CY YOUNG VOTE
The Notebook casts its Cy Young vote today, with Justin Verlander in Detroit and Roy Halladay from Philadelphia being the choices. Let’s dispense with the obvious one first—Verlander has delivered one of the premier seasons in recent memory, perhaps the most dominant performance by a starter since Pedro Martinez for 1999 Boston. Verlander leads the majors in wins with 24, he leads the American League in ERA at 2.40 and he leads in innings pitched with 251. If you’re into strikeouts, he leads that too, with 250. Even factoring in the good pitching environment of Comerica Park, Verlander is so far ahead the rest of the field that this the easiest pick of all the postseason awards. Jered Weaver for the Angels faded down the stretch and C.C. Sabathia in New York was not dominant. Verlander took over a close Cy Young race in the last two months and is now in the MVP sweepstakes that we’ll address here tomorrow.
Halladay was a much tougher call. There’s four good candidates in the National League, including fellow Phillie Cliff Lee, Los Angeles lefty Clayton Kershaw and Arizona ace Ian Kennedy. The stats say Kershaw, who’s the ERA champ at 2.27, and also leads in wins at 21. He only trails Halladay by two innings for the lead in IP and strikeout lovers (I’m not one if that hasn’t already come across) love the league-leading Kershaw. Like Verlander, he is in a pitcher’s park, but unlike Verlander his edge is not prohibitive. All three Cy Young rivals pitch in hitter’s parks, and Halladay and Lee are each on the Dodger lefty’s heels for the ERA lead. Kershaw is 2.28, Halladay 2.35 and Lee at 2.40. Kennedy is further back at 2.88. His 21 wins keep him in consideration and would move him ahead of Lee (16 wins) on my ballot, but Halladay’s 19 victories are close enough to give deference to superior ERA and more innings pitched. Thus, Halladay wins the “Hitter’s Park Semi-Final” and is paired up with Kershaw, where I think his numbers are close enough to feel that if the pitchers switched parks, Halladay would have the better numbers. I don’t expect him to win the award, but I believe he should get it for the second straight year.
CLOSING THOUGHTS ON NFL WEEK 3
Here’s 11 closing thoughts on the week that was in the NFL…
*Now that Buffalo is 3-0, it’s time give them the Herman Cain treatment and start poking at their flaws. The Bills got zero sacks against New England in spite of the lack of a running game. If Buffalo hopes to keep running with the big boys, they need to get after the passer.
*Pittsburgh might be 2-1, but I am hard-pressed to see where this is a playoff team. They can’t cover on the corners, they can’t establish the run, even against a team like Indianapolis and they’re completely dependent on Ben Roethlisberger, some creative blitz packages and Troy Polamulu.
*I never believed in Detroit’s Matthew Stafford, going back to his days at Georgia, but the Lion quarterback’s effort in Minnesota will go a long way toward changing my mind. It wasn’t just that he rallied his team from a 20-0 deficit on the road. He did without any help from a running game, as Jahvid Best got only 14 yards. Stafford’s been brilliant the first three weeks.
*Monday Night’s loss in Dallas established beyond a doubt that Washington must run the ball effectively. Getting Tim Hightower going between the tackles was identified here in the Notebook as the best way of reducing the pressure on the quarterback. Hightower only produced 41 yards, Rex Grossman was sacked three times and the Redskins lost by two.
*Tampa Bay finally showed the defensive line I’ve been waiting to see. They beat Atlanta because they completely shut down Michael Turner and they got in Matt Ryan’s face, sacking him four times. That’s how Tampa can win without a great game from Josh Freeman and something they need to do more often if they’re going to win the NFC South.
*Speaking of the NFC South, if there were any remaining Drew Brees doubters out there, they should disappear after these early games. Even with Marques Colston being out and a bunch of no-names being at receiver, Brees keeps gunning and put up 40 points to beat Houston.
*Kenny Britt’s injury might be the deciding factor in the AFC South race. Tennessee’s getting good play from Matt Hasselbeck, and Chris Johnson will eventually get back into form after his holdout. But the Titans won’t score enough to outlast Houston in this race without Britt on the outside.
*Philip Rivers still looks stuck in park out in San Diego. The Charger quarterback isn’t getting the ball to the wideouts consistently and the San Diego offense isn’t going to hit on all cylinders without that. I know Malcolm Floyd was hurt, but this is the same team that pretty much picked receivers out of local flag football leagues last year, dropped them in the lineup and Rivers kept cranking.
*Can we bury all the talk of the Dream Team in Philadelphia once and for all? It was silly to begin with and it was naïve to think Michael Vick could make it through the season injury-free—although even skeptics like myself wouldn’t have guessed he’d be knocked out twice in the first three games and finally shelved with a broken wrist. The Eagles look like the fourth-best team in the NFC East right now (which is a nicer way of saying “last place”). Watch baseball, Philadelphians.
*The Green Bay Watch remains the principal point of the regular season right now—is there any reason to think there won’t be another parade in Titletown come February? Sunday’s win in Chicago was a systematic dismantling and Ryan Grant did a solid job establishing the run with over 90 yards.
*I have applied all my analytical prowess to the NFC West and reached this detailed conclusion—it still sucks.
IS PENN STATE ANY GOOD?
One of the many things that annoys me about sports media is that when a team fails to live up to preseason expectations they are immediately labeled a disappointment. Sports prognosticators should be humble enough to admit that maybe the real disappointment was the flawed work of their preseason analysis in giving a team expectations it wasn’t realistic to meet. That’s what I’m debating right now regarding Penn State. I loved the Nittany Lions in August and picked them to win the Big Ten, while staying in the mix of the national title discussion. The loss to Alabama took them out of the latter, but it’s the two games since then that really raise alarm bells.
Penn State barely got by Temple 14-10 in a game played in Philadelphia. I know Temple is a good MAC team, but a top-level Big Ten team shouldn’t have any problem. The Lions couldn’t run the ball and needed three turnovers by the Owls to escape Lincoln Financial with the win. Then last week against Eastern Michigan the margin of victory was an expected 34-6, but the running game was again substandard, as Silas Redd led all Penn State rushers with 48 yards. I’m still not sure if the disappointment in all this is Penn State or me, but the performance on the field looks nothing like a Big Ten title contender.
The schedule still favors Joe Paterno’s team. They play at Indiana on Saturday to open conference play, and then come home for winnable games against Iowa and Purdue. It remains to be seen how tough a trip Northwestern will be after that. Then it’s a home game with Illinois. It’s reasonable to think Penn State could be 5-0 and even if they’re only average, a 4-1 record is a good bet in league play. The tough stretch comes after a bye week, when they get Nebraska, Ohio State and Wisconsin in succession. Then we can find out if the Lions have what it takes to make it to Indianapolis in December for the Big Ten’s first-ever championship game.