Tag Archives: Clayton Kershaw

More Than A Friday: Thinking of Lamar Odom During a Busy Week in Sports

Lamar Odom is going to die. We sincerely hope it doesn’t happen today, tomorrow, next week, next month, or even in the next year. For Odom, there is a reality, and doesn’t that word really have some negative connotation to it? The reality is, that I hope he is able to survive from the time between now and whenever this publishes, but only for a life that doesn’t involve suffering.

Why do I care about the mortality of Lamar Odom? As former Arizona Cardinal Darnell Dockett so bluntly stated, he didn’t cross my mind before he was trending, so to speak. I don’t mourn for his situation with a Lakers or Heat flag on my car, and I’m not sympathetic to the character he was presented as to the masses on a show I didn’t watch. I know who he is, because of basketball, and I know how much he loved being a Laker, through the words of his ex-wife during a very brief glimpse of that show that I swear I didn’t watch. I’m sympathetic to his situation, because he is very obviously in the public eye, and it feels like he’s slowly dying in front of all of us.

I don’t feel that he deserves that. He deserves our compassion, but to suffer, with all of those toxins eating away at the very life he’s lived for the past 35 years, 11 months, and change; no one has earned that fate. Everyone in the media seems to be acting appropriately sensitive, walking on egg shells and citing his difficult background, while commending his wildly successful life and hoping for the best. We’re all human enough for that; we should be well wishing Odom for a prolonged life or a merciful death, though most of us don’t know the answers. While we brace ourselves for the inevitable assassination of his character from a few directions, and for various reasons, this is a time to be above the noise and just care.

In Major League Baseball

If you lack a dog in this fight, it’s been an awesome week of watching the field dwindle itself from 8 down to 4. If you had rooting interest in the Division Series, half of you are elated and half of you ain’t.

The Chicago Cubs were the first ones in the clubhouse, waiting to see what the rest of semi-final field would be. They had to win that winner-take-all game, which is always dangerous. It meant burning their best arm, leaving one Jake Arrieta available for just one start in the subsequent best-of-5 series. To survive that do-or-die game in Pittsburgh, it meant taking on baseball’s best regular season team and a long-time arch-rival in what’s been a very lopsided pairing for a very long time.

Give it to the Cubs, for not letting history get the best of them. They were able to bounce back after a poor showing in St. Louis in Game 1, a game that had you thinking the Cubs didn’t have the ammunition to survive the almighty Cardinals, beaten and battered as Mike Matheny’s squad may have been. Lo and behold, they kept hitting the ball out of the park, and when the Cardinals pecked away at a Chicago lead, the Cubs scratched back.

We’ll say good-bye to the Cardinals, and point out that they’re just another great National League team that managed to win at least 100 regular season games on a long list of triple-digit winning National League teams that have failed to win the World Series since the Mets won it all in ’86. The 2015 chapter of the Mets are a little different; they’re not supposed to be here. Blame the Washington Nationals for that, but maybe credit these young Metropolitans for being too dumb to know the stage is too big for them or that they’re not ready yet.

For a while, we’ve known the National League’s chapter of New York baseball was acquiring too much talent to be kept down for long. Remember when Matt Harvey was pretty much the chosen one there? Those days are long gone, with the flowing locks of Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard making the Dark Knight (and the Yankees) an afterthought in Gotham. You’ve got Yoenis Cespedes and David Wright earning the headlines for Terry Collins’ team, but it was the efforts of the likes of Michael Conforto and Daniel Murphy that put them in the place they needed to be to host the Cubs on Saturday in Game 1 of the NLCS.

As for the Dodgers, the brilliance of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke for two games apiece wasn’t enough. Chase Utley taking out Ruben Tejada on a questionable double-play breaking slide wasn’t enough. Justin Turner’s .526 batting average wasn’t enough, nor was any other aspect of the roughly $310 million payroll enough to get three wins against these Mets in a best-of-five series. If you’re into math, they were paying about $77 million, per team that advance farther than them in the 2015 Playoffs.

It’s probably not the best of ideas to reduce a best-of-five that goes the distance down to a single inning of an elimination game, but that’s how we’re going to roll with the American League Division Series. The conversation of the day on Wednesday, at around 2:30 PM (Mountain Standard Time) was about whether or not the Astros could rebound from their 8th inning collapse, a few days prior, against the defending AL Champs at home. And maybe the Royals had something to do with that as well, but you had to hold the phone on making Game 5 of Astros-Royals into headline material. Down 6-2 in the eighth inning, on the road, six outs from elimination, the Royals put together one of those innings. They got some bounces and scored enough runs(5) to survive(a 7-6 victory), but needed another win to advance. That was Monday.

