by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
*This conversation has been edited for grammar and clarity.
JS: Alright Eric, that’s a wrap on the Wild Card weekend of the NFL Playoffs. What did you think was the best of the six games played?
EF: Four of the games were close. Three were really good. I have to say Miami-Buffalo was the best. The Dolphins played well, despite being a third string quarterback. They did not give up after trailing early and really played Buffalo tough three times this year. I feel as though with Mike McDaniel in charge, they are one quarterback away from being really good.
JS: That Buffalo/Miami game was shocking to me. I thought the Bills would blow them out. I also thought the Bengals wouldn’t have much trouble with the Ravens. Maybe those two teams aren’t as good as we thought they were?
EF: Injuries and sloppy play have caught up to both teams and now they will meet since the Damar Hamlin situation went down. Thankfully, he is out of the hospital and back in Buffalo after a scary injury. I will also mention the Jaguars comeback over the Chargers. From down 27 and basically was dominated in the first half to a very shocking comeback that is the stuff of legends.
JS: Let me tell you what I was doing during that Jaguars comeback - one of the biggest and greatest in NFL Playoff history... I was watching "The Banshees of Inisherin," a critically acclaimed movie I've wanted to see for a while because I thought that game was DONE. The Chargers were up by, I believe, more than three touchdowns late in the first half and I'd see all I needed to see with Trevor Lawrence throwing picks every time he possessed the ball. I guess that's my bad. Don't ever give up they say. At least the movie was good.
JS: Who do you think had the most impressive weekend as far as player performance goes?
EF: I have to say Dak Prescott. Prior to the game against Tampa Bay, he had at least one interception for seven weeks in a row. He had a bad thumb injury that sidelined him for a few weeks. I did not think he would outperform Tom Brady and I also did not expect it to be super close. Prescott was brilliant against the Bucs. His best game of his NFL career. He was spectacular.
JS: Yes, I’ll agree with Prescott. I’ve seen his play in the last few games of the season and it wasn’t good. He was a pick machine and honestly I expected that to be the case in the playoffs. I predicted the Cowboys would lose to Tampa Bay. He comes out with five total touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) and over 300 passing yards with no interceptions. It may have been a career night for him on a big stage.
JS: Alright let’s get to the Divisional Round matchups. The first game of the weekend will be the Jacksonville Jaguars coming off of that epic comeback win against the L.A. Chargers traveling to Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City to take on the Chiefs, who had a first round bye as the No. 1 seed. How do you see this one playing out?
EF: The Jaguars magical season comes to an end in Kansas City. I know they met a few weeks ago with the Chiefs winning in a close game. Kansas City will win by double digits, but Jacksonville will be a force in the AFC for years to come.
JS: The game you referenced was Week 10 in mid-November. Kansas City beat Jacksonville 27-17. Patrick Mahomes threw for 331 with four TD passes and a pick. Trevor Lawrence had 259 yards with two TD passes. I’ve thought the Chiefs have been the best the league has had for about four or five years now, but that doesn’t always mean Super Bowl run. With the way the Jags came back last weekend nothing will shock me, but I’m predicting Chiefs. Not sure if it’ll be the double digit win you’re predicting but as long as K.C. is in the playoffs I don’t think I can pick against them.
EF: I will say it be a 10 point decision just like earlier.
JS: That game will be at 3:30 CT on NBC - the final NBC broadcast of the year - by the way.
JS: The second game on Saturday will be the New York Giants, fresh off their win against the Minnesota Vikings, traveling to Philadelphia to take on the No. 1 NFC seeded Eagles. This is, of course, a NFC East rival. The Giants have failed to beat the Eagles twice this year, losing 48-22 in week 14 and 22-16 in week 18. So, this will be the second straight game against the Giants for Philly. This game will be at 7:15 CT on Fox. Do the Giants finally beat the Eagles, or will it be three strikes and they’re out?
EF: This will be interesting. Eagles is coming off a bye, but they have had to deal with injuries. Jalen Hurts dealt with a right shoulder injury and Lane Johnson with ribs (both will play). But with extra rest, that should help them both. This is one of the better rivalries in the NFL. Very emotional and intense. I was wrong with the Giants/Vikings prediction. Brian Daboll is the Coach of the Year. But the Eagles will win this game in a really close game. A field goal in the last seconds will win it for Philadelphia.
