenzo Cain’s health will be crucial as this team aims to achieve a winning record. With major injuries to any of the starting lineup, the Royals winning chances diminish because they do not have the depth to plug another player in without a great drop off. Furthermore, the Royals do not have the pieces or money to make trades to improve the roster in the middle of the season. The Royals are all in this year and pitching will tell the story for the Blue Crew.
As the MLB season nears, I decided I would post an article every couple of days breaking down my top players at each position. My last article covered starting pitchers so this one will cover catchers. However, this article will only feature five cathcers simply because there are not many elite catchers in the game today. The catcher’s position is one where a superstar comes along once, maybe twice in a lifetime. Players such as Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, or Carlton Fisk don’t come around everyday. Here we go.
- Yadier Molina- Molina has my vote for the best all-around catcher in Major League Baseball. He is a career .279 hitter, but he is most known for his defense. I tend to be very drawn to players like Molina, because there is literally nothing flashy about him. He is just fundamentally sound in all aspects of the game. He consistently calls a great game, he blocks pitches in the dirt better than anyone in the league, and can gun down virtually any would-be base stealer. He is a classy player on and off the field, gets along with his teammates, and is a very coachable star. Basically the only downsides to Molina are his very poor speed and occasional baserunning mistake, but his positives heavily outweigh his negatives.
- 2. Buster Posey- Posey is arguably the best young player in the game today. With less than three years of total big leagues experience, he has already won himself two World Series rings. His 2011 campaign was brutally cut short by a broken leg due to a collision with a runner at home plate. In his short career, Posey has a .316 batting average, and he doesn’t tend to strike out all that much. Similar to Molina, Posey is a very solid fielder. He calls a great game, takes care of the pitching staff, and has thrown out better than thirty percent of base stealers in each year of his career. He also compiles a very small amount of errors every year. Posey’s three-year career has already rewarded him with the 2010 Rookie of the Year Award, and the 2012 Most Valuable Player Award. This may be a bold statement early in his career, but I think Buster Posey will have no problem getting into Cooperstown when he retires, barring any major setbacks.
- 3. Joe Mauer- Over the past six or seven seasons, Mauer has been arguably the most consistent player in the Major Leagues. Having played his entire career with the Minnesota Twins, he has posted a career .323 average, with his lowest being .287 during the 2011 season. Mauer’s career year came in 2009, when he put up a .365 average with 28 bombs. The main reason Mauer dropped to third on my list is because in recent years, Mauer has been switching between catcher, first base, and designated hitter. Albeit small, I think taking days off from catching gives him just a slight advantage over everyone else, as he has a little bit more time to relax and give his body time to rest. He puts together a great balance of aggressiveness and patience at the plate, and is nothing short of a solid defender. Mauer, like Posey, should have a good shot at Cooperstown if he keeps up his game for the next few seasons.
- 4. Brian McCann- Although McCann has dropped off over the last season or two, I still believe he is one of the best in the game. He hit .270 or above every season except for 2012, in which he hit a career-low .230. Since his first full season in 2006, McCann has been a steady complement to Chipper Jones in the middle of the Braves lineup. With 2013 being his first season without Chipper, look for McCann to have a bounce-back year while producing a large portion of the Braves offense. I find McCann to be a mediocre fielder, letting a decent number of passed balls through, and only throwing out about 23% of potential base stealers. That being said, he has made six appearances in the all-star game, proving that he is nothing short of a solid player. Look for McCann to have a good year, assuming the role of the Braves top hitter.
- 5. Matt Wieters- Rounding out my top five is the young catcher for the Baltimore Orioles. Wieters is steadily developing into one of the most reliable catchers in the game today. While his offensive game is still developing, he has already proven himself as one of the best defensive catchers in the pros. He has only let up eleven passed balls in his four years in the majors, and has gunned out an impressive 32% of would be base stealers. Look for Wieters to steadily improve his game. I see him hitting around .300 this season.
I have grown up my whole life being a pitcher, so the players that I am about to list are people that I have looked up to and tried to model my game after. Each man is dominant in his own way, earning himself a spot on my list of the ten best pitchers in the MLB today. The order is completely my own opinion, but I truly feel that each and every one of these pitchers deserves to be thought of as one of the best. Anyway, here goes.