Before the Royals could do what they needed to do, back at home on Wednesday evening, there was the issue of settling the other half of the bracket with Game 5 in Toronto. Fast forward to the 7th inning of that one, game tied at 2, with Rougned Odor on 3rd base and Shin-Soo Choo at the plate. On a Russell Martin throw back to Blue Jays’ reliever Aaron Sanchez, the ball hits Choo’s bat and squirts toward the third baseman. Odor scores on the “throwing error”, and all hell breaks loose in Toronto. After a review, the Rangers lead 3-2 and they were 9 outs from another trip to the ALCS. Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus wasn’t prepared to help the cause.

It started with a routine ground ball to short, which he mishandled. Then, there was a double play ball, and well, the ball was thrown poorly by Mitch Moreland at first base, and Andrus couldn’t haul it in. Next batter, it’s a sacrifice bunt not executed well, where a good throw to third should eliminate the lead runner, but Andrus can’t handle it. Bases loaded.

Toronto tied the game on a ball that should be described as a Texas Leaguer, and could have invoked the Infield Fly Rule, floats beyond the reach of the Texas second baseman. It ends up being a fielder’s choice at 2nd base, but the tying run scores. Tie game, runners at first and third for Jose Bautista.

What he did was hit the ball, so far that metaphors would be ineffective for those that don’t know much about Canadian geography. It was a three-run job, giving the home team a 6-3 lead that would stick. After he hit it, he tossed his bat about eight feet in the air, and (we assume) it traveled for kilometers before it reached the ground, well after he’d run the bases.

Blue Jays win, and they’re back in the ALCS, for the first time since 1993. That was the year Joe Carter hit baseball’s second (and most recent) World Series clinching walk-off home run. In a lot of ways, regardless of what happens to the Blue Jays the rest of the way, this Bautista shot may have been a bigger deal.

1908, 1985, 1986, 1993. The last time the Cubs, Royals, Mets, and Blue Jays have won it all, respectively. We’re going to get someone new, while the Giants, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Yankees watch from the couch…and I that’s just fine by me.

In Football

Ohio State is going to stay #1 until they lose. It’s just the way it is. I look forward to them playing Penn State under the lights in Columbus, but I’m not looking forward to seeing them wearing all black, for the sake of wearing all black.

Texas A&M will host Alabama, and the Aggies have a legitimate shot to win that game and establish themselves as a legitimate player in the College Football Playoff talk, while Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan Wolverines host in-state rival Michigan State with a good chance to finally allow some points and to likely get handed their second loss of the season.

Florida will travel to Baton Rouge for a night game with LSU on Saturday. They will be without their starting quarterback, while South Carolina hosts Vanderbilt and USC travels to Notre Dame, both without their head coaches. You might expect an 0-3 run from that group with those voids.

On Sunday, expect plenty of blood in the water, in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Indianapolis. Bruce Arians didn’t even take the Cardinals back home last week, after thumping Detroit; you can be sure he wants to get his pound of flesh from Mike Tomlin and company, after they kicked him to the curb a few years back. TJ Ward said he wanted to remain with the Browns (and presumably his best friend, Joe Haden) two year ago, but Cleveland wasn’t interested, so he’ll surely be interested in ringing some bells with his Broncos visiting the 2-3 Browns. Finally, they say snitches end up with stitches, so go ahead and find your own shitty air/inflation-related pun to describe what Tom Brady and the Patriots might do to the Colts on Sunday night.

In the National Hockey League

Call it a Stanley Cup Hangover, or call it the distraction of one of your top players being accused of sexual assault, but the Chicago Blackhawks have looked anything but Champions…so far.

It’s obviously early, but we haven’t seen an immediate impact from Mike Babcock joining the Maple Leafs or Connor McDavid joining the Oilers. Both will happen in due time.

The Arizona Coyotes are basically left for dead by anyone who knows anything about this game, but they’re off to a promising start under Dave Tippett in Glendale. Rookies Anthony DuClair and Max Domi look like they have something special budding in the desert, making major contributions to the ‘Yotes 3-1 start.

Max Scherzer, Scott Boras Cap Off Raucous Off-Season

The ultimate hammer has dropped. Just when pundits and smart asses alike might have been questioning Max Scherzer and douche canoe super agent Scott Boras for turning down a guaranteed $144MM extension last spring from the Detroit Tigers… BOOM! Seven years, $210MM. The antichrist does it again.

Three certainties in life: death, taxes, and Scott Boras clients going to free agency. The Boras gamble paid off this time, and frankly, it does more often than not (how do you think Ryan Madson feels though?). At face value it looks like a no-brainer, right? However, imagine being Scherzer during the 2014 season. I would have gone to bed every fourth night praying to the almighty not to turn my arm into papier-mâché the next day. Comparing sports or even transcending it to real life is by and large a superfluous exercise but ask yourself: would you reject a $144MM lottery ticket for the chance at $210MM in 10 months? If so then you’re probably in the minority. The best speculation at the time was a $175MM contract. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush? It’s all a matter of risk tolerance. And Boras plays that game with his clients’ lives better (or worse) than anyone in sports. I severely dislike that man for systematically ruining baseball. But I digress.

