At the end of April, Matt Kemp and Josh Hamilton looked like they were going to run away with the Most Valuable Player award in their respective leagues, but Kemp has since been knocked out of my top 10 by injuries, while Hamilton's lead has largely evaporated due to a recent slump.
On the same night Josh Hamilton smashed two home runs against the Angels he also dove headlong into first base just as many times. The game last Friday represented a good snapshot of why Hamilton is the most compelling player in baseball today: he takes your breath away, whether admiring his talent or fearing he can't hold up.
Matt Kemp isn't the only player off to a hot start this year. Inspired by Kemp's monster month -- which I cover in greater detail here -- and the fact that the All-Star Game voting is already underway, here is a look around the diamond at the 2012 April All-Stars.
Awards Watch is a column dedicated to following the races for the three major player awards -- Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year -- as they develop throughout the season. So, while the horses may have just come out of the gates, the race is on, and Awards Watch is keeping track. However, rather than dive into the deep end with the usual in-depth look at the MVP races, let's ease into things this week with a quick look at the top three contenders for each award in each league.
One afternoon a few years ago, Josh Hamilton was sitting in the video room at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, talking about his return to baseball after a four-year hiatus. "I'm surprised that [my] body has done as well as it has, the way I treated it all those years, the hell I put it through," he told me. "I'm surprised that I haven't been hurt more than I have been. Hopefully I can play 150 [games] or so every season."
The 2011 baseball year surprised us at so many turns. Offense was dialed back to 1992 levels, none of the nine biggest payrolls in baseball won a postseason series, not one but two teams suffered pennant race collapses of historic proportions, and the Cardinals joined the 1986 Mets as the only teams to be one strike from elimination and win the World Series -- and then they lost two franchise icons.
The already-slim chance that Prince Fielder would find his way back to the only team he's ever known, the Milwaukee Brewers, almost certainly ended yesterday when the Brewers signed Aramis Ramirez to a three-year contract. With the money they're paying Ramirez, the decision by Francisco Rodriguez to accept arbitration, and a handful of in-house options for first base it seems certain now that Fielder will be moving to a new town.
After two tense games in St. Louis, the World Series resumes in Arlington on Saturday night with the Cardinals and Rangers tied at one game a piece. Of the last 18 World Series to open with a two-game split dating to 1969, the winner of Game 3 went on to win 16 of them, the two exceptions being the Orioles in 1979 and the Yankees in 2003. No other game in those 18 Series had nearly as strong a correlation with the eventual Series outcome. So, Saturday night's Game 3 is a big game for both teams, arguably the most important non-elimination game of the Series. The Rangers, who stole Game 2 with two runs in the top of the ninth, are looking to build on that sudden swing in momentum, while the Cardinals are hoping that Friday's day off and the change of scenery can help them shake off that dispiriting defeat. Of course, momentum in baseball is only as good as the next game's starting pitcher.
ST. LOUIS -- A check swing is a violent motion. A hitter begins to unleash a forceful cut at the baseball, only to decide at the last possible instant to arrest his accelerating momentum and torque as his lower-body swivels toward the speeding baseball.
Is this the World Series we've been waiting for? Is the longest wait for the best day in sports about to end?
PHOENIX -- The Giants' Bruce Bochy earned the right to manage the National League All-Stars by deftly deploying a stalwart starting rotation and an outstanding bullpen to claim last year's World Series title.
Firefighter Shannon Stone slipped over the railing trying to catch a ball tossed to him by Hamilton
Brewers star Ryan Braun's $105 million, five-year contract extension through the 2020 season seemed like it came out of nowhere, since Braun already had a deal in place that kept him in Milwaukee through 2015.
Men who are 6'4" and 240 pounds with the power to crush a baseball from home plate to the horizon typically don't also have the speed to play centerfield in the major leagues, but the Rangers' Josh Hamilton mixes both with an on-field aggression that pushes the boundaries of what is physically possible on a baseball field.
Some of the biggest names in baseball don't play these days. Barry Bonds is on trial, Roger Clemens is warming in the courtroom bullpen, Ken Griffey Jr. just spent his first Opening Day as a retired player and Stephen Strasburg is hurt. All of them were major drawing cards, which leaves us with . . . who?
This arbitration season made it clear once again that this truly is the Golden Age of baseball. Players and teams got together like almost never before, reaching 82 settlements in advance of arbitration salary filings and leaving only 37 players and their teams to submit arbitration numbers (by comparison, last year there were 46). Included among those are several potentially very interesting cases, including the Rangers' Josh Hamilton, who is coming off a Mickey Mantle-like MVP season, and the Blue Jays' Jose Bautista, Toronto's sudden superstar. Here's a summary of the biggest cases that remain unsettled.
In the 79 days since the World Series ended the Hot Stove has cooled considerably, but with 26 days remaining until pitchers and catchers report for spring training these five pressing questions still have yet to be resolved.
