Welcome to the All-Star Break edition of the Triple Play. This time around, we depart from our usual format and offer our selections for the award winners, predictions for the unofficial second-half of the season and our usual collection of random thoughts. Off we go:
Handing out the Half-Season Hardware
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels. Thanks to Miguel Cabrera having a down year (well, for him, anyway), the old-guard baseball media is finally noticing that this Trout fella can play a little ball. Is it his 5.6 Wins Above Replacement (WAR)? Is it his AL-best 1.007 OPS, or his MLB-leading OPS+ of 182? Or is it his presence in the top 10 in virtually every other offensive category? I would hope the answer to all of the above is yes. The Angels have mega-priced talent in other areas (Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton) who are not producing up to their past levels, but Trout continues to make up for that in spades. Runners up: Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto; Josh Donaldson, Oakland.
NL MVP: Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado Rockies. This choice is even easier than Trout. Tulowitzki has been even better than Trout at the plate in 2014. While many will point to his home/road splits as reason why he shouldn’t be a serious MVP candidate (and it is a valid argument), Tulo’s superior combination of offense (178 OPS+) and defense (3.5 Ultimate Zone Rating) at a critical position give him the edge. Runners up: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami; Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle. Even easier than the two MVP choices. King Felix is simply the best pitcher in the American League, bar none. Runner-up: Masahiro Tanaka, New York.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, L.A. Dodgers. Despite missing the first few weeks of the season with a sore back, Kershaw has restaked his claim as the best pitcher in the National League. Including a no-hitter against the Rockies, he ran off a streak of 40 straight scoreless innings, bringing back memories of Orel Hershiser’s 59-inning scoreless streak in 1988. This run of domination just noses Kershaw ahead of St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright, who is having yet another marvelous season. Wainwright has allowed two earned runs or less in 16 of his 19 starts this season. He is deserving of the award as well.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox. Until he was injured last week, Tanaka was the front-runner for this award. One could make a compelling case for Houston’s George Springer, but the pick here is Abreu, whose elite power has him leading the AL in home runs despite being injured for half of May. He has revitalized a White Sox team that had been stagnant for years. He is must-see TV every night. Runners up: Springer, Tanaka.
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati. It took the highly-hyped speedster a while to get going, but he has been the sparkplug the Reds envisioned in the offseason when they anointed him their new leadoff hitter. In June, he hit .327/.348/.500, and he hasn’t slowed down in July. He is on pace to score nearly 90 runs, steal 65 bases and, surprisingly, drive in 70. Really, he’s the only choice in what is shaping up to be an atrocious year for rookies in the National League. Runner up: no one.
Crystal Ball Persuasion
AL East winner: Baltimore Orioles. I can’t remember the last time this division was so wide open. It seems clear that the Red Sox and Yankees are not going to win this year, barring a blockbuster deal that alters their current structure. That leaves the Orioles, Blue Jays and Rays. Part of me wants to pick Tampa Bay, but they would have to climb over all four division rivals, and I just don’t believe enough in the Rays’ offense. That leaves Baltimore and Toronto. Of those teams, I put more stock in Buck Showalter being able to steer his team to the postseason again.
AL Central: Detroit Tigers. Clearly the class of the division, even with Verlander struggling.
AL West: Oakland Athletics. Adding Jeff Samardzjia was a brilliant move by Billy Beane. He may not be an ace like what many of the National League teams can offer, but he is a significant upgrade over Brad Mills and Jesse Chavez. The A’s might be the most complete team in baseball.
AL Wild Cards: Los Angeles Angels, Toronto Blue Jays.
NL East winner: Washington Nationals. The best team in the division on paper will eventually take control and pull away.
NL Central: Only the Cubs don’t have a chance at the postseason in this division. Milwaukee, St. Louis, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh all have a legitimate shot at October baseball. The pick here: the Cardinals, who entered Sunday tied for first with the Brewers, despite an offense that has scuffled for most of the season and an injury-plagued rotation. If the Cardinals can find some consistency at the plate, their pitching should be deep enough to carry them into October for the fourth consecutive year.
NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers. Not a difficult choice. The Giants played over their heads for the first two months of the season. They may not be as bad as they have looked over the last several weeks, but they certainly don’t seem like true division threat. The rest of the division is just plain awful.
NL Wild Cards: Milwaukee Brewers, Cincinnati Reds.
Forget Peter Angelos. Forget the obnoxious Red Sox ownership. Forget the dysfunctional owners of the Marlins and Mets. For pure incompetence and embarrassment, the worst ownership in Major League Baseball resides in Denver. The Monfort brothers are clueless, delusional and now we know that they are petty, childish and have no common sense when it comes to dealing with their customers.
First, there was the comment card left by a fan from Grand Junction, Colorado. He packed up his family on July 4 to go watch the Rockies take on the Dodgers, and the annual fireworks game. He was treated to a 9-0 Dodgers win, in which the Rockies looked listless, disinterested and overmatched. Disgusted by the experience, he made his feelings clear on one of those “How are we doing?”-type cards on his way out of Coors Field. The email response from Dick Monfort: “If product and experience that bad don’t come.” Yes, that is truly what the owner of an allegedly major-league franchise wrote to a fan. No apology for the terrible product, no offer of tickets to a future game to change this fan’s perception of the team, nothing.
That would be embarrassing enough for most people. But not for a out-of-touch fool like Dick Monfort. After another fan sent an email criticizing the team, Monfort sent this in reply: “By the way you talk maybe Denver doesn’t deserve a franchise, maybe time for it to find a new home. Thanks.”
So let’s get this straight: Dick Monfort, a millionaire who pockets huge amounts of money into his wallet thanks to the fans who continue to support the Rockies despite their continual mediocrity, thinks it’s acceptable to tell one fan NOT to come back to Coors Field, and another that Denver doesn’t deserve its team. His idiocy is nearly as bad as that of Donald Sterling. Yes, I mean that.
I live in Denver and have my whole life. I watched as teams like the White Sox and A’s used Denver as leverage in their existing cities. The entire region went crazy when the National League expanded into Colorado. Fans supported the Rockies unconditionally for years, regardless of the team’s play. The magical World Series run in 2007 pushed the Broncos to the back of the local sports pages (which was, until that time, impossible to imagine). Their subsequent postseason appearance in 2009 had fans believing that sustainable success was within reach. The Rockies had Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez and a steady stream of young talent contributing all over the diamond.
But it was all a mirage.
By the end of the season in 2010, their window of opportunity had slammed shut and it has remained firmly locked. The minor-league talent (especially pitching) has dried up, due to poor drafting and incompetent player development. Yet the Monfort brothers are content to put a subpar product on the field and rake in the profits. Why? Well, because fans continue to show up. The Rockies, well into what has become yet another forgettable season, are fourth in the National League in attendance in 2014. And yet Dick Monfort finds it acceptable to tell a fan that Denver doesn’t deserve a franchise. No, Dick, what Denver deserves is an owner who’s not a tone-deaf buffoon and wants to build a contending team. It can be done. Just not as long as the Monfort brothers are in charge.
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