- Justin Verlander– Most people could see this one coming from a mile away. I personally believe that Verlander is hands-down the best pitcher in the majors. He has the perfect balance of velocity, control, off-speed, and stamina. He can pump a high 90’s fastball in the 9th inning, and still be able to fool you with his deceptive change-up. He is undoubtedly the leader of the Detroit Tigers, having led them to the World Series twice in the last six seasons. Both attempts were unsuccessful, however. Verlander is a workhorse who will get you a lot of strikeouts (200+ in the last four seasons) no matter who he is facing. Oh, and did I mention he is dating Kate Upton?
- R.A. Dickey– There is no doubt that Dickey has become an elite pitcher in the MLB, but some might find my number two ranking a little generous. Dickey has been in the league for over a decade, but never really broke out onto the scene until the 2012 season. And boy did he break out. Dickey compiled a 20-6 record in 33 total starts. Some might be puzzled as to why it took him so long to break out. Well, the knuckleball is not an easy pitch to master. That being said, Dickey has now MASTERED it. He is often compared to Tim Wakefield, another recent knuckleballer, but I personally think the comparison is almost useless. Wakefield was a great pitcher in his own respect, but Dickey has taken it to a whole new level. He throws the knuckleball harder than it has ever been thrown, and he knows exactly where it is going to end up, a combination deadly to almost any hitter. Coming off a sensational year, he is starting fresh in Toronto with a decent supporting rotation, so it should be interesting to see what kind of year is in store for Dickey.
- Matt Cain– Over the past year or two, I believe Matt Cain has developed into a superstar pitcher, and the unquestioned ace of the San Francisco Giants. With the decline of Tim Lincecum, Cain has stepped up and carried the Giants pitching staff. He has a career record of 85-78 with a 3.27 ERA. While these stats are not amazing, he is still developing even at the age of twenty-eight. In two postseason trips, he has a record of 4-2, and did not even let up an earned run in the 2010 postseason, which led to a World Series title for the Giants. To top it all off, Cain tossed an incredible perfect game on June 13th, 2012.
- Clayton Kershaw– Throughout his short career, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw has done nothing but prove himself. He is preparing to enter his sixth full season, and there is no doubt in my mind that it will be another successful one. Over his first five years, Kershaw has put together an impressive record of 61-37. With a career 2.79 ERA, this lanky southpaw has a variety of ways to make batters miss. The young Kershaw was awarded the 2011 NL Cy Young award, thanks in no small part to his utterly devastating slider. He, like Verlander, is one of the few pitchers in the league that almost seems to get better as the game goes on. Mr. Kershaw is my prediction to win the Cy Young award again this year.
- David Price– David Price is another young pitcher who has already given himself a name throughout the major leagues. Behind Justin Verlander, I think Price is arguably the best pitcher in the American League. If you don’t know who he is, you’re missing out. This 6 foot 6 Rays ace consistently throws fastballs between 97-99 MPH, an obvious problem for hitters. In his four full years, Price has already completed a 19 and a 20 win season. Very few people get on base against him, and even fewer are able to hit the long ball. His only flaw, however, is sub-par postseason track record. While he is still inexperienced in the playoffs, he has a 1-3 record while letting up almost four runs per game. Price was the recipient of the 2012 AL Cy Young award, barely sneaking past defending champion Justin Verlander. While I don’t see him winning the award again this season, I think he will definitely have another great year, compiling seventeen or eighteen wins.
- Jered Weaver– Since his 2006 entrance into the MLB, Jered Weaver has never had a losing season. In fact, he has never had less than eleven wins. He has almost twice as many wins as he has losses, (102-52) and he racks up strikeouts like it’s his job. Well, I guess it is his job. Anyway, Weaver stands at a towering 6 foot 7, so his heaters jump on hitters even faster than they normally would. 2012 was a career year for Weaver, when he earned twenty wins with a measly five losses. Posting a sub 3.00 ERA, he earned the $14 million he was paid while finishing third in the Cy Young voting behind David Price and Justin Verlander.
- Stephen Strasburg– This pick might come as a surprise to some people, as Strasburg does not have that much experience in Major League Baseball. The 2012 season marked the first season in which he made at least twenty-five starts. He compiled fifteen of his twenty-one career wins during the 2012 campaign, while posting a 3.16 ERA. With a history of arm problems, Strasburg was shut down in the beginning of September, after just 159 innings. There was a lot of disagreement whether or not the Nationals should have cut his season short, and there is really no way to determine who would have been right. All we can say for sure is that the Nationals would have been a much different team in the postseason if he were at the top of the rotation. Look for Strasburg to be an NL Cy Young finalist this year, barring any injuries.