Do not ignore two subtle aspects to this signing: (1) turning down a substantial extension was a very risky play, and (2) the creativity of this deal could create different opportunities for payroll flexibility particularly for small and mid-market clubs. Organizations might look to replicate Scherzer’s signing bonus and/or deferred money much like Dennis Martinez and Bobby Bonilla in the past. Fifteen million dollars for fourteen years and a fifty million dollar signing bonus dispersed over an undisclosed period of time? Now that’s creative.

One last comment on Scherzer’s deal. Take his comment about the Nationals “commitment to winning” with a grain of salt. If I were a sporting fella I’d wager that ol’ Maxwell wanted to get out from Justin Verlander’s shadow in Detroit. And don’t think that Scott Boras didn’t have a hand in it. When Boras brokered Alex Rodriguez’s then record-setting deal of 10 years and $252 million (2001), he later admitted that dollar amount was specifically targeted because it was double the richest contract ever in sports, Kevin Garnett’s $126MM (1999).

So, what’s the difference between a 26-year old lefty and a 30-year old righty? Apparently, about $10 million dollars and deflated National League numbers.

Career TotalsRecordERAWHIPSO/9IP/162
Max Scherzer91-503.581.2199.6208
Clayton Kershaw98-492.481.0599.4223

Will one of these guys be the next Johan Santana? Scherzer will benefit from not facing a DH anymore but I do not like this deal. Perhaps I am influenced by my small market-ness in Cleveland but long-term contracts for starting pitchers typically leads to an imbalanced payroll and leveraging too much on the short term. Look at the Detroit Tigers. They tried to spend their way to a World Series only to dump Prince Fielder’s contract. And Mike Ilitch has been spending money like he’s a coupon kid at a BOGO sale.

I will call my shot right now: we are starting to witness the demise of the Detroit Tigers. Trading Porcello, Scherzer bolts, David Price is a free agent in 2016, banking on Victor Martinez not to decline with age, MiLB pipeline underwhelming, this formula adds up to a catastrophic disaster of epic proportions. And I can’t wait!

What’s the next domino?

As smart business people do, they let the higher commodity set the market. We would have expected James Shields to be no different now that’s Scherzer’s deal is in place. Unfortunately for Shields he’s on the wrong side of thirty; 33 to be exact. To date he has only made $39MM in his career, 35% of which came in 2014. If he is lucky he will get two paydays before he hangs up his cleats. Otherwise it’s one and done. When 1b or type-2 players sign after a 1a we usually see one of two things: regression towards the mean or over-indulgence caused by missing out on the former. Due to Shields’ age I would bet on the former. If you are a fan of a team in the American League Central then Scherzer and Shields leaving the division is a good thing.

Movers and Shakers

Has there been a more active hot stove in recent years because I cannot think of one. Legitimate All Stars on the move. I mean, the Kansas City Royals go from darling MLB story and World Series losers to now… a destination place for free agents? Huh? We all knew it was only a matter of time before Boston started spending like gangbusters to atone for their awful brand of baseball post-Theo Epstein but the Royals, White Sox, Cubs, Padres, the ASTROS and the MARLINS? What in Barry Bonds’ flaxseed oil is going on? Two words: television money (but that’s a story for another day).

And, of course, bringing up the rear are my Cleveland Indians. A ballclub which fancies themselves as opportunistic players in the free agent market. Right or wrong, they attempt to leverage particular situations to their advantage (see NYM/Michael Bourn overtures). Problem is they have a recent history of being wrong. Yoenis Cespedes? No. Yasiel Puig? Uh-uh. Nick Swisher? ALL-IN, BABY! Or more appropriately, this:

Leave a comment below or follow Marcus on Twitter at @Seel_Deal.

Cleveland Indians: Corey Kluber vs. Felix Hernandez for AL Cy Young

Major League Baseball is in the midst of handing out their regular season awards and several Cleveland Indians are either award recipients or potential recipients. The two big announcements come today (11/12) and tomorrow (11/13) with the Cy Young and MVP, respectively. The Indians have a horse in each race in Corey Kluber (AL Cy Young) and Michael Brantley (AL MVP). Before looking ahead, here is a look at some of the other major award winners.