JS: I think it’ll be a close matchup too simply because of the familiarity between the two. Philly beat the Giants by a combined 32 points this season (most of that coming in the first matchup). I’m going to pick the Eagles to win their third game against New York this season, but this may be me hoping more for the Eagles to win than predicting it simply because I’d hate to see such a dominant team in the NFC during the season go one and done in the postseason.
JS: The first game on Sunday is a rematch of a game that unfortunately didn’t get far a few weeks ago on Monday Night Football when Buffalo Bills safety Damar Hamlin suffered a cardiac arrest after a hit in a game against the Cincinnati Bengals. It could be an emotional game for both of these teams but it’s also what I think should be the best game of the Divisional Round. It’ll start at 2 p.m. on CBS. How do you see this game playing out?
EF: I agree with you on Bengals-Bills on being a very emotional game for both teams given what happened the last time the two teams met. For Cincinnati, the offensive line is down three starters. Two of the three won't play for sure. That is a major disadvantage going against a tough Buffalo defense. On the other hand, Josh Allen has been mistake prone lately, but he has still made big plays to help his team. This is very much an either way game. Whoever has the football last, will win this game. I have liked the Bengals these past couple of seasons, but if this game was in Cincinnati, I would pick them. I am picking Buffalo to win this one, but it will be a very close game.
JS: I could definitely see this game going either way and agree it should be close. I, too, am predicting the Bills - which if both our predictions are right - would lead to an AFC Championship game in the neutral city of Atlanta - which kind of sucks.
JS: The final Divisional Round playoff game on Sunday sees the Dallas Cowboys travel to San Francisco to take on the 49ers. That game can be seen on Fox at 5:30 p.m. How do you think it’ll play out?
EF: This should be a great game! It's the ninth all time playoff meeting between Dallas and San Francisco. Always a heated battle when these two teams meet in the playoffs. I was impressed with Dallas' performance minus the kicking game. Offense and defense were great against Tampa Bay. Now the Cowboys have a bigger challenge in a 49er team that beat them last year in the playoffs. Brock Purdy has been great for them. I think it will come down to two things: which quarterback will make fewer mistakes and which running game will be the strongest? To me, I believe this will be a four quarter game. Even though the 49ers had a couple of days more rest, I think Dallas will play well on a short week. Plus, it will be a field goal game. I am going with the 49ers in a close, tight game 30-27.
JS: If it's a field goal game the Cowboys are likely in trouble because it definitely feels like Brett Maher has the yips. I don't think he can be trusted at all right now. I too was very impressed with Cowboys offense against Tampa Bay, in particular Dak Prescott who had been struggling mightily. But the 49ers are a much better team than the Buccaneers were this season. San Fran is also incredibly hot right now riding the longest active winning streak in the league. It may be a close game. I hope it is. But I'm riding with the 49ers here.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
*This conversation has been edited for grammar and clarity.
JS: So, Eric, the Wild Card round of the NFL Playoffs is set for the weekend! The Kansas City Chiefs are the no. 1 seed in the AFC and the Philadelphia Eagles are the no. 1 seed in the NFC so those two teams get a week off to rest their players, watch the rest of the competition and not have to hold their breath. The first Wild Card round game will take place on Saturday at 3:30 CT when the No. 7 seed Seattle Seahawks travel down the Pacific coastline to take on the No. 2 seed San Francisco 49ers. Being NFC West division rivals this will be the third time these teams have matched up this season. The 49ers took both games against Seattle in the regular season. Do you see Seattle finally beating them?
EF: I do not see Seattle winning this game. The Seahawks are a nice story just by making the playoffs after trading Russell Wilson to Denver. No one saw that coming. Pete Carroll will get some votes for Coach of the Year, but I just can't see Geno Smith doing anything against an incredibly good 49ers defense. Seattle will hang for a bit, but San Francisco will pull away late and move on.