On September 4 at Target Field, the Twins' Delmon Young lifted a third inning flyball that Rangers centerfielder Josh Hamilton tracked back to the wall over his right shoulder. Upon hitting the warning track, Hamilton leaped, caught the ball, and slammed his left side into the padded centerfield wall. Hamilton grounded out in the top of the fourth, then, after playing the field in the bottom of that inning, was replaced in the field in the bottom of the fifth. He didn't play again until October 1.
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 29. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.
The Baseball Writers Association of America awards will be announced over the next week and a half, starting with the Rookies of the Year on Monday and continuing through the American League Most Valuable Player on Tuesday November 23. Here, then, is a look at who is likely to win the four major awards in each league (or who likely has won given that the votes were cast more than a month ago, before the playoffs began) as well as who, in my opinion, deserves to win.
As much as losing the World Series in five games may hurt, the Rangers and their fans can take solace not only in the success they had, but in that this was not likely to be their last chance at a postseason run. With a credible lineup core, a deep well of pitching and a strong farm system, the Rangers are positioned be to the AL West in the 2010s what the Angels were to it in the 2000s. Add in new ownership that has at least made verbal commitments to sustaining a high payroll, and the promise of $150 million a year in local TV money, and the Rangers look to have a very bright future.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- SI's Joe Lemire provides ongoing commentary and analysis throughout tonight's World Series Game 5 between the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Colby Lewis walked off the mound in the eighth inning with a two-run lead and a record crowd chanting his name.
If you placed a heavy bet on a Texas Rangers versus San Francisco Giants World Series before the season, I suggest upholstering the interior of your new private jet in a creamy taupe. Back then, the Giants had 16:1 odds to win their first championship since 1954, and the Rangers were 20:1 longshots to win their first ever.
It's the moment for which San Franciscans have been waiting an eternity. Since the Giants moved West before the 1958 season, they have played in three World Series and lost them all. Now the team few expected to be here has the chance to do what no San Francisco baseball team has ever done and bring home a championship.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- When a visiting pitcher gets into trouble in the Ballpark here, the Rangers like to play the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire," as images of flames light up the LED boards attached to the mezzanine's facade that circles the field. The Yankees heard the song's mariachi horns frequently during the three ALCS games they played here -- and there were only three, because the Rangers won the third on Friday night to give them a 4-2 series victory and their first World Series appearance -- and, to many, its lyrics might have described the managerial patterns of Joe Girardi. I fell into a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the flames went higher.
It's important to learn from your mistakes, and given that we overwhelmingly picked the Yankees and Phillies to repeat as pennant winners, it seems we have a lot to learn. Here, then, are five lessons to be gleaned from the Rangers and Giants' LCS victories.
Baseball's League Championship Series' start Friday with the New York Yankees taking on the Texas Rangers for the American League title. The winner will go to the World Series against the victor in the National League Championship series between the Philadelphia Phillies and San Francisco Giants.
Thanks in large part to the good folks at SportsCenter, where hyperbole is an anchor's best friend, every modestly noteworthy achievement in the modern world of athletics must be classified as "historic" or "making history."
The AL East champion Rays are the consensus favorite to advance to their second ALCS in two years, but don't overlook the Rangers in what should be a long, grinding series. Texas has the power pitchers to shut down an inconsistent Tampa Bay offense. Expect low-scoring games, intriguing bullpen battles, and a lot of shots of Nolan Ryan on the edge of his seat in the owner's box.
With the 2010 regular season concluded, this final edition of Awards Watch presents my best guesses at to how the voting will shake out for the three major awards in each league. Be sure to check back in November to see how I did.
It turns out, after all the shout and tumult, the major award races aren't as difficult or controversial as you were led to believe weeks ago. It's amazing how much clearer issues become when you actually wait for the season to play out and postseason berths to be decided. Imagine that.
While the playoff races are just about decided, a few of the awards races will remain hot topics for debate until the results are announced later this month. The American League Cy Young award, the AL MVP and the National League Rookie of the Year could be among the closest and/or most controversial in years.
Of the five criteria that MVP voters are told to consider in their official instructions, the second is "number of games played." That could weigh heavily on the outcomes of the MVP awards in both leagues. In the American League, Josh Hamilton has been on the shelf since Sept. 4 and still has no projected return date, while in the National League, Troy Tulowitzki is having a spectacular run of production for the month of September (.327/.383/.867, 15 home runs, 40 RBIs), but missed more than a month mid-season due to a broken wrist.
With just two weeks left in the regular season, there is still surprisingly little decided with regard to the major awards and a solid chance that the final two weeks do little to clarify matters. One of the questions readers of this column might ask is, "Where's Tulo?" The Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki has been on another planet this month, hitting .351/.407/1.000 in September with 14 home runs and 34 RBIs. Tulo's 14 homers and 31 RBIs over a recent 15-game stretch marked the most impressive 15-game outburst in September in baseball history, passing Hank Greenberg's 12-homers, and 32 RBIs in 15 games in September 1940. Tulowitzki, however, has not cracked my top three for National League Most Valuable Player.