Rookie of the Year

American League – Jose Abreu, Chicago White Sox

National League – Jacob deGrom, New York Mets

Manager of the Year

American League – Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles

National League – Matt Williams, Washington Nationals

Unsurprisingly, no Cleveland Indian won a Gold Glove or Defensive Player of the Year award, although a case could’ve been made for Michael Brantley (.996 fielding percentage with only 1 error, 2 double plays, 12 assists and 271 putouts in 1304.1 innings of work in the outfield). Speaking of Brantley, he and Yan Gomes were given American League Silver Slugger Awards, which honors the games top hitters and is decided by votes compiled from MLB coaches and managers. Brantley finished the year batting .327 and had an OBP of .385. He hit 20 home runs, had 97 RBI, scored 94 runs and had an even 200 hits. Gomes hit .278 with a .313 OBP while hitting 21 home runs to go along with 74 RBI and 61 runs scored on 135 hits.

Looking ahead, tonight we will find out who will win the Cy Young award. In the National League Cincinnati’s Johnny Cueto as well as Adam Wainwright of the Cardinals will more than likely finish as runners up to Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, who was undoubtedly the best pitcher in baseball for the entire 2014 season. Over in the American League Chris Sale (Chicago White Sox), Felix Hernandez (Seattle Mariners) and Corey Kluber are in a much tighter race, with many feeling it’s between Hernandez and Kluber. To completely rule Sale (12-4, 2.17 ERA, 174 IP) out of the race isn’t fair, but both Kluber and Hernandez have the fuller body of work (mostly due to an injury Sale suffered to start the year). However, assuming the experts are correct, this race is between Kluber and “King Felix”. While it shouldn’t factor in, Hernandez has the more impressive resume with five All-Star appearances, twice the American League ERA leader (including this season) and one Cy Young already (2010). But don’t dismiss Kluber, who can be considered an AL All-Star snub, was tied for most wins among AL pitchers this season and finished near the top in most statistical categories. If you look at this race by the numbers it’s very tight, and a slight edge might go to Hernandez depending on what you place your values on. Kluber was 18-9 with a 2.44 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. In 235.2 innings of work he struck out 269 batters, walked just 51, allowed 64 earned runs (74 total runs), and a K/9 ratio of 10.27 while the opposition had a batting average of just .233 against him. He also had three complete games and one shutout. Hernandez numbers read as follows: a 15-6 record with a 2.14 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP. In 236 innings he struck out 248 batters, walked 46 while giving up 56 earned runs (68 total runs allowed) with a K/9 ratio of 9.46. The opposition hit an even .200 against him, however he never had a complete game or a shutout. He also gave up two more home runs than Kluber (16 vs. 14). A voter putting more emphasis on wins and losses will likely vote for Kluber, whereas a voter placing more emphasis on numbers like ERA will likely be inclined to vote for Hernandez. The two aces were also almost identical in team run support, with Hernandez getting an average of 4.29 runs per start and Kluber getting an average of 4.35 runs per start. If you want to look at Sabermetrics their numbers are still similar, with Kluber edging out Hernandez in WAR (wins above replacement) 7.39 to 6.75.

Both Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber were dominant in 2014.
Both Felix Hernandez and Corey Kluber were dominant in 2014.

So is there anything that can definitively set somebody apart in this race? Perhaps, yes.

The Cleveland Indians defense during the 2014 season was horrendous. They finished with a .981 fielding percentage while committing 116 errors. Both of these numbers were the worst in baseball last year. Conversely, the Seattle Mariners had a .986 fielding percentage (3rd) and committed just 82 errors (2nd). It isn’t unfathomable to think that with even an average defense behind him, Kluber may have had another win or two and more than likely would’ve had a lower ERA. Put a top of the league defense (or at least a defense that committed as few errors as Seattle did) behind Kluber and his ERA, WHIP, and opposition batting average probably much closer resembles that of Felix Hernandez. If you subscribed to Sabermetrics stats then maybe Kluber (with a higher WAR than Hernandez) may have even had better numbers than Felix with Seattle’s defense. That’s all, of course, speculation. What isn’t speculation is this. Kluber was slightly more dominate later in the season (August, September and October) when both teams were in playoff contention. During this time Kluber was 7-3 with a 2.10 ERA in 77.1 innings of work while Hernandez was 4-3 with a 2.44 ERA in 70.2 innings.

Despite the defensive factors, there isn’t really a clear winner in this race. As much as Corey Kluber deserves to be the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, so does Felix Hernandez. Personally, my vote would go to Kluber. While he does have a slightly higher ERA he has a better K/9 ratio and more strikeouts overall, more wins (which, admittedly, aren’t all due to a starting pitcher) and a higher WAR.

Come back tomorrow as we discuss the AL MVP race between Mike Trout, Victor Martinez and Michael Brantley.

Your 2014 MLB Awards

In a perfect world, awards that are given out for a given season would include the entire season, not just the regular season.  Unfortunately, our world is less than perfect, and those who are in charge of such things have deemed that it is only the regular season that should factor in to voting process.  Below is my take on how the 2014 MLB Award season should play out.

Continue reading Your 2014 MLB Awards

Why Can't a Pitcher Win the MVP?