JS: Yeah Seattle making the playoffs is an impressive season in its own right. That alone earned Geno Smith a $2 million bonus in his contract. The 49ers have been impressive late in the season. You wouldn’t expect a team that’s fielded three starting quarterbacks on a season to be looking this good. But you mentioned the team’s stellar defense led by defensive end Nick Bosa and his league-leading 18.5 sacks. Christian McCaffery at running back was a great acquisition for the team and they’ve got a solid receiving corps led by one of the best tight ends in the game in George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk who went for more than 1000 receiving yards. But the real surprise for this team has been the play of late of QB Brock Purdy, who was literally Mr. Irrelevant (the last player taken in the draft). He’s come in and helped the team run off six straight wins. He literally hasn’t lost yet.
JS: The second playoff game on Saturday will be the Los Angeles Chargers traveling across the country to take on the No. 4 seed AFC South champion Jacksonville Jaguars. That game will be at 7:15 CT on NBC. Despite having home field, the Jags were 9-8 this year compared to the Chargers 10-7, so we probably don’t expect the Chargers to be the underdogs, do we?
EF: This is one of those I don't know whom to pick because this is the first playoff game for both teams in a long time. The very first playoff game for both Justin Herbert and Trevor Lawrence. The Chargers have been injury prone leading up to the playoffs. I am going with coaching experience with Doug Pedersen having been a Super Bowl-winning head coach. I am going with the Jaguars for this game.
JS: This could be a surprisingly good game between two close teams that are both hot right now. The Jaguars enter the playoffs having won 5 straight games after a 4-8 start to win their division and make the playoffs. Though only one of those 5 wins (an overtime thriller against Dallas) was again a playoff opponent. The Chargers have won four of their last five games with the only loss being to the lowly Denver Broncos on Sunday. Only one of those wins came against a playoff foe in Miami. I think it’ll be a close, fun game but I’m leaning toward the Chargers winning.
JS: The first playoff game on Sunday sees the Miami Dolphins traveling up north to play their AFC East rival Buffalo Bills. The game will be on CBS at noon. It’ll be the third time these two teams have matched up this season with the Dolphins beating the Bills in September and the Bills returning the favor in December. The Bills are riding a 7-game winning streak into the playoffs, while the Dolphins have lost five of their last six. Do the Dolphins have any chance in this game?
EF: No. I am going to say the Bills will win this game. Who will start for Miami if Tua Tagovailoa or Teddy Bridgewater can't go? I don't want to say it is a complete mismatch because it is a divisional rivalry, and you never know about these games. But the Bills are playing inspired football and will play hard throughout their playoff run. The Dolphins were a good story this season, but their season will end in Western New York.
JS: I would never discount the Kansas City Chiefs, but there's a good chance the Bills should be considered the favorites in the AFC right now with their hot streak. A potential Bills/Chiefs AFC title game excites me more at this point than any potential Super Bowl matchup. The only thing that could make the Bills/Dolphins game close is the Dolphins familiarity with the Bills having played them twice already, but Miami certainly slumped their way into the postseason and this could be the biggest blowout of the Wild Card weekend.
JS: The second game on Sunday sees NFC No. 6 seed New York Giants (one of three NFC East playoff teams) travel to Minnesota to take on the NFC North champion Vikings. That game will be on Fox at 3:30 p.m. The Giants were a pleasant surprise this season under coach Brian Daboll, probably the front-runner to win Coach of the Year, going 9-7-1, but it feels like they have a hard task against the 13-4 Vikings. Eric, what do you think?
EF: I respectfully disagree with you on being a hard task with the Giants against the Vikings. Even though Minnesota has 13 wins this season, 11 of those wins have been in close games, and I know Daniel Jones is playing his first playoff game. And Brian Daboll is coaching his first playoff game. But playing a lot of close games is not easy. Just a couple of weeks ago on Christmas Eve, these two teams played a close game. The Vikings won on a walk-off field goal. I think it will be another close game, but Kirk Cousins will outplay Daniel Jones and Minnesota will escape with another close win.
JS: Kirk Cousins definitely seems to have some of that good luck on his side.
