Both MVP races are up in the air this season, as candidates who challenge traditional voter biases are among the leaders. Do you vote for a pitcher like Justin Verlander? Do you take an everyday player from a non-playoff team like Jose Bautista or Matt Kemp? Or do you fall back on conventional choices like a Curtis Granderson, possibly Jacoby Ellsbury (pending the Red Sox fate), Ryan Braun or Prince Fielder? The Notebook casts its vote today, choosing Tiger starting pitcher Verlander in the American League, and Dodger centerfield Kemp in the National League.
I don’t have the same issue a lot of people do with picking a starting pitcher. The argument that the pitcher only goes every five days is counterbalanced by the sheer impact that the starting pitcher has on the game he does pitch, an impact far greater than say, a shortstop. When it comes to value to his team, Verlander had to carry a rotation that was very inconsistent behind him and for most of the year the setup relievers were the same. He had to win, he had to 7-8 innings a start and he did it, pushing his team to an AL Central title. Bautista comes in a very close second and had he pushed Toronto to the goal of a winning season (they are 80-81 coming into tonight) I might have nudged him into the top spot. Those two separate themselves from the rest of the field.
Kemp deserves to be a landslide winner in the National League. He has to produce in a tough hitter’s park, yet has a .399 on-base percentage and .584 slugging. In a lineup that’s mostly offensive-challenged, Kemp has driven in 124 runs and scored 114, suggesting he maximizes every opportunity he gets. And his team is on the brink of an improbable winning record, sitting on 81-80 for tonight’s finale. He should win out over the Brewer duo of Braun and Fielder, whom I believe cancel each other out on the question of value, since they have each other to fall back on. The same can be said Lance Berkman in St. Louis, who’s had an MVP-caliber season, but has Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday covering his back. Kemp may not be going to the playoffs, but the Dodgers are a lot further along with him than without him, so let’s give the trophy.
WILL SOUTH FLORIDA BE THE PRIDE OF THE BIG EAST?
It’s been several years now since South Florida started knocking on the door of national prominence. In the wild year of 2007 they even got to #2 in the polls for a week. But the Bulls have never won the Big East title or made a major bowl game. They made another knock at national prominence in the season opener when they upset Notre Dame, as Skip Holtz returned to his alma mater and the place where his father became a legend and got a 23-20 win. South Florida has continued on to a 4-0 record and they enter Thursday night’s game against Pittsburgh
USF followed up its win over the Irish, by hammering Ball State. Before you dismiss that win, keep in mind that Ball State looks like one of the better MAC teams and other Big East teams did not play well against MAC foes this past week—UConn struggled past Buffalo, Rutgers was unimpressive against Ohio and Syracuse needed an officiating controversy to escape pesky Toledo in the Carrier Dome. South Florida measures up well to its conference brethren through September.
Whether or not measuring up to Big East standards makes one a legitimate major bowl team is another question and here South Florida has a ways to go. They need a more consistent running game from Darrell Scott. Right now the Bulls are too reliant on quarterback B.J. Daniels for both running and passing, and they need more big play possibilities in the passing game. The strengths are that they play turnover-free, something that was huge in the win over Notre Dame, and they play good run defense.
South Florida is joined by Cincinnati and perhaps West Virginia in the Big East race. Both rivals were hammered by SEC foes (Tennessee & LSU, respectively), and even USF’s win over Notre Dame can’t measure up to that competition. It makes for another interesting conference race that starts tomorrow night, and Holtz’s Bulls finally have a chance to push that door down.
CLEVELAND’S CHANCES OF CONTENDING
Cleveland came into the season with expectations of improvement and perhaps an outside shot at making the playoffs. An opening-day loss to Cincinnati quickly put a damper on all that, but the Browns have come back with wins over Indianapolis and Miami. With a home game against Tennessee ahead on Sunday, the possibility rookie coach Pat Shurmur could be 3-1 and tied for first in the AFC North going into the bye week are real. But this isn’t exactly a tough schedule gauntlet they’ve run, so how much can we really take out of it?
Colt McCoy has been very inefficient in the passing game thus far, going 19-for-40 against the Bengals and 19-of-39 last week against the Dolphins. Only against Indy did he really show any consistency. We can’t put all the blame on him for that, since the running game support Peyton Hillis provided last year, has been non-existent this year. Nor has any one receiver really stood out. Nor is the pass protection all that special, save for Joe Thomas. I guess this is the long way of saying I think the Browns are very lucky to have stolen a couple wins against teams equally struggling to find themselves.
It wouldn’t surprise me if the Browns make it to 3-1 this weekend. Tennessee is missing receiver Kenny Britt for the year and doesn’t have its own running game in gear yet, thanks to Chris Johnson’s holdout on top of the missed time due to the lockout. It won’t surprise me if Cleveland stays in contention all year long thanks to weird quirk in the schedule that has them playing all four games against the Steelers and Ravens in the last five weeks. If nothing else, that gives them to fix the problems that would be well on the way to sinking most teams right now.