Thursday night I stayed up to watch Tyson Ross and Clayton Kershaw duel as the Padres finished a three-game series with the Dodgers. Getting to see such a good game was reward enough for me but as I turned off the television and rolled over to go to sleep, I couldn’t help but think I had seen more than that.

Before I begin, the point needs to be made that the greatest part about the game was that it took just two hours and twenty-three minutes to complete eight and a half innings (bottom of the ninth unnecessary because the home team won) of baseball. The ‘pace of the game’ is apparently something MLB and newly-elected Commissioner Rob Manfred will try to address in the near future. Although I whole-heartedly agree that games are taking far too long on average, I think micromanagement such as monitoring each hitter’s time spent outside the batters’ box is not the way to go about speeding up. This however, is the subject for another column and so I’ll get back to my point.

Dayn Perry wrote an interesting piece on pitching dominance a little over a week ago and though I was already aware how tremendous Kershaw is, the chart toward the bottom of the page made my jaw drop. On Thursday, Kershaw went eight innings, giving up just one run on three hits and two walks while striking out ten. That means he registered another ‘Dominant Start’ and brought his DS% just above 38 (8 of his 21 starts being ‘dominant’ as Perry describes). As good as he was Ross was even better through seven innings. He also went eight, refusing to surrender any runs until a Carl Crawford leadoff single and a Justin Turner homer gave the Dodgers the 2-1 lead in his last inning of work.

Watching the game unfold, I found myself wondering how some people can be naïve enough to discount the impact a phenomenal pitcher can have on a team. Sure, Kershaw won’t take the mound again until next Wednesday because the Dodgers have Monday off but his eight innings last night were huge.

Not only did Kershaw’s performance notch the Dodgers a home-series sweep against an opponent within the division, it also prevented the bullpen from overuse. Manager Don Mattingly had seen his starting pitchers go just five innings each of the past two days, meaning he had to rely on his bullpen to register twelve of the required twenty seven outs on consecutive days. This is the sort of thing you want to avoid making a habit of, no matter how well your relievers are pitching.

Mattingly might have let Kershaw go out for the ninth had closer Kenley Jansen been used at all the past weekend. Being swept by the Brewers before welcoming the Padres to town meant that prior to Tuesday, Jansen had not pitched since last Thursday in Atlanta.

Had the Dodgers not grabbed the lead on the Turner homer, Kershaw likely would have gone out to pitch the ninth too. His pitch count (if you put stock in such numbers) sat at 103, giving Mattingly more than enough wiggle room to justify sending his ace out to finish what he started. Instead the skipper, with a one-run lead, chose to use Andre Ethier as a pinch-hitter when the pitcher’s spot came up, in a vain attempt to add some insurance.

This is not to say I think Mattingly made a poor choice. I agree with his call to go with his closer, after all that’s what they’re there for. But in going eight and setting himself up to even go nine, Kershaw gave Mattingly a tough choice that any manager on any team would love to have to make.

The way in which the Dodgers won the game will certainly give them a boost going forward too. How good it must feel for the Dodgers to know that every five days, with Kershaw on the mound, they only need to get a couple runs and play sound defense. In a long roller-coaster type season, Kershaw’s track record must give his teammates a welcomed sense of clam at least once a week.

So now I’m asking: why is it that pitchers aren’t supposed to win the Most Valuable Player award?

If your defense is that pitchers already have the Cy Young Award and therefore a hitter should always win MVP, then you need to familiarize yourself with the Silver Slugger Award, given to the best hitter at each position in both leagues. This means that each season there are a combined seventeen Silver Sluggers which are given exclusively to hitters (yes, they do give an undeserving National League pitcher one every year as well). Meanwhile pitchers have only four honors to pursue, and that’s if you include the Rolaids Relief Man Awards for each league.

Maybe you don’t think a guy who plays every fifth day has much of an effect on those other four days. First of all, the impact a starter has on the day he pitches is absolute. If he pitches poorly, it’s going to be tough to get a win that day. If he’s on his game, it’ll be much easier. Secondly, a starting pitching performance often does have a lasting effect until the next time that pitcher takes the mound. For example, the Dodgers’ bullpen is now fully rested as the Mets come to town for the weekend. Lastly, any pitcher we’re even remotely considering for MVP would be dominating opposing lineups much like Kershaw has been this season, not going the minimum five innings to scratch out wins.

Maybe you just don’t like pitchers. Maybe you’re the type who would rather see a 10-8 slugfest than the pitchers’ duel that Ross and Kershaw engaged in on Thursday night. Well, when runs are continually scored, there’s a mound visit every inning and the outfield grass wears thin from trotting relievers, the games take much longer. If MLB wants to speed up the game they should start saying, “chicks dig the strikeout,” because good pitching beats good hitting more times than not, and nobody wants to spend a quarter of their daily time awake watching bad baseball.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Drivers Hurting NASCAR Nationwide Series

by Ryan Isley

The first step in fixing a problem is admitting that you have one in the first place. That is something NASCAR is not very good at doing, but they need to start.