With just three weeks left in the season, debates are starting to rage about the major awards in both leagues, and the races for all six major awards are tightening up. The one possible exception is the National League MVP race, where the prospect of a the first hitting Triple Crown in 43 years has added a unique level of drama to the one race where a clear winner would otherwise seem to have emerged. For some, this is time to choose sides and dig in their heels. Here at Awards Watch, those ideological battles add another layer of mystery and suspense to these already-compelling races.
The last week didn't affect any meaningful changes in my top-three rankings for the three major awards in each league, but several of the races have tightened up significantly in the past week. In fact, only two of the six races below seem to be close to being decided, and one of those involves a second-place candidate who might actually be more deserving than the presumed winner.
With just four weeks left in the regular season, Awards Watch is moving into the lightning round. Instead of looking at one award per week on a rotating basis, I will now examine all three awards every Monday. In order to do that, I'm trimming my leader lists from the top five to the top three. With the possible exception of the American League Cy Young, where there has been considerable turnover in just the last two weeks, there seems to be little chance of an award winner emerging from beyond the current top three in each category. Our focus now becomes the week-to-week surges and slumps that could give one of the three players an edge over the others. Hold on tight, here we go ...
Just another night in the life of the best player in baseball went something like this, at least as far as last Friday the 13th:
My fifth look at the Most Valuable Player races finds two top American League contenders knocked out of the race by injuries -- one permanently and one literally, as Kevin Youkilis had season-ending thumb surgery on Friday and Justin Morneau is continuing to struggle with the after affects of a concussion suffered in early July. Still, the AL award looks like a three-man race, while the NL chase continues to be dominated by two players who will do battle over the next three days for their division lead. Further down the NL list, we find this is a big year for second basemen in the senior circuit, despite Chase Utley's continued absence.
The top contenders continue to separate from the pack in my fourth look at the Most Valuable Player races. Yet, while the lower-ballot contenders in the American League simply shuffle positions, there is again massive turnover in the National League, where the field of honorable-mention candidates includes roughly 20 players, all of whom could wind up receiving votes in October (30 men received votes for NL MVP in 2009).
ANAHEIM -- Here's what to look for in the Midsummer Classic tonight:
Two very different races are emerging in this year's Most Valuable Player chase. In the American League, three primary candidates are beginning to separate themselves from the pack and should generate a heated debate about the relative value of each as the season progresses. In the National League, a lack of break-out candidates has resulted in a great deal of turnover with five new names making the list, one of them debuting at number-one, plus a sixth returning after falling off the list last week. The comparatively weak NL field makes one wonder if this might be the first time in 18 years that an MVP award is won by a pitcher.
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- In the spring of 1986, when Ron Washington was still a utility player for the Minnesota Twins, he was approached by Andy MacPhail, then the team's general manager, to discuss the perceived drug problem upending major league baseball. This was only one year after the infamous Pittsburgh cocaine trials and just days before baseball's commissioner, Peter Ueberroth, would order the suspensions of 11 players who had admitted to cocaine use during a grand jury investigation. As in-state newspapers at the time reported, MacPhail wanted to institute a randomized drug testing program like the one Ueberroth had already announced for non-playing baseball personnel -- everyone from managers to secretaries -- but couldn't institute for players without union consent. So MacPhail came to Washington with a bold proposal: Would he voluntarily insert a clause into his contract allowing for random urine tests?
Fantasy football is wildly popular because it's a) easy to manage, taking only a half hour of your time each week to get up to speed on the previous week; and b) totally inclusive, inviting players of all levels; and c) transient and completely matchup-based. Far less popular, fantasy baseball is a much more intimate undertaking. With games played nearly every day for six months, you develop a "relationship" with the players on your team, making it even more important to be comfortable with those you draft. To ensure you'll enjoy your team all summer while finding fantasy peace of mind, I've cobbled together a list of Eight Do's and Don'ts that can be applied to all types of leagues, whether they're one league or mixed, head-to-head or rotisserie style. Get familiar with them going into your draft and you should come out in great shape for 2010.
SURPRISE, Ariz. (AP) -- Texas Rangers center fielder Josh Hamilton has missed regular drills at spring training because of a sore left shoulder.
Carl Pavano avoided arbitration on Tuesday by reaching agreement with the Twins on a guaranteed one-year, $7 million deal for 2010. It is the first time the Twins have ever guaranteed an arbitation-eligible one-year deal.
ST. LOUIS -- Monday night's home run derby is being billed as the Albert Pujols Show, but even Pujols himself knows that no matter what he does, no matter how many home runs he hits and how many lights he knocks out on the Big Mac sign, this year's derby is destined to be quickly forgotten like every other derby. Except, of course, one, or more specifically, one man's one round.
The winter of 2007-08 brought us some honest-to-goodness blockbuster trades. Hitting prodigy Miguel Cabrera, star starters Johan Santana, Dan Haren, Erik Bedard and Dontrelle Willis plus standout shortstops Miguel Tejada and Orlando Cabrera all changed teams in the busiest winter trading season in years.
Well, folks, the '08 campaign is underway. And with the launch of a new season, I've decided to tweak my approach to weekly baseball analysis a bit. After two years of "Five Up, Five Down," I'm slimming down to a more compact, concentrated "Three Up, Three Down" frame.