- Felix Hernandez– All hail King Felix! I believe Hernandez is one of the most underrated hurlers in the Major Leagues. Not because of his talent, but because he plays for the small-market Seattle Mariners. He doesn’t get the exposure that a Verlander or a Weaver would get. Over the past seven or eight years, he has been one of the most consistent pitchers in the league. He constantly pitches 200+ innings, and records an utterly ridiculous amount of strikeouts. With a 98-76 career record, his win percentage isn’t all that great. That being said, he often has issues with run support, as the Mariners are one of the worst offensive teams in the leagues. King Felix just signed a humongous deal, giving him the biggest pitcher’s contract in MLB history. It will be interesting to see whether he can live up to his expectations, or cracks under pressure of a big contract.
- Roy Halladay– Halladay is the oldest pitcher on my list, and he is nothing short of a seasoned vet. Over the last decade and a half, Halladay has put together nothing short of a magnificent career. With a 199-100 record, there have been more than 2,000 strikeout victims. He spent his first twelve years with the Toronto Blue Jays, before joining the Phillies in 2010. His impact was immediate in Philadelphia. Between Halladay, Hamels, and Cliff Lee, the Phillies had easily the best rotation in the pros. Unfortunately, it appears as though Halladay is in the decline of his career, but his numbers are still very impressive. Look for the Phils to battle the Nats for the top spot in the NL East this season.
- CC Sabathia– Rounding out my top 10 is the hard-to-miss CC Sabathia. The current Yankees ace has dominated no matter what team he’s been on. Whether it was Cleveland, Milwaukee, or New York, the numbers are always the same. Winning records and loads of strikeouts are this big man’s recipe for success. Much like Jered Weaver, this 6 foot 7 giant puts fastballs on hitters much faster than most other pitchers. His 2012 numbers declined just a tad from his previous Yankee years, so look for a bounce back year for Sabathia.
Other pitchers that came to mind were Cole Hamels, James Shields, Cliff Lee, and the up and coming Gio Gonzalez.
As the football season has ended with a bang, many eyes now turn to the beginning of the 2013 MLB season. With spring training barely underway, there are still several big-name players that are still in contract negotiations with various teams. Some of the biggest names include Kyle Lohse, Grady Sizemore, and Chris Young. One of the most recent deals was a four-year contract given to the speedy Michael Bourne by the Cleveland Indians.
Perhaps the biggest deal left is for someone who is not even a free agent. The Seattle Mariners are currently in talks with their franchise cornerstone pitcher Felix Hernandez. Hernandez’s current deal, signed in 2010, runs through the end of the 2015 campaign. The proposed extension would run through 2020, paying the young hurler about $175 million. If signed, this would make King Felix the highest paid pitcher in Major League history. While it is a ridiculous amount of money, there is very little dispute that he is one of the most deserving young pitchers in baseball. Hernandez earned his nickname of “King Felix” after he threw the first perfect game in Mariners history last summer against the Tampa Bay Rays.
There is, however, one little thing stalling the whole process. Some of the people involved in the signing process have pointed at Hernandez’s small elbow issue as a reason to not sign a big deal. The Mariners general manager, on the other hand, has been very open that his ace has been throwing perfectly for several weeks. Since his entrance into the league, Hernandez has been very diligent about avoiding injuries and being out of shape, both of which plagued him in his rookie season. As contracts have soared over the last decade or so, teams have been more reluctant to sign long-term contracts because of the always-lingering possibility of a career-ending injury. In fact, some teams have clauses written into contracts that protect them against severe injuries that their star players have to deal with. One such contract is one between the Yankees and their ace, CC Sabathia.
As his contract negotiations linger, Felix Hernandez has decided to skip the World Baseball Classic, which takes place throughout the month of March. There is no doubt that he will be dearly missed by his native Venezuela. That being said, King Felix still has two years left on his current contract, so there is technically no hurry for getting a deal done, though both sides have said they want to get it out of the way. Look for a deal to be done either some time during the 2013 season, or quickly during the offseason.
While performance-enhancing drugs have been a part of baseball for decades, violators were never really punished until the 1990’s, when harsher consequences were put in place. The use of steroids was truly brought to the eye of the public around the 1998 season, during the historic home-run race between the Cardinals’ Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs. Both players have been heavily accused over the years, though neither has been marked as a definite steroid user. Several stars such as McGwire, Sosa, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens have had their chances for a spot in Cooperstown dramatically decreased because of their association with performance-enhancing drugs.
To any true baseball fan, speculation about the use of steroids in the MLB is nothing new. But recently, old news has become relevant once again. Within the last week or so, yet another report has been released accusing current MLB stars of violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy.
The most recent report focuses heavily on Anthony Bosch and his Miami-based anti-aging clinic. Similar to other accusations in the past few years, this one also focuses on Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez, 37, resides in Miami during the offseason, and has allegedly made several illegal purchases from Bosch. Sources associated with the Miami New Times have released a statement saying that Rodriguez’s name or nicknames pop up at least a dozen times in Bosch’s notes. Sources close to Bosch have reported a close relationship between the two, but Bosch has done nothing but deny it. Although he has passed drug tests in recent years, sources say that he may have started using PED’s again before and during the 2012 season. Rodriguez previously admitted to using steroids in the early 2000’s while playing for the Texas Rangers. He claims to never have used them since, and the Yankees obviously believed him, giving him a 10 year/$275 million contract prior to the 2009 campaign. The MLB Commissioner’s Office is currently investigating all evidence related to this recent report, and will make an announcement as soon as a final verdict is reached.
Will Alex Rodriguez join the list of superstars with an asterisk next to their name? Only time will tell. For the time being, fans will just have to accept the fact that there are still players who think they can get away with using PED’s, while other players play fairly without receiving the recognition of putting up huge numbers. Other names included in the 2013 report include Bartolo Colon, Gio Gonzales, Nelson Cruz, and Melky Cabrera. Cabrera was suspended 50 games this past season for violating the league’s PED policy.
Greetings all. It’s been awhile since I’ve gotten the chance to sit down and write an article for this website, something I always look forward to doing and take pleasure in doing so. Between working 35 hours a week, rushing fraternities for college, and trying to get a few college credits knocked out in the process, I’ve had little time to sit down and do what I enjoy almost more than anything else: writing about sports. And boy, has a lot changed in the sports world in the last couple months. So here it goes folks.
During my 2-month hiatus, 2 sports have crowned champions. The Los Angeles Kings won their first Stanley Cup in franchise history in late May, defeating the New Jersey Devils in 6 games. The Kings playoff run was possibly the most improbable, yet one of the most impressive runs in NHL playoff history. They became the first 8th seeded team in NHL history to win a Stanley Cup.
The Kings lost just 1 game away from Staples Center all postseason, thanks in large part to the play of goalie Jonathan Quick. Quick seemed to stop everything – and yes, I mean everything – that came his way in the playoffs. Captain Dustin Brown provided the scoring, as he scored almost 50 percent of the team’s playoff tallies. The Kings proved once and for all that no matter how efficient and talented you are on offense, goalie play wins games in the postseason. Just ask the Canucks and Blackhawks, the 2 highest scoring teams in the NHL this past season. Both failed to make it out of the first round.
The NBA also crowned a champion in the last 30 days. Not to take anything away from the Stanley Cup Finals, because nothing beats playoff hockey, but the 2012 NBA Finals were probably the most anticipated and intriguing finals since the Lakers/Celtics matchup in 2008. It was Durant against LeBron, prodigal son vs. villain. Thunder vs. Heat, a final many predicted would transpire before the season even started. And after 5 thrilling, well-contested games between the Thunder and Heat, LeBron James and the Miami Heat were crowned champions. The ring less king was no more. All criticism of James, many of it being unjustified, hushed to a slow murmur rather than shouting, obnoxious television pundits over-analyzing James at every turn (see Bayless, Skip.)
The importance of the Heat’s championship should not be overlooked. LeBron finally got off the snide, Dwayne Wade wrote his ticket to the hall of fame, and Chris Bosh’s importance was finally realized by all. Not to mention the all-important 38 year old Eddie Curry getting his first championship. More importantly, Miami hoisting the trophy has ignited NBA free agency this summer.
Teams are now attempting to construct their own “big 3” in order to compete with the Heat, among others. The newly located Brooklyn Nets resigned Deron Williams and added Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace, giving them a big 3 of their own. The Lakers made perhaps the biggest splash of all trading for Steve Nash to pair him up with Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum. Los Angeles is now likely Oklahoma City’s biggest competitor out west.
