The Notebook’s season-ending All-Star tour concludes tonight with a breakdown of each league’s best pitchers. I’ve picked a rotation of five starters, two setup men and one closer for each league. Here are the picks…
SP: Justin Verlander (Detroit) 24-5, 2.29 ERA, 244 IP
SP: Jered Weaver (LA Angels) 18-7, 2.41 ERA, 227 IP
SP: C.C. Sabathia (NY Yankees) 19-8, 3.01 ERA, 230 IP
SP: James Shields (Tampa Bay) 15-2, 2.84 ERA, 240 IP
SP: C.J. Wilson (Texas) 16-7, 2.97 ERA, 215 IP
RP: David Robertson (NY Yanks) 1.13 ERA, 64 IP
RP: Jim Johnson (Baltimore) 2.69 ERA, 85 IP
CL: Jose Valverde (Detroit) 46-for-46 closing saves, 2.41 ERA
There are notable exceptions from Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Josh Beckett is realistically one of the top five starters in the American League, but he’s only got 176 IP, and that’s just way too far behind the best in the league. Tampa’s Jeremy Hellickson also misses selection based on this. In the relief corps, Boston’s Daniel Bard was coasting to selection, but his disastrous September in which he’s coughed up four games, let the Rays back in the wild-card race and seen his own ERA go up over 3. And even though the Ageless One, Mariano Rivera leads all closers with a 1.95 ERA and only trails Valverde by two saves for the American League lead, Rivera does have five blown saves. The Detroit closer’s perfect run gets him the nod. He might get the chance against New York in the ALCS to back that up.
SP: Clayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers) 20-5, 2.27 ERA, 226 IP
SP: Cliff Lee (Philadelphia) 16-8, 2.38 ERA, 226 IP
SP: Roy Halladay (Philadelphia) 18-6, 2.41 ERA 227 IP
SP: Cole Hamels (Philadelphia) 14-9, 2.80 ERA, 206 IP
SP: Ian Kennedy (Arizona) 20-4, 2.88 ERA, 216 IP
RP: Tyler Clippard (Washington) 1.92 ERA, 84 IP
RP: Jonny Venters (Atlanta) 1.69 ERA, 85 IP
CL: John Axford (Milwaukee) 43-for-45 closing saves, 2.07 ERA
The starting pitching choices were pretty straightforward. Tim Lincecum pitched very well, but his 13-13 record knocked him out of the top five and San Francisco teammate Ryan Vogelsong doesn’t have the innings. Axford edges out save leader Craig Kimbrel, because the Atlanta closer has blown seven saves.
You can scroll down the blog for explanations of who the Notebook picked at the everyday spots. Here’s the quick summation…
C: Alex Avila/Brian McCann
1B: Miguel Cabrera/Joey Votto
2B: Robinson Cano/Brandon Phillips
3B: Adrian Beltre/Aramis Ramirez
SS: Yunel Escobar/Troy Tulowitzki
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury/Matt Kemp
OFs: Jose Bautista & Alex Gordon/Ryan Braun & Lance Berkman
Congratulations to all chosen. I’m sure having the Notebook nod as the best at their positions in 2011 helps everyone sleep better at night and will be cited in salary negotiations.
THE SAME OLD STORY IN SAN DIEGO
The Chargers are off to a 1-1 start, with a home win over Minnesota and a road loss at New England. It would have been hard for them to do anything but, and therefore the record alone doesn’t offer us a lot of insight into what San Diego might do the rest of the year. But the early indications are that this team is the same old Bolts—they can score points, they can look awfully good and they can find ways to lose enough games to take themselves out of Super Bowl contention.
Perhaps the most mindboggling thing of the young season was that the Chargers special teams—after an entire offseason of correctly hearing that they were the biggest reason the team missed the playoffs in 2010—came out and allowed Viking return man Percy Harvin to run the first play of the season back for a touchdown! What the $%*!*$. It virtually begged the question of who’s in charge. Can anyone imagine a Bill Parcells-coached team having that kind of lapse at such a moment? Can anyone not imagine a team that respected its coach and was properly disciplined doing anything other than flying down, staying in their coverage lanes and establishing right out of the gate that this year would be different. It didn’t cost San Diego the game and maybe we’ll look back at this post and laugh about how much I read into it. But right now, to me, this smacks of one more lack of focus on this team.
Week 2’s loss in New England was obviously defensible, and the lapses weren’t as flagrant, but they did exist. There was a failure to convert fourth-and-goal on the 1-yard line, when big back Mike Tolbert needed only one block to get enough momentum to run over Jerod Mayo and couldn’t get it. There was Philip Rivers throwing a bad interception at the end of the first half to nose tackle Vince Wolfork of all people and setting up a Patriot field goal. If you watched the game, there was no sense that New England was really controlling San Diego, but every sense that Belichick and Brady would find ways to make plays, while Turner and Rivers would not. That’s what happened.
So it looks like it will be the same old San Diego. And there are worse things than that. It could be the same old Browns. The same old in San Diego means an AFC West title, and with soft home games against Kansas City and Miami ahead, 3-1 is likely, even given this team’s recent penchant for slow starts. But those early Vegas odds, many of which priced the Bolts as a real Super Bowl contender, look overly optimistic.
ANYBODY'S GAME IN THE BOISE-LESS WAC
When Boise State left the WAC for the greener pastures of the Mountain West, it looked like the two teams that shared last year’s title with the Broncos—Nevada and Hawaii would become the new powers and separate themselves from the rest of the pack. Maybe they will, but early results have raised eyebrows, especially what happened last week.
Nevada, after being smoked by Oregon in their opener, went to San Jose State and had to fight to the bitter end before prevailing 17-14. This is against a program that is usually one of the WAC’s worst. The Wolfpack are nowhere close to replacing Colin Kaepernick in the offense. They can run the ball with Mike Ball, but Kaepernick, now #2 on the depth chart for the 49ers, could both throw and pass and without him, Nevada looks like just one of the boys.
Hawaii’s trip to UNLV wasn’t a conference game, and it was a step up in class to face a Mountain West team. But the Rebels have been near the bottom of the MWC and the last thing they’re renowned for is physical toughness. But they held the Rainbows to six rushing yards and piled up 186 of their own. Hawaii can throw the ball with Bryant Moniz, but losing 40-20 to bottom feeder MWC program certainly doesn’t suggest they’re head and shoulders above their own brethren.
All of which leaves the door open for an upstart. San Jose State not only challenged Nevada, but played well at UCLA. Louisiana Tech has taken both Southern Miss and Houston to the wire before losing. On the flip side, they had to go to overtime before beating Central Arkansas, suggesting the Bulldogs will play to the level of their competition. And don’t forget Utah State—maybe that death scare they threw into Auburn back on September 3 was as much about the Aggies as it was about last year’s champs. Boise State is gone but who will replace them at the top is far from settled.