Tuesday, September 30, 2014

MLB Picks, Least Valuable Players and A Fond Farewell to a South Side Star

I believe I heard 649 announcers say Derek Jeter's game-winning hit in his final Yankee Stadium at-bat was the "perfect ending" to his career.

Hmmm. I'm pretty sure the perfect ending would have been a World Series-winning hit, but whatever.

And now that we've got Jeter in our rear-view mirror, we can concentrate on a baseball games that actually matter.


I will admit that, after being skeptical, the extra wild-card spots have grown on me. Interest in the race was high and the baseball was exciting.

The A's almost suffered a choke of Cubbian proportions but managed to hang on by the length of a Canseco syringe. Oakland genius Moneyball Beane gave up his most feared offensive player (as well as his clubhouse chemistry) to land Jon Lester, and it almost cost the team a playoff spot. Tuesday night, Lester can reward Beane by beating the Royals, who send "Big Game" James Shields to the mound.

It's nice to see K.C. back in the postseason. I was a Yankees fan as a teenager and I still get chills when I see the grainy video of Chris Chambliss' series-winning HR in 1976. Kansas City used to be a great baseball town, so it will be fun to see the ballpark hoppin' on Tuesday.

I'm thinking the Royals will win if Shields can match Lester and let K.C. get into the Oakland bullpen.

Over in the NL, I'm digging Wednesday's San Fran-Pittsburgh matchup. The Pirates have the better team but the Giants send the better pitcher to the mound. Here's another great baseball town of the 1970s that fell on hard times, but it's two straight postseason appearances for the Pirates and I think Andrew McCuthen & Crew will find some way to beat Ross Bumgarner.

After that, however, I don't like the Pirates' chances against the Nationals. Meanwhile, the other NLDS should be a great one, with Clayton Kershaw leading the Dodgers against the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright in Game 1. The only pitching matchup that might turn out better than that one in the entire postseason would be if the two go at it again in Game 5. It seems the Cardinals always find a way, but of course how true is that? I mean, they don't win the pennant every year. Kershaw and Zack Grienke ... that's a lot of pitching to overcome.

I'll go with the Dodgers to beat the Nats in the NLCS, too.

Back to the AL ... I gotta go with the stacked Angels over the A's-Royals winner. The Tigers-Orioles series is compelling given that Detroit has spared no expense in putting together a dream rotation. The Orioles have relative no-names on their staff but also have one heck of a lineup. But how can I pick against all that Detroit pitching - plus Miguel Cabrera, one of the best hitters of this generation? Turns out, I can't.

Tigers vs. Angels in the ALCS: Lots of star power and power pitching and plain ol' power. The Tigers' pitching depth wins out, as long as their bullpen doesn't implode. (Which is no sure thing.)

So that gives us a Dodgers-Tigers World Series. In the olden days, when Kershaw would have been able to pitch three times in the series after only having had to win one or two other playoff games, this would have been an easy choice. That's no longer the case, though, so the best pitcher in baseball most likely will only pitch twice when it matters most. Because of that, I think I'll go with the Tigers. Their offense can get hot and, again, they have so much front-line pitching - especially if Justin Verlander is right.

All of which probably means the Tigers will lose in the ALDS.


MVP: Clayton Kershaw and Mike Trout. After a little bit of consternation for a spell, these turn out to be slam dunks. Kershaw had one of the great seasons ever for a pitcher. Trout had a one-month lull but was outstanding the rest of the year. Both helped their SoCal teams overcome big early-season deficits to win their divisions going away. Frankly, I don't think it should be close in either league.

Cy Young: Kershaw - duh. In the AL, Felix Hernandez seems the obvious choice despite peeing down his leg in the season's final week when his team desperately needed him. If I liked any of the other solid candidates enough, I'd give Felix the thumbs-down, but I don't.

Manager: I'm opting for the beltway duo of Matt Williams and Buck Showalter.

Rookie: Jose Abreu is a 27-year-old former Cuban star, so it almost doesn't feel right picking him. But he is eligible, so he's a total no-brainer selection. In comparison, the NL rookie class is so lame that I'm not even going to bother.

LVP! LVP! LVP!: These aren't really the least valuable players in the sense that many others actually had worse seasons. But given their hype and their salaries, it's hard to top Joe Mauer and Ryan Braun. Mauer needed a late surge to get to 50 RBIs and the Twins are stuck for four more years at $23 million per for a mediocre first baseman who can't hit the ball out of the park and doesn't drive in runs. His biggest impact this season was helping get Ron Gardenhire fired. As often happens to juicers, Braun has become injury-prone. And no longer able to take his slugger's little helpers, he hits a lot of warning-track flyballs. Oh, he's also a pathological liar and a convicted douchebag. Pity the Brewers, who are on the hook for well over $100 million more through 2020. Ugh.


While my former employer, AP, and so many other media outlets were fawning over Jeter - and, to be fair, they probably should have done exactly that given all he had accomplished - Paul Konerko bowed out relatively quietly.

It was fitting. Konerko, a rock-solid ballplayer and a fine gentleman, never sought the limelight while giving the White Sox everything he had for 16 years.

I had many great conversations with Paul over the years, and I will always appreciate that, in good times and bad, he stood in front of his locker and dealt with media mopes like me.

Konerko was both understated and underrated. He had 439 HR and 1,412 RBI. He had six 100 RBI seasons (plus years with 99 and 97). He also was instrumental in the city of Chicago's only World Series triumph of the last 97 years.  He was named MVP of the 2005 ALCS but immediately (and correctly) said the award should have gone to the pitchers.

In the end, I'm guessing he will have been just good enough to be have been not quite good enough for the Hall of Fame. But he should be proud of his outstanding career, and I am thankful I got to cover his first dozen years on the South Side.

1 comment:

  1. most interesting, mike, as always ...

    - mark anderson