No, the problem isn’t that Aric Almirola won the rain-shortened Firecracker 400 to throw a wrench into the Chase for the Sprint Cup Series. It has nothing to do with the newly formed Race Car Alliance. This time, it doesn’t even pertain to their attendance and falling television viewership. Nope, this time the issue is how NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers are taking over and dominating in the lower divisions.

This was not a problem prior to 2011, because all drivers were eligible to compete for the driver’s championship on multiple levels if they chose to do so. However, NASCAR made a change prior to the 2011 season that stated drivers must declare before the season which of NASCAR’s three – Sprint Cup Series, Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series championship they would be competing to win.

In 2013, there were six drivers who were regulars in the Sprint Cup Series who ran at least 10 of the 33 races in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Kyle Busch ran 26 races, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth in 16 each, Joey Logano in 15 and Kevin Harvick and Kasey Kahne each raced in 11. Those six drivers combined to win 25 of the 33 races, with Busch leading the way by visiting victory lane 12 times and Keselowski racing to seven wins. They also combined to finish in the top-5 57 times and had 75 top-10 finishes.

Of the 33 races in the 2013 NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, only four were won by drivers who were actually competing for the series championship. Regan Smith won two, while Sam Hornish, Jr. and Trevor Bayne each won one.  The series champion – Austin Dillon – didn’t see victory lane once.

In 2014, there have been 13 of the 16 races where multiple Sprint Cup Series drivers have been entered in the Nationwide Series race. Sprint Cup drivers have won 10 of those races, and have 46 top-5s. That is 46 of a possible 65 spots in the top-5, or 71%. Sprint Cup Series drivers have taken at least three of the top-5 spots in 11 of those 13 races and have swept the first three spots six times.

That isn’t to mention that Kyle Busch has raced in five of the eight Camping World Truck Series races this season – and won them all. This was after winning five of the 11 he entered last season.

While these drivers are not eligible to win the driver championship in the Nationwide Series or Camping World Truck Series once they declare their intentions to run for the Sprint Cup Series title, teams have Sprint Cup Series drivers race in other series in order to give them a shot at the owner’s championship. This worked last season, when the Penske Racing team of the No.22 car that was driven 15 times by Logano won the championship. In no surprise, the No.54 of Gibbs Racing being driven by Busch is leading the owner’s championship for this season so far. That same car finished second last season to the No.42. In fact, the top three in the 2014 standings are all driven by Sprint Cup Series regulars, as the No.22 of Penske is second and the No.42 of Turner Scott Motorsports is third. The No.42 has been driven by Kyle Larson 14 times.

This is insanity. Seeing as how the Nationwide Series is supposed to be a sort of a minor league for drivers trying to make their way to the big league (the Sprint Cup Series), there is no way NASCAR can continue to allow the drivers from their premier series to drop down and race in the lower-tier series on a regular basis. This would be like the Pittsburgh Penguins sending Sidney Crosby to Wilkes Barre/Scranton to help win the AHL championship. It would be like the Los Angeles Dodgers sending Clayton Kershaw to the Albuquerque Isotopes to try to deliver a PCL title. It would be like the Oklahoma City Thunder sending Kevin Durant to the Sioux City 66ers to bring home a NDBL championship.

Just like in those instances, NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers taking spots in the lower series takes away an opportunity for a younger driver who is trying to make his name in the sport. But instead of a driver who could step into those cars and get some experience and possibly catch someone’s eye for a bigger opportunity, the big boys of NASCAR continue to drift down to the Nationwide Series – and to a lesser extent, the Camping World Truck Series – and take away those chances.

The series has a commercial running on ESPN – the flagship home of the Nationwide Series races – that states “names are made here.” Well sure, names might be made in the series if you can make your way through the likes of Busch, Logano, Keselowski, Harvick and others.

There are only 17 drivers who are eligible to win the Nationwide Series championship who have participated in all 16 races this season. Sure, there are young drivers like Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, Dylan Kwasniewski and Joey Gase who have been afforded the opportunity to run in all 16 and are making a name for themselves. But there are also plenty of guys who are getting just a taste of the series while either running in the Camping World Truck Series or one of the lesser circuits.

There just aren’t enough full-time rides in the series because the owners are so invested in winning the owner’s championship rather than developing the young talent. Obviously, this makes sense for the owners, as they are the ones putting the money into the teams and want to see as immediate of a return on their investment as possible. It just seems to put some drivers on the outside looking in as they try to advance their careers. Even if teams aren’t willing to commit to one driver for the entire season in a full-time ride, it would be better for the series if that ride was split up between multiple drivers who were trying to get experience instead of guys who are Sprint Cup Series championship contenders.