JS: The third and final playoff game on Sunday is yet another inner-division rival matchup. This time the AFC North-winning Cincinnati Bengals will take on the No. 6 seed Baltimore Ravens. It’ll actually be the second week in a row for these teams at Cincy just beat Baltimore 27-16. In week 5 the Bengals lost to the Ravens 19-17. The Bengals are riding the second-longest winning streak in the league with eight wins in a row. They haven’t lost a game since October. But might things be looking up for the Ravens? There’s reportedly a strong chance Lamar Jackson could rejoin the team at QB. He’s been out with a left knee injury since December 4.
EF: I think getting Lamar Jackson back for the Ravens will be great because he is their best player. A bigger question is if the Ravens lose this game, will it be Lamar's final game in a Baltimore uniform? That is a wait-and-see. Meanwhile, even if Jackson does return for this game, Joe Burrow and the Bengals. Usually, teams that lose the Super Bowl the year before have a big letdown the season after. Not the case with the Bengals. They started out slow but finished strong. Even as a three-seed in the AFC, they could go to KC or Buffalo and win. It will be a close game because they are division rivals and the return of Lamar Jackson, but Cincinnati pulls away late.
JS: The Bengals shocked the football world last year by winning the AFC. It wouldn’t be a shock to do so this season. I still think, however, they should only be the third favorite in the conference behind Kansas City and Buffalo. I don’t think the Ravens will be too much of an issue for Cincy, but you never know when two teams know each other this well.
JS: The final playoff game of the first weekend is actually on Monday night with the No. 5 seed Dallas Cowboys traveling to Tampa Bay to face the NFC South-winning Buccaneers. The Cowboys were 12-5 this year and the Buccs won their division with a losing record. But for some reason, Dallas doesn’t feel like much of a favorite, if any, to me.
EF: You don't ever want to bet against Tom Brady, even if his team has the worst record. Yes, Dallas has not lost back-to-back games this season. I just think the Bucs may not have a strong team, but Brady will have them ready. He's never lost to the Cowboys in his career and he will do everything to keep it that way. I got Tampa Bay winning this one.
JS: I’ll get to my Tampa/Dallas prediction in just a second, but it just came out while we were having this conversation that Lamar Jackson won’t make his return to Baltimore this weekend due to his unstable knee. So, I’d say the Ravens have almost no chance of beating Cincy. Would surely be the biggest surprise of the opening weekend if they do.
JS: Dallas may have a much better record this season than Tampa Bay and as you pointed out have not lost back-to-back games all season, but they just don’t look like a playoff-winning team to me and with the winningest playoff player in NFL history leading the opposition I have to project the Buccs to win. Hopefully, it’ll at least be a close, fun game. I’m not a fan of Monday night playoff games by the way. This game will be on ABC and ESPN at 7:15 CT.
EF: Dallas/Tampa Bay will be a close game and just looking at the playoff matchups, it will probably be the best game of the weekend. I agree that Monday night playoff games are tough because the winner has to turn around and take on a higher seed on short rest.
by Eric Fulton
The 2022 College Football season will conclude on Monday, January 10th in the National Championship game from So-Fi Stadium in Los Angeles. The game will feature a University of Georgia Bulldogs team, who is looking to become the first team to win back-to-back national titles since 2012 when Alabama went 25-2 during their championship run. Georgia’s opponent is a team who no one thought would be in the national title championship game when the season started in September, the Texas Christian University Horned Frogs. TCU was picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll and can conclude the greatest underdog story by winning the national championship, even though they did not win their own conference.
We’re going to take a look at the comparisons between the two teams.
First, when you look at the quarterbacks, you see two veteran signal callers who have built a major legacy for each of their programs. Georgia quarterback Stetson Bennett is looking to become the first starting quarterback since A. J. McCarron of Alabama (2011 &2012) to lead his team to two straight national championships and cement his legacy as one of the winningest quarterbacks in college football history. Bennett is currently 24-3 as Georgia’s starting quarterback. For TCU, Max Duggan has also won 24 games as a four-year starter for the Horned Frogs, but unlike Bennett, Duggan and TCU had some growing pains earlier in his career. Prior to this year, Duggan lost 16 games in his college career. However, Duggan has turned things around for the Horned Frogs throwing for 30 touchdowns with over 3,300 passing yards. Duggan became the first TCU player to be named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy since running back LaDainian Tomlinson in 2000 and won the Davey O’Brien and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Awards for his performance in 2022. Quarterback is perhaps the best matchup between the two teams, but the advantage would be for Bennett based on experience and his role as a game-manager quarterback.
Skill players will always be a factor in big games. For TCU, look for Kendre Miller to possibly carry the ball. Miller was injured in the Fiesta Bowl vs. Michigan and is questionable for Monday’s game. If Miller can’t go, look for Emari Demercado to step up. Demercado was tremendous in Miller’s absence in the Fiesta Bowl rushing for 150 yards on 17 carries with a touchdown. Miller was the leading rusher for TCU this season with 1,399 yards, good for an average of 6.2 yards per carry, along with 17 touchdowns. Wide receiver Quentin Johnson was the Horned Frogs’ leading receiver with 59 receptions for 1,066 yards and six touchdowns.
The Bulldogs counter with three running backs whom each rushed for over 500 yards this season. They are led by Kenny McIntosh, who rushed for 779 yards with 10 touchdowns on 142 carries. Daijun Edwards is close behind McIntosh with 739 yards with seven touchdowns on 135 carries. Kendall Milton is third for Georgia with 559 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on 75 carries. Georgia has had the best tight end in college football the last couple of years in Brock Bowers. Bowers led the Bulldogs in receptions, yards and touchdowns (56 receptions, 790 yards and six touchdowns). Ladd McConkey is second on the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns (53 receptions, 674 yards, and five touchdowns). TCU has some good players, but Georgia has the edge for their running backs and wide receivers/tight ends distribution.
The offensive numbers for both the Horned Frogs and Bulldogs are just about even. Georgia averages 39.4 points per game, while TCU averages 40.3 per game. Yardage-wise, TCU averages 473 yards per game, while Georgia averages 495 yards per game.
This game will likely be determined by which team plays better defense.
Looking at the numbers, Georgia is the best team defensively and it is not even close. The Bulldogs only gave up 15 points and 305 yards per game. TCU, in a highly offensive Big 12 Conference, gave up 25 points and 385 yards per game. Georgia is a defensive team, although they did give up 41 points to Ohio State in the National Semifinal. Although they lost a lot of talent to the NFL a season ago, the Bulldogs still have excellent talent on defense led by Kelee Ringo at defensive back, Jamon Dumas-Johnson at linebacker and Jalen Carter on the defensive line. TCU may not have the better defensive team, but they do have a very good defensive back in Jim Thorpe Award winner Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson. Also watch for safety Bud Clark, linebacker Johnny Hodges and defensive ends Dylan Horton (who led TCU in sacks with 10.5) and Terrell Cooper. The Horned Frogs’ 3-3-5 defensive scheme could give Georgia’s offense some issues, but Georgia’s speed and strength on defense will be a major challenge for TCU’s offense.
When you look at the coaching matchup, you have to give props to TCU head coach Sonny Dykes for just even making it to the national championship game. Prior to his arrival in Fort Worth, Dykes coached for three other programs, including four years at TCU’s rival, Southern Methodist University (SMU) (Louisiana Tech and California were the others). Under Dykes, SMU went 10-3 in 2019, their most wins since the Mustangs’ great teams in the early 1980s. A win over a great team like Georgia could have Dykes in a great coming out of nowhere story to win a championship.
Kirby Smart is already one of the best coaches in college football. After being a part of Nick Saban’s coaching staff at Alabama, Smart has established his own staff to create a program to not only compete with the Crimson Tide but also become better than Alabama and the best in America. In seven seasons, Smart is 80-15 at Georgia. Winning a second straight national title could put him amongst one of the greatest in college football history in just under 100 career games. While it would be great to see Dykes win a national championship coming from out of nowhere, Smart has the experience and leadership to win for a long time.
Prediction: America always loves the underdog story. TCU fits that bill. If the Horned Frogs win, they will become the first team to win the National Championship since Georgia Tech (which shared the title with Colorado) in 1990 after a losing season.
For Georgia, it is about the opportunity of winning back-to-back national championships and putting the stamp on having your school become one of the ultimate elite teams in college football. The stock of Georgia football is at an all-time high. They are 32-1 in their last 33 games. With the evolution of an expanded playoff, Georgia could become the last team to win consecutive titles for a long time.
Final: Georgia 42, TCU 31.
by Julian Spivey
Team of the Year: Golden State Warriors (NBA)
The Golden State Warriors proved that they shouldn't be underestimated during the 2021-22 NBA season. After two injury-plagued seasons where they failed to make the playoffs after five straight appearances in the Finals (in which they won three titles), the Warriors found themselves back where they belonged dominating their way through the Western Conference playoffs against the Denver Nuggets, Memphis Grizzlies and Dallas Mavericks before finding themselves as the underdog to the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics. Their stifling defense led by Draymond Green and Kevon Looney to go along with their high-powered offense led by a rejuvenated Splash Brothers (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) and a breakthrough Jordan Poole and Anthony Wiggins took care of Boston in six games.
2021: Atlanta Braves (MLB)
2020: Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
2019: USA Women’s National Soccer Team
2018: Boston Red Sox (MLB)
2017: Houston Astros (MLB)
2016: Chicago Cubs (MLB)
2015: Kansas City Royals (MLB)
Athlete of the Year: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees - MLB)
One thing I look for when determining Athlete of the Year for this annual piece is not just who was the best athlete in their respective sport but who dominated their respective sport so much that there wasn’t even a question about who No. 1 was. This year, that athlete was New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge in Major League Baseball. Formula 1 racer Max Verstappen was fairly close with likely the most dominant F1 season in history – but that can be seen as more of a feat of engineering than athleticism. Judge set what I now consider to be the single-season MLB record for most home runs in a season with 62 (every player with more used performance-enhancing drugs). Judge also led the American League in RBI, runs scored, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and wins above replacement on his way to winning Most Valuable Player.
2021: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels - MLB)
2020: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs - NFL)
2019: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens – NFL)
2018: Simone Biles (USA Women’s Gymnastics)
2017: Tom Brady (New England Patriots – NFL)
2016: LeBron James (Cleveland Cavaliers – NBA)
2015: Stephen Curry (Golden State Warriors – NBA)
Coach of the Year: Rob Thomson (Philadelphia Phillies - MLB)
Typically, I’d like to go with a coach that won a championship, but what Rob Thomson did this Major League Baseball season with the Philadelphia Phillies was too amazing to pass up. In early June the Phillies fired manager Joe Girardi and named Thomson, their bench coach, as the interim manager. At that point, the Phillies were 22-29. The team would wind up going 65-46 under Thomson and winning one of the National League Wild Card positions in the first year of an expanded postseason. The Phillies weren’t expected to do much in the postseason, but then swept the N.L. Central winning St. Louis Cardinals in the first round and then dominated the N.L. East winning Atlanta Braves (a team in the Phillies’ own division) in the second round. The team continued rolling through the San Diego Padres in the National League Championship Series before reaching the World Series to take on the American League champion Houston Astros, where their Cinderella run finally ended. The craziest thing about Thomson’s season is he wasn’t even one of the three N.L. Manager of the Year finalists!
2021: Brian Snitker (Atlanta Braves - MLB)
2020: Andy Reid (Kansas City Chiefs - NFL)
2019: Dave Martinez (Washington Nationals – MLB)
2018: Alex Cora (Boston Red Sox – MLB)
2017: Cole Pearn (Crew Chief – Martin Truex Jr. – NASCAR)
2016: Joe Maddon (Chicago Cubs – MLB)
2015: Ned Yost (Kansas City Royals – MLB)
Breakthrough Athlete of the Year: Scottie Scheffler (PGA Tour - Golf)
Scottie Scheffler hadn’t won an event on the PGA Tour coming into 2022. By the end of the year, he would have four tournament wins, his first major tournament title and held the No. 1 spot in the World Golf Rankings for most of the year. Scheffler, a 26-year-old in his third season on the PGA Tour, won his first tournament at the WM Phoenix Open in mid-February. He would follow that up with two more victories in March at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Then on April 10, he won the coveted green jacket at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Ga. after taking the lead in the second round and holding on for a three-stroke win over Rory McIlroy. Scheffler would take over the No. 1 ranking in late March and hold onto it for 30 weeks becoming the PGA’s 2021-22 Player of the Year.
2021: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels - MLB)
2020: Bryson DeChambeau (PGA Tour - Golf)
2019: Lamar Jackson (Baltimore Ravens - NFL)
2018: Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City Chiefs - NFL)
2017: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees - MLB)
2016: Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas Cowboys - NFL)
2015: Jordan Spieth (PGA Tour - Golf)
Game/Event of the Year: NFL AFC Divisional Round Playoff Game: Kansas City Chiefs over Buffalo Bills
This was one that was tougher for me than in past years because there wasn’t one game or event that stood out above the rest. I had three games that I quibbled with back and forth to decide what to pick. There was the Kansas City Chiefs versus Buffalo Bills AFC Divisional Round NFL playoff game that felt like it would’ve been better suited for the AFC Conference Game in which the game went back and forth and then into overtime where the Chiefs defeated the Bills on a Patrick Mahomes to Travis Kelce touchdown. Neither team wound up in the Super Bowl though with the Cincinnati Bengals surprise defeat of the Chiefs in the conference title game. Speaking of the Bengals my other NFL consideration was Super Bowl LVI which went right down to the wire with Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford connecting with star receiver Cooper Kupp near the end to take a 23-20 victory. My third option was the historic comeback the University of Kansas Jayhawks put on the University of North Carolina Tarheels in the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Championship game coming from a 16-point deficit at halftime (the largest ever by an eventual winner) to win the game 72-69. Ultimately my decision is the Chiefs/Bills playoff game simply because of the three choices it was the game I think I had the most fun watching. I considered if the Chiefs not ending up making it to the Super Bowl made that moment all for naught, but ultimately I’m going with it.
2021: Los Angeles Dodgers over San Francisco Giants in NLDS Game 5 (MLB)
2020: Tampa Bay Rays over Los Angeles Dodgers in World Series Game 4 (MLB)
2019: Final Round of Masters with Tiger Woods Winning Fifth Green Jacket (Golf)
2018: Women’s Hockey Olympic Gold Medal Game: United States over Canada (Winter Olympics - Hockey)
2017: Houston Astros over Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of World Series (MLB)
2016: Chicago Cubs over Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of World Series (MLB)
2015: Kansas City Royals over New York Mets in Game 5 of World Series (MLB)
Play of the Year: Ross Chastain's Unbelievable Pass on Final Lap at Martinsville to Clinch Championship Spot
Sometimes you will see a moment in sports that just surpasses anything you could have ever possibly imagined. It just defies logic. That’s what happened on the final lap of the Martinsville Speedway race, the penultimate race of the NASCAR Cup Series season, when driver Ross Chastain pulled a hail mary move by gassing it up, throwing his car into the wall and deliberately wrecking his car along the wall to pass five drivers and clinch his way into the NASCAR championship race. It was the single greatest thing I’ve ever seen in more than 20 years of watching NASCAR and had literally everybody dumbfounded from the announcers covering the event, the fans watching at home and the track and even Chastain’s fellow competitors.
2021: Jalen Suggs Buzzer-Beater in Men's College Basketball Final Four Helps Gonzaga Beat UCLA (Men's College Basketball)
2020: Wild Final Play Helps Tampa Bay Rays Take World Series Game 4 from Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)
2019: Kawhi Leonard’s Postseason Clincher for Toronto Raptors over Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)
2018: Nick Foles' "Philly Special" Helps Philadelphia Eagles Win First Super Bowl (NFL)
2017: Julian Edelman’s Super Bowl Catch Helps New England Patriots Epic Comeback Over Atlanta Falcons (NFL)
2016: Tony Stewart’s Bump & Run Pass on Denny Hamlin for Final Career Win (NASCAR)
2015: Eric Hosmer Taking Home in Game 5 of World Series Helping Kansas City Royals over New York Mets (MLB)
Best Moment: Brittney Griner Returns Home After Nearly Year Detained in Russia
One of the biggest sports stories of 2022 was something that was happening off the court across the globe when WNBA superstar Brittney Griner was arrested on February 17 in Russia for having cartridges containing less than a gram of medically prescribed hashish oil in vape pens in her luggage when she entered the country to play for her Russian-league team during the WNBA off-season. She was obtained until her trial began on July 1. On August 4, she was sentenced to nine years in prison. In November, she was transferred to a penal colony with harsh conditions. The entire ordeal seemed like bullshit. It always felt like Russia’s intent was to hold Griner as essentially a political prisoner in hopes of trading her for assets. That’s what wound up happening on December 8 when Griner was involved in a prisoner swap between Russia and the United States. Some consider the trade to be controversial, but I’m just thrilled Griner is able to return home after almost a full year in Russian custody for the smallest of offenses.
2021: Phil Mickelson Wins PGA Championship at 50 (Golf)
2020: Success of the NBA Bubble (NBA)
2019: Tiger Woods Wins Masters (Golf)
2018: Tiger Woods Wins Again (Golf)
2017: Not Awarded
2016: Chicago Cubs Championship Comeback (MLB)
2015: Jeff Gordon’s Final Win (NASCAR)
Biggest Upset: Rich Strike, Biggest Longshot in Race, Wins Kentucky Derby (Horse Racing)
When you hear terms like upset or long-shot it’s likely the sport that first pops into your head is horse racing. In May, one of the biggest upsets in the history of horse racing took place on likely its biggest stage – the Kentucky Derby. It wasn’t just that Rich Strike had the longest odds of any entrant in the race at 80-1 and was the second-biggest underdog to ever win the Kentucky Derby but the furious assault through the entire field from 16th position to the lead as jockey Sonny Leone brilliantly rode the rail. The Kentucky Derby is often called the “most exciting two minutes in sports” and this year’s event was an all-timer.
2021: Emma Raducanu Wins Tennis U.S. Open (Tennis)
2020: Not Awarded
2019: Not Awarded
2018: Not Awarded
2017: Mississippi State Defeats UCONN to Snap 111-Game Winning Streak (Women's College Basketball)
2016: Cleveland Cavaliers Comeback from 3-1 to Beat Golden State Warriors in NBA Finals (NBA)
2015: Holly Holm Takes Title from Ronda Rousey in UFC (MMA)
Best Sports Media Personality: Scott Van Pelt (ESPN)
Scott Van Pelt has been one of my favorite ESPN personalities for some time now – going back to his ESPN Radio show that was simulcast on one of the company’s networks. Since he took over as anchor of the final “SportsCenter” of the night in 2015 he’s been my go-to anchor of that program and the only one I really try to catch on a semi-regular basis. He’s incredibly bright, funny, likable and a helluva monologist and can, at times, make you laugh and cry within the span of minutes doing them, especially when he gets incredibly personal like he did earlier this year when eulogizing his dog Otis. Yes, my favorite moment from a sports personality in 2022 was not even about sports. Van Pelt has everything that makes for a perfect anchor.
2021: Ernie Johnson (Turner Sports)
2020: John Smoltz (Fox Sports/MLB Network)
2019: Charles Barkley (Turner Sports)
2018: Not Awarded
2017: Jeff Gluck (JeffGluck.com)
2016: John Smoltz (Fox Sports/MLB Network)
Lifetime Achievement: Serena Williams & Roger Federer (Tennis)
It’s not often that two figures many consider being the greatest of all time at their sport retire in the same year, but that’s what happened in 2022 as Serena Williams and Roger Federer hung up their tennis rackets.
Williams, considered by many the greatest female player in tennis history, was the first to announce her retirement with her final event coming at the U.S. Open in August where she thrilled the New York crowd by winning multiple matches before falling to Ajla Tomljanovic. Williams retired with 23 Grand Slam singles titles, the most ever by a female in the Open Era and second most all-time. She won 85 percent of her career matches and was ranked No. 1 in the world for 319 weeks, including a record 186 consecutively.
Federer, considered by many the greatest male player in tennis history, announced his retirement in September with his final event being the Laver Cup that month. Federer won 20 Grand Slam singles titles in his career, third all-time behind his biggest career rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, including a record eight Wimbledon titles and an Open Era record-tying five U.S. Open titles. Federer won 82 percