Mid-Season MLB Predictions

For as predictable as the NBA was this past season, this MLB season has been just as unpredictable. Who saw Aaron Judge coming? Who thought the Rockies would be a playoff contender while the Giants sit in the cellar of the NL West? Who thought the Mets would be victims of a ton of injuries? (I guess SOME things are predictable, even in baseball.) But as we sit at the All-Star break, we still have another half season of baseball to be played before October. So I’ll take my best stab at predicting who will take home the individual awards, as well as the World Series trophy when it’s all said and done. 

AL MVP: Aaron Judge, Yankees

I know, shocker. I’ll try and keep it in my pants on this one. But if you told me in spring training that between Judge and Greg Bird, one would have started the season 6-60 and been on the DL ever since, and the other would have 30 homers and be the front-runner for AL MVP, I would’ve picked Bird to be having the great year, not Judge. But that’s baseball for you, and let’s hope Judge can keep mashing baseballs in the second half.

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Red Sox

This guy just has unreal stuff. 11-4, 2.75 ERA and 178 strikeouts thus far almost doesn’t even do him justice. The Yankees did beat him once in April with Tanaka before he turned into a glorified BP pitcher, but I pray they don’t run into him too many more times in the second half.

AL Rookie of the Year: Judge

See the definitely not biased statement above.

AL Comeback Player of the Year: Mike Moustakas, Royals

After a strong 2015 campaign in which he helped the Royals win a World Series, Moustakas hit 7 homers in 27 games in 2016 before tearing his ACL. At the break this year, Moustakas has hit .270 with 25 homers and 54 RBI for a Royals team just 3 games out of first place.

NL MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals

While not as strong as his 2015 MVP season, Harper is hitting .325 with 20 homers and 65 RBI for the first-place Nationals. Teammate Ryan Zimmerman will receive consideration for this award as well if he continues his pace, but Harper is the one who will need to perform to give the Nats a chance in October.

NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Nationals

Bert said it best, it seems like this guy has no-hit stuff every time he takes the mound. At 10-5 with a 2.10 ERA and 173 strikeouts, surely no NL team wants to see this guy on the mound in a Game 1.

NL Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Dodgers

As easy of a pick as Judge is in the NL. Bellinger has had a red-hot start to his career, hitting .261 with 25 homers and 58 RBI in just 70 games. The Dodgers are in first place in the NL West, and Bellinger is a huge reason why.

NL Comeback Player of the Year: Harper

For as good as 2015 and 2017 went for Harper, 2016 was as bad. He hit only .243 last year, but has rebounded for sure this year.

Playoff Predictions:

AL: 

Yankees beat Rangers in Wild-Card Game

Astros beat Yankees, Red Sox beat Indians in ALDS

Astros beat Red Sox in ALCS

As a Yankee fan, I hate to admit this, but the postseason is about pitching, and we don’t have enough. Even a trade deadline move for someone probably won’t give us enough to beat the Astros in a series. The Red Sox will take care of the Indians this time around, but will fall to the superior Astros.

NL:

Diamondbacks beat Rockies in Wild-Card Game

Dodgers beat Diamondbacks, Nationals beat Brewers in NLDS

Nationals beat Dodgers in NLCS

All season, I’ve thought the Cubs would turn it on and make the playoffs, but I’m not so sure anymore. I still wouldn’t doubt it, but at 5.5 games behind Colorado, they need to find their groove sooner rather than later. I’ll take the D-Backs behind Robbie Ray over the Rockies in the one-game playoff, only to falter to the superior Dodgers. The Nationals will easily take care of the Brewers, and manage to hold off Clayton Kershaw’s Dodgers in a great NLCS.

World Series: Nationals over Astros in 7 games

The 2016 World Series gave us baseball’s 2 best teams, and one of the best series ever. Hopefully, 2017 will be the same. Both of these teams have dominated their respective leagues, and hopefully would deliver a competitive World Series. A Scherzer-Dallas Keuchel Game 7 would be what every baseball fan dreams of, with Scherzer taking home Series MVP honors with the win.