Another issue that presents itself when the Sprint Cup Series drivers race so many races (and finish as well as they do) in the Nationwide Series is that it compromises the race for the driver’s championship. Among the drivers who are racing for the championship, there are only five drivers who have multiple top-5 finishes in the first 16 races. Regan Smith (the current leader) has four, Elliott Sadler has five, Chase Elliott has seven, Brian Scott has three and Trevor Bane has two. In contrast, there are seven Sprint Cup regulars who have multiple top-5 finishes in the Nationwide Series this season. Kyle Busch has 12, Kyle Larson has eight, Harvick has seven, Kenseth has four, Logano and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. have three each and Paul Menard has two. That is 39 top-5 finishes between those seven drivers that are not being earned by Nationwide Series drivers and therefore are points that are not being awarded to those drivers vying for the championship. For each spot that the drivers like Harvick, Busch, Kenseth, Logano and others take away from a Nationwide Series driver, they are impacting the championship.

As the points stand right now, the top three drivers are separated by just 15 points as Regan Smith (577 points) leads Elliott Sadler by 12 points and Chase Elliott by 15. In 2013, Austin Dillon won the Nationwide Series title was by just three points over Sam Hornish, Jr.  It isn’t just about the championship, either. In 2012, Dillon lost out on second place in the series by one point to Elliott Sadler. Three points and one point were the difference between a championship one season and a second place finish the next season. Now imagine how different the standings might have shaken out had there not been so many results changed by the addition of Sprint Cup Series drivers.

There has to be something that NASCAR can do to fix this problem, and I believe it is to set limits on how many races the Sprint Cup Series drivers can race in either the Nationwide Series or the Camping World Truck Series. Instead of just allowing teams to use these drivers whenever they want, each driver should be given a maximum of 10 races they can race in each series, with no more than five of those races coming in one series. That way, they can run five in the Nationwide Series and five in the Camping World Truck Series.

This seems like a compromise that can help each side. The owners can still use the Sprint Cup drivers to an extent to give themselves a shot at the owner’s championship, while younger drivers on the rise just might find a few more opportunities to prove what they can do. This decision might not be met with a happy reaction from the likes of Busch, Logano, Keselowski, Harvick, Kahne and Kenseth, but it would be for the better of the sport.

One of the arguments will be that fans want to see their favorite drivers (read: Sprint Cup Series drivers) as much as possible, even if that includes in Nationwide Series races and that attendance and/or viewership will be down without those drivers. This might be true for some fans, but if there is good racing to be seen, people will watch it. The best racing will be when drivers who are supposed to be on the same level are driving against each other. You will always get those occasions like when Chase Elliot holds off the likes of Busch, Larson, Harvick, Earnhardt, Jr. and Kenseth as the 18-year-old did in the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway earlier this season for his first career win. But the majority of the time, you are going to see the best of the best outduel those without as much experience, as evidenced by Sprint Cup Series drivers winning 29 of the 33 races in the Nationwide Series last season and 10 of the 16 so far this season.

Make it fair for those who are not only trying to make a name for themselves, but also trying to win a championship. Limit the amount of time that the Sprint Cup Series drivers can spend beating up on the little guy and let the little guy have his time in the spotlight.

But as usual, NASCAR has so far stayed the course and will allow the Sprint Cup Series drivers race in the Nationwide Series. I just hope it doesn’t cost somebody a championship.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]. You can also connect with him on Twitter @isley23.

 

Thoughts on MLB Opening Day

by Ryan Isley

I love baseball – always have, always will. That is why this is one of my favorite times of the year. Sure, we have the stretch run in the NBA and the NHL, plus we are in the middle of the NCAA Tournament and those are interesting all to their own. But for me, I live for Opening Day in Major League Baseball.

With that in mind, I watched baseball Sunday night, all day Monday and then Tuesday as well. After hours of baseball, here are just a few of the thoughts that I had about the Opening Day of our national pastime.

I wish MLB followed the plan of NBA and NFL:

When the NFL and NBA begin their seasons, they do so with their defending champion on national television. This season, MLB started their season with the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros on ESPN Sunday night. While the Rangers were good last season and made the playoffs, the Astros were one of the worst teams in recent baseball history. The 2013 baseball season should have opened at AT&T Park in San Francisco with the Giants raising their second banner in three seasons. I guess I should just be happy the season didn’t open in Japan at 3am eastern time…

I am not a fan of rivalry games on Opening Day:

I know that baseball is all about ratings and trying to get as many people to watch as possible. And I realize that Red Sox-Yankees, Dodgers-Giants, Braves-Phillies, etc. are going to get people watching. But this is Opening Day – people will watch regardless of the match-ups. Divisional rivalry games should be saved for other times during the season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers do Opening Day right:

Forget the actual game for a minute. What the Dodgers did in their pre-game ceremony was pretty spectacular. The team was celebrating the 50-year anniversary of their 1963 World Series title and the 25-year anniversary of their 1988 World Series championship and the MVPs of each series – Sandy Koufax (1963) and Orel Hershiser (1988) were both on hand. Magic Johnson – who leads a group that now owns the Dodgers – was scheduled to throw out the ceremonial first pitch to Hershiser. As Johnson was on the mound, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly came out took the ball and called for a lefty. Here came Koufax out to get the ball from Mattingly and throw the pitch to Hershiser. It was Opening Day pomp and circumstance at its best.

Clayton Kershaw is pretty damn good at baseball:

There were a number of good pitching performances on Opening Day, but Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers was phenomenal. The left-hander was almost unhittable against the defending world champions, as he shut out the Giants on just four hits and didn’t walk a single batter while striking out seven in a complete game on only 94 pitches. The 2011 Cy Young Award winner was masterful on the mound – and it looked effortless. But then in a 0-0 tie in the bottom of the eighth inning, Kershaw proved he could do it all as he crushed a pitch over the center field wall to give his team a 1-0 lead en route to a 4-0 win. Somebody is about to get paid…

Felix Hernandez justifies huge contract (if only for one day):

Speaking of getting paid, that is exactly what Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners did this offseason when the team signed the 2010 Cy Young Award winner to a 7 year/$175 deal. Hernandez went to work on Opening Day and did what King Felix does – he dominated. In the 2-0 win over the Oakland Athletics, Hernandez tossed 7.2 scoreless innings and gave up three hits and one walk as he struck out eight. While Hernandez has won more than 14 games just once in his seven full-time seasons in the majors, the Mariners will be justified in signing their ace to a huge deal if Hernandez continues to pitch this well.

Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper will be fun to watch:

After being shut down early last season despite the Washington Nationals being in contention, Stephen Strasburg showed that he is ready to go this season. In seven innings, he gave up just three hits and struck out three in a 2-0 win over the Miami Marlins. Many were critical of the Nationals last season for keeping Strasburg on a pitch count for the year and not changing their minds when they had a chance to win, but if he continues to pitch like this, the Nationals might have the last laugh.

The two runs for the Nationals both came off the bat of Bryce Harper, the 20-year-old star outfielder as he hit two solo home runs – one in each of his first two plate appearances. There have been more than enough critics of Harper (me included), but the thing you had to like about Harper on Opening Day more than just the homeruns was the way he handled himself. There was minimal showboating – if any at all – and he handled the postgame interview on the field like a veteran. Here’s hoping this is the new Harper, because baseball sure could use him.

Chicago fans treated to pitching excellence:

The Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs each had different starting pitchers for Opening Day than they had last season, but both teams had to walk away from Opening Day happy with what they saw.

Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox: Following up a season in which he went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA, the 24-year-old lefty shut down the Kansas City Royals on Opening Day. He went 7.2 innings and gave up zero runs on seven hits and walked one while striking out seven. If his arm doesn’t fall off this season, teams in the American League Central will grow very tired of seeing Sale on a consistent basis.

Jeff Samardzija, Chicago Cubs: Forget the almost implosion of Carlos Marmol at the end of the game – the real story was Samardzija. The former Notre Dame wide receiver shut down the Pittsburgh Pirates in Pittsburgh in his eight innings. He struck out nine Pirates and gave up just two hits and one walk. It really shouldn’t come as a surprise that Samardzija handled the Pirates, however, as in two outings against them last season he was 2-0, throwing 17 innings and allowing two earned runs on five hits and two walks while striking out 14. At this rate, Cubs fans will be clamoring for Samardzija to pitch every time the division rivals meet.

Jackie Bradley, Jr. has a chance to be special:

It isn’t often that the most talked about player heading into a season for the Boston Red Sox is a 22-year-old who has never even played a game in the big leagues. When it was announced that Jackie Bradley, Jr. had made the Red Sox for Opening Day and would be starting, it was all over ESPN and social media. The rookie didn’t disappoint, even though he went hitless. He drew three walks, had an RBI, scored two runs and made a great catch in the outfield in Boston’s 8-2 win over the Yankees. But the thing he did that may have been most impressive is something you won’t find in the boxscore – while on first base, he beat out a throw to second on a ball hit to the hole between shortstop and third base. The hustle led to the Red Sox getting extra at-bats and extra runs. As much as I hate the Red Sox, I have always loved watching Dustin Pedroia because of the way he plays the game – looks like Bradley, Jr. has a chance to be another one I enjoy watching.

There were a lot of good games and we have six months of baseball ahead of us – I hope those six months are as fun as these past few days.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]