The mystery still remains as to where Dwight Howard will end up. Brooklyn is maxed out on the cap, so they are no longer a possible destination. The only 2 teams in play for Howard at this point are the Lakers and the Magic. If the Lakers were to acquire Howard, they would have to give up 22-year-old Andrew Bynum in the process. That’s a risk I’d be willing to take if I were Los Angles, considering Kobe himself recently admitted his years in the league are numbered. Regardless of where Howard lands, parody in the NBA is slowly improving. Although the league is still driven by big markets, Oklahoma City has proven winning in a small market can be done.
The All Star Break is here in major league baseball, and what a first half it was. The first half of 2012 has been about complete games, young superstars, 38 year old knuckleballers, and the overachievement of several teams. 19 year old Bryce Harper, who became the youngest position player to ever play in an All Star Game Tuesday night, has the upstart Washington Nationals on top of the National League East. Harper has a rare combination of raw power, blazing speed, and extremely advanced baseball instincts for a 19 year old. However, Harper isn’t the only young stud that has made a mark on the first half of the season. 20-year-old Angels outfielder Mike Trout has also impressed the baseball community with his immense talent. A few have even made the case for Trout being the AL’s MVP.
With Trout in the lineup, the Angels have gone 38-22, overcoming newly acquired star Albert Pujols’ struggles and battling their way to a 48-38 record at the break, good for 2nd in the American League West. The Yankees and Rangers are tied for the best record in baseball at the break, and the surprising White Sox are atop the American League Central. White Sox DH Adam Dunn is the leader in the clubhouse for the Comeback Player of the Year award, slugging 25 HR’s and 61 RBI’s in the first half.
In the National League, Pittsburgh Pirates’ centerfielder Andrew McCutchen has the Buccos atop the National League Central at the break for the 2nd time in the last 29 years. If the season were to end today, McCutchen would get my vote for NL NVP. McCutchen finished the first half with a .360 average, best in all of baseball, adding 19 HR’s and knocking in 61 RBI’s. It was one hell of a first half for him and the Pirates, a team I’d like to see stay in contention deep into September.
The 1969 Mets were dubbed the “Amazin Mets” after winning their first World Series Championship in franchise history. The ’69 Mets were young, inexperienced, and were expected to be the worst team in baseball in 1969 (or so I’m told.) What does this have to do with 2012? Well, the Mets are amazin again in 2012, as they have a 46-40 record and sit atop the National League Wild Card standings. Many were picking the Mets to lose 100 games this season. Now they’re on pace for 90 wins, and if the season ended today, they’d be playing the Los Angeles Dodgers in the playoffs.
New York’s success can be attributed to 38 year old knuckle baller R.A. Dickey leading the National League with a 2.37 ERA and 137 strikeouts, and David Wright returning to his pre-knee surgery form, batting over .350 and knocking in 60 runs in the first half. This team might not be the most talented, but their character and heart are second to none.
I haven’t even mentioned Matt Cain and Philip Humbers perfect games, Josh Hamilton’s 4-homerun game, Robinson Cano being mercilessly booed at the HR derby, and Johan Santana’s no-hitter, the first in Mets history. It’s been an exciting first half on the diamond. Why not expect more of the same in the second half?
Outside of hockey, basketball, and baseball, 26-year-old Webb Simpson won his first major championship, hoisting the U.S. Open crown at famed Olympic Club. The win was not surprising in the least to golf fans, but more surprising was Tiger Woods’ collapse on Saturday and Sunday. Woods entered the 3rd round with a 2 shot lead over the field, a lead nobody thought he would yield at a major. Woods went on to shoot 8 over on Saturday and Sunday, finishing an underwhelming tie for 29th.
Rodger Federor won his 7th Wimbeldon Championship this past weekend, a win that bolted him into conversation for the best men’s tennis player in history.
Looking ahead, the 2012 Summer Olympic games are set to begin in London within the month. Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte should represent the U.S. well in the pool, Tyson Gay looks to become the most decorated runner in U.S. history at the summer games, and the “new dream team” will attempt to bring home the gold behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant. The summer Olympics are always enjoyable to watch, and I recommend you tuning in the mellifluous voice of one Bob Costas and enjoying the games. Not to mention training camp beginning for most teams in the next 4 weeks. Those crisp fall Sunday afternoons are right around the corner.
Most people think summer is the death for sports. Unless you’re a baseball fan, it can be a tad boring. But the Olympics should give those non-seam heads something to watch this summer. And if you’re not into the Olympic games, as I sit typing this, there are only 64 days until the Super Bowl champion New York Giants face off against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL season opener.