You can talk about it, write about it, and analyze it to death, but at the end of the day, talk means nothing. That’s why they play the games. That’s baseball baby.

After Watching the Home Run Derby, It’s Clear the Future of Baseball is Safe

Baseball has a reputation to be what some people call…boring. But last night, the 2017 Home Run Derby was anything but.  It was quick, it was exciting, and it was filled with jaw-dropping moments.

Whether it was Aaron Judge’s 513 foot home run, Justin Bour’s 22 home runs in the first round, or the favorite Giancarlo Stanton being booted in the first round thanks to El Gary, the Derby was LEGIT last night.

Image result for giancarlo stanton home run derby 2017

And if it did anything more than excite baseball fans for one night, it assured us something: the future of baseball is safe.

There was a time, say from 2010 to 2015, where every single player from our childhood was slowly and tragically walking away from the game. The Yankees Core Four drifted away, and the pinnacle was the departure of Derek Jeter.  Chipper Jones retired, and all the players from those stacked Atlanta Braves teams (ie: Greg Maddux, John Smoltz) hung up the cleats. Ken Griffey, Jr. retired in a Mariners uniform, A-Rod got pushed out of baseball, David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez stopped, and the great Vin Scully called his last game for the Dodgers.

Image result for ken griffey retires

It was hard to watch, it really was.  People of my generation, those who grew up watching the Yankees, Cardinals, Red Sox, and Giants be dominant forces in baseball for so many years, were seeing our childhood be something of the past.  And there was an uneasiness around baseball.  What was next?

Enter 2016 and 2017.  Baseball has become baseball again. The excitement of the late 90’s and is back here in 2017. And the Home Run Derby last night was living proof of it.

The guys who really lit up the screen last night are all 27 and under.

Aaron Judge: 25, Gary Sanchez: 24, Cody Bellinger: 21, Miguel Sano: 24, Giancarlo Stanton: 27.  But let’s not forget about the other studs around baseball.

What about Mike Trout (25) or Bryce Harper (24)?. Carlos Correa (22), Jose Alutve (27) and George Springer (27)? Corey Seager (23) and Kris Bryant (25).  I could go on for days with these names. These guys have countless MVPs, batting titles, and All-Star appearances amongst them, and are leading their teams to contention day in and day out.

These players are the future, their talent is, again, LEGIT. They hold their own with the best, and they are growing up right in front of our eyes.

The faces are not the ones we have come to know for so long, which is sad. But the new faces, the ones that were exemplified last night, the ones that hit balls out of stadiums, are ready to go, and that is exciting.

The future of baseball is far from boring.  I’m at the edge of my seat waiting for what is about to happen next, what new name is going to take center stage. And I’ll tell ya, there’s nothing like some good baseball.

 

 

If You Could Pick One MLB Player at Every Position Right Now, Who Would You Take?

The other day, I came across Buster Olney’s list of his top 10 major league players right now. For as much as I hate ESPN, they have some guys whose opinions I usually respect, and Olney is one of them. However, this list made no sense to me. He put Mookie Betts, who’s hitting .274 this year, at #3. He didn’t even include the last two years’ NL MVPs, Bryce Harper or Kris Bryant, even on the toughest omissions section. Anyway, the list got me thinking: if I was a Major League Baseball GM, and I was able to select any player at every position, who would I take? I went in with the mindset that I’m building for the future, not just trying to win now. So not every player on this list may be the best at their position right now, but I anticipate them being All-Star caliber players for years to come. Here goes nothing.

Catcher: Gary Sanchez, Yankees

Maybe I’m a little biased as a Yankee fan with this pick, but hear me out. Buster Posey is clearly the best catcher in baseball right now, but he’s 30 years old. Sanchez is only 24 and has endless potential. Through his first 100 career games, he batted .296 with 33 home runs and 79 RBI. The 33 home runs are tied for second-most all-time through a player’s first 100 games. El Gary has started a career just about as well as you can, and figures to be one of the game’s best catchers for years to come.

Honorable Mentions: Buster Posey, Giants, Salvador Perez, Royals

First Base:  Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks

When I first thought of this position, Goldschmidt and Anthony Rizzo immediately came to mind. However, Freddie Freeman also could easily make a case for this spot. At just 27, Freeman is really slept on in Atlanta. He sneakily batted .302 with 34 HR and 91 RBI last year. After thinking about it, I decided to go with Goldschmidt. At 29 years of age, he’s got a .302 lifetime average, won two Gold Gloves, and has consitently been one of the best hitters in the NL the last few years.

Honorable Mentions: Anthony Rizzo, Cubs, Freddie Freeman, Braves

Second Base: Jose Altuve, Astros

Easiest decision thus far for me. Robinson Cano may not have a lot of production left at 34, and I love Starlin Castro, but he’s no Altuve. Altuve is only 27, and is batting .334 with 12 homers and 45 RBI this year. He’ll be the AL All-Star starter at second this year, and I’ll definitely take him at that position over anyone else right now.

Honorable Mention: Starlin Castro, Yankees

Shortstop: Corey Seager, Dodgers

For as easy as the second base choice was, the shortstop choice was difficult. Too many great young shortstops right now. Between Seager, Xander Bogaerts, Francisco Lindor, and Carlos Correa, you’re looking at four guys who are going to be franchise cornerstones for years to come. I went with Seager because he’s only 23, and was second in the NL in WAR last year behind Kris Bryant. All these guys are under 24, however, so this was pretty much a coin flip. I didn’t pick Lindor because he’s hitting only .252 this year, didn’t pick Correa because I wanted to switch it up from Altuve, and didn’t pick Bogaerts because Buck Foston. So Seager it is.

Honorable Mentions: Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox, Carlos Correa, Astros, Francisco Lindor, Indians, Trea Turner, Nationals

Third Base: Manny Machado, Orioles

Machado, Kris Bryant, and Nolan Arenado made for another tough decision. However, I decided to go with Machado. At 24, the guy consistently makes huge plays with both his bat and his glove. I mean, look at his arm.

Definitely wouldn’t mind to see that guy in Pinstripes. Bryant and Arenado have been unbelievable as well, but I’m giving the nod to Machado here.

Honorable Mentions: Kris Bryant, Cubs, Nolan Arenado, Rockies

Outfielders:

Mike Trout, Angels

You can’t make this list and not put this guy on it. At the end of the day, we could be calling Trout the greatest to ever play the game of baseball. At only 25, Trout is a five-time All-Star who was just voted to his sixth one this year, has two MVP awards, and has made a strong case for the award each year. He’s one of the best five-tool players the game has ever seen, and easily the best in baseball right now.

Bryce Harper, Nationals

Harper is not quite on Trout’s level, but is another generational talent who obviously deserves to be on this list; Olney not mentioning him was absurd to me. After a down year in 2016, the 2015 NL MVP is batting .324 with 20 HR and 64 RBI for the first-place Nationals. The guy mashes baseballs and plays the game with the swagger it’s supposed to be played with.

Aaron Judge, Yankees

Call me biased, whatever. Olney said he omitted Judge because he hasn’t even played 100 games in the big leagues yet, which is fair. But what he’s doing this year is incredible. For a guy that struck out 42 times in 84 plate appearances last year, it’s unreal how much better his plate discipline is this year. He’s on pace to set the Yankees’ single season record for walks. Oh, and being in the run for the AL triple crown doesn’t hurt either, I guess.

Honorable Mentions: Mookie Betts, Red Sox, George Springer, Astros, Giancarlo Stanton, Marlins, Cody Bellinger, Dodgers

Starting Pitchers:

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers

Can’t really argue against taking Kershaw. He’s 29, so who knows how many years of dominance he has left, but I’d still take my chances as a GM and have him here. He’s got 3 Cy Young awards, won the NL MVP in 2014, a 2.37 career ERA, and a WHIP just over 1.

Noah Syndergaard, Mets

I’ll throw Met fans a bone here. I actually really like Syndergaard a lot. He’s an entertaining, team-oriented guy, and a hell of a pitcher. At only 24, it would seriously be a tough decision for me whether I’d take him or Kershaw to start a franchise with.

The guys in the honorable mention section are amazing starters for sure, but if I had to pick just one it would be a toss-up between those two guys above.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Sale, Red Sox, Madison Bumgarner, Giants, Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks

Reliever: Kenley Jansen, Dodgers

I really wanted to put Betances here, but with the way he’s been pitching lately & after looking at Jansen’s stats I just couldn’t. Both are 29, and Jansen has a 0.83 ERA and 0.551 WHIP this season. That’s unheard of. Unfortunately, the Yanks will probably lose Dellin to free agency soon because Randy Levine is a dumbass.

Honorable Mention: Dellin Betances, Yankees

 

That’s the list. You know what they say, you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here. (Actually, feel free to stay and check out more articles on belowthebeltsports.com.)

 

The “Worst” Fans in Sports

I was sitting in my seat at the Prudential Center, and the Devils had just scored their first goal. The red light was flashing and the scoreboard read, GOAL! The flamboyant fan next me to starting yelling, “Hey, you suck!” along with the rest of the 20 thousand people in attendance on this Thursday night. The crowd continued chanting for at least a minute until the referee was ready to drop the puck at center ice.

Image result for devils fans

I was angry! How angry? Oh, did I forget to tell you what happened after, they finished their “You Suck” chant. Another chant broke out, You thought I was mad before?? The chant went, “Rangers Suck, Flyers Swallow, Penguins gargle!” At this point, I was so angry that I basically yelled at my girlfriend asking her, “How can people say that Philadelphia sports fans are the worst fans in sports when the Devils chant, ‘You Suck’ at their opponents after they score?” Her response, and actually everyone’s response when asked who the worst fans in sports are, “Yea but Philly fans are the worst, they threw snowballs at Santa Claus!”

Understanding the hatred of Philadelphia sports fans is a long obsession of the sports world, and to fully understand every incident of why Philadelphia fans are regarded as the worst in sports is to lengthy to even discuss. So what is the Answer (shout out A.I.)? How can I convince you that they are not the worst fans? The simple answer is: I can’t! The not so simple answer and the purpose of this article is that Philly sports fans are an easy scapegoat, and we don’t care if we are regarded as the worst fans in sports. We will continue to be  passionate about our sports teams, even if that labels us as the “the worst fans in sports”. Here are some incidents that have helped to label Philly sports fans as the worst:

First, let’s start with my personal favorite, throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. I would never even try to defend this, because this is not the most shinning day in Philadelphia sports history. Although I would recommend enlightening yourself a little more when it comes to the situation, so you can accurately understand, and put yourself in Eagles fans shoes.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yh2DwRkLIQE

Second, Michael Irvin’s neck injury. Another not so shining moment for Eagles fan.  Trying to defend this on behalf of Eagles fans would be difficult so once again I am not going to even try. I will, on the other hand, quote Michael Irvin on the incident, “It was a compliment for Philly to cheer me. Philly wasn’t cheering my injury. They were cheering my departure. Thank God he’s leaving the field, he’s been killing us. Thank God, maybe now we have  a chance to win.”

Third, the absolutely disgusting story of a man intentionally throwing up on a off-duty cops daughter. This is a really vile incident and the fact that this even happened to begin with this completely absurd and it undermines everything that sports was built on. That story makes me sick as person and as a Philadelphia sports fan.

So why do people REALLY always say that the worst sports fans are from Philly?

Well, there are a couple of parts to this complicated answer. The most basic answer is we are easy to hate! Philly fans are unrealistic, irrational, and loud. We are passionate about our sports teams, good, bad or terribly horrible. We are as loyal as a good dog, and we have a zero tolerance for BS. Philly fans are not afraid to let anyone hear it, even our own players! Just ask Donovan McNabb!!

Another part to this answer, stems from our often irrationalities as sports fans. We always think we have a chance to win it all, in every sport, every year, and people hate that! This is something that I am guilty of as well, but why other people hate us for being optimistic year in and year out has always been confusing.

Image result for donovan mcnabb yelled at by philly fans

Although, I have finally realized that the single biggest reason people hate us is because we don’t care if you hate us. In fact we embrace it! Now I can’t speak for every single Philadelphia sports fan but what I can say is as a whole (being a Philly sports fan for over 20 years), we just don’t care. Maybe that is ignorant of us, maybe we should care. It’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason why we could care less. It could be because we honestly like being hated. It could be because it’s fun to be an infamous Philly sports fan. It could be because we know as fans that there is nothing we can do to change how people view us. It could be because people mistake passionate fans for bad fans. It could be a million reasons but the only thing that I know for certain is that we will always be the worst fans in sports, and I am okay with that!  

The East is Going to be Really Bad, and LeBron Needs to Take Advantage

The sand in the NBA offseason hour glass is beginning to settle. All of the premier free agents have signed, and the blockbuster trades have been made. Most teams have a good idea of who will be playing in their rotations at the beginning of the season, and much of the roster is complete at this point.

Take a look at all of the NBA’s rosters; some are vastly different from last year (Atlanta Hawks, Philadelphia 76ers) and some are nearly identical (San Antonio Spurs, Toronto Raptors).

Most of the impactful movements have been from the East to the West, making a historically weak East last year even worse, while also setting up the West to have a one of the most competitive seasons ever in single conference history.

Paul Millsap, Paul George, and Jimmy Butler have all gone from East to West, with all three acquired to push their teams to the next level, whether that is Millsap getting the Nuggets to the playoffs, PG helping the Thunder compete with the best of the West, and Jimmy Butler elevating the Timberwolves youngsters to relevance. CP3 stayed in the West, but teaming him with James Harden (and maybe Melo) adds another dimension to the Rockets already lethal offense.

Image result for paul george okc

Jeff Teague joins Jimmy Butler as a more superior scorer and shooter than Ricky Rubio, who stayed in the West in going to the Utah Jazz, in a move that Utah thinks will pay off as they build around Rudy Gobert. Swaggy P adds more shooting (as if they need it) to the Warriors, and Rudy Gay joins the Spurs as a veteran to take some of the offensive pressure off of Kawhi.

Now move on to the East and you have the Celtics getting a star player they coveted in Gordon Hayward, who won’t push them over the Cavs by himself, and, well…NOTHING.
I mean, Tim Hardaway to the Knicks was one of the biggest transactions the Eastern conference has seen…the same Tim Hardaway they gave up for Jerian Grant (!) a few years ago, who they gave up for DRose (!!) last year! Classic Knickerbockers.

The Raptors resigned Kyle Lowry, who is really good, but that hasn’t done shit for them in the playoffs. Oh yeah, the Bulls got Zach Lavine and Kris Dunn (lol).

Which leads me to my main point…

LeBron James should not suit up for more than 55 games this season.
And it’s not even to preserve him for the Playoffs, since they’ve rolled through the Conference the past few seasons facing superior competition throughout the Playoffs, going 36-5 against the Eastern Conference.

And it’s not like it will help against the Warriors, either, as LeBron has averaged at least 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists in each Finals series.  I’m looking at the long term, here.

LeBron has been playing at the NBA level since he was 18 years old. He is now 32, and will be 33 in December of this upcoming season.

Image result for lebron 18 years old

He has never played less than 69 regular season games, except for the lockout shortened season, which he played 62, totaling 1,061 career regular season games, at an average of about 39 minutes per game, equaling over 41,000 minutes!

Add another 217 playoff games, at 42 minutes per game, equaling over 9,100 more minutes, and these aren’t regular season minutes (well some games, especially recently, have been on par with regular season intensity), but playoff minutes.

And don’t forget about his play for the USA National Team, which is usually scrimmage-like, but still…that’s another 1,500 minutes, or about 1/2 a season.

Add all those totals up and LeBron’s legs have endured over 50,000 competitive, on-court minutes!

He is already 28th all time in regular season minutes, with everyone in front of him retired or about to retire, and 2nd all time in playoff minutes, and will surely pass Tim Duncan next season.

Now, LeBron is super human. He’s a Tight End playing in the NBA. He’s had the health of Cal Ripken. He’s a physical specimen of which the world has never seen.  And his training is absolute savagery, with a work ethic and training regimen that few athletes can seem to equate to, or even if they can, make it pay off the way he has, which is why he’s been playing at the highest level of the sport since he’s been a teenager. I mean, this guy get’s back in the gym days after he finishes the Finals, win or lose. UNREAL.

But, there is 1 “athlete” who’s been undefeated for eternity, and I’m not talking about Floyd Mayweather…I’m talking “Father Time”.

The human body can only endure so much physical (and mental) pressure for so long. The intensity of professional sports, combined with longevity, ALWAYS catches up with the athlete. It’s inevitable.  And it will eventually catch up to LeBron, especially since he is not slowing down and will be playing deep into the playoffs for years to come.

So, if the Cleveland Cavaliers, and LeBron for that matter, since he’s up for Free Agency next Summer and may wind up playing somewhere else, were smart, they’d both take advantage of what seems to be a historically bad conference, and let this guy get some damn rest.

Chris Berman to be Replaced by Live Chicken for HR Derby broadcast

ESPN has finally found its replacement for the legendary Chris Berman: a live chicken. BTB Sports received reports from an anonymous ESPN rep this morning that the company had been leaning this way for a long time, finally signing the chicken to a contract earlier this week. Berman had been calling the Derby since the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” began broadcasting the event live in 1994. However, ESPN has found themselves in the metaphorical toilet lately, having to lay off over 100 employees in April of this year. They’re reported to be re-thinking their broadcast strategy of reporting strictly LeBron vs. Jordan and recaps of Deflategate three years later (we’re all as surprised as they are that it’s not working out for them.)

As for the new Home Run Derby broadcaster, it seems like the perfect fit. “Honestly, I’ve thought it’s been a chicken doing the broadcast since Josh Hamilton put on a show at the old Yankee Stadium back in 2008,” the ESPN rep told BTB Sports. “After awhile, Chris saying “back back back” becomes unintelligible from a chicken speaking.” The terms of the chicken’s contract were not disclosed, and the chicken could not be reached for comment at this time. However, it does appear likely that the chicken will be receiving its own television show alongside Stephen A. Smith. If it becomes official, you heard it here first.

Quick Reminder That Max Scherzer is in a Triple Crown Race

For some reason I feel like people forget about Max Scherzer because everybody gets lost in the Clayton Kershaw hype.  Fans think that no matter what Kershaw is the best pitcher in baseball, which is hard to argue with. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Max Scherzer is the best pitcher in baseball.

He literally has no-hit stuff every time he takes the mound, and he already has two in his career. Kershaw is amazing, but when he loses command of his curveball, he comes down to Earth a little. Scherzer has like 19 different pitches for strikes so when one’s off, he has other options.  Fans think it’s a lock that Kershaw will be starting on the hill this year for the All-Star game (if ready based on his start schedule), but I’m here to stand up for Scherzer.

He is nearing the pitching Triple Crown in the NL, behind only in wins.  His ERA is 1.94 (1st), he has 163 K’s (1st in NL, 2nd in MLB to Sale), and is sitting at 10 wins (4th).  He also happens to be 1st in WHIP (.771) and Hits per 9 IN (4.997).  His stats speak for him.

Halfway through the year he’s making a push to lead all three major categories in pitching (ERA, Strikeouts, and Wins).  If the Nationals keep playing well for him, then I see no reason why we won’t see some history out of him this year.

If you’re only a mild baseball fan and you have just kind of heard that he’s good but not sure why, watch these highlights for some further knowledge:

I could watch that a million times.

That’s a change-up at 89 that moves like a lefty slider.  Good luck.

One of those “It’s too easy” games. He got a guy to strikeout on a fastball when it hit him. That’s called “guessing”.

I think Scherzer has clearly dethroned Kershaw as the ace of the MLB, and if he can pull off the Triple Crown this year, other people may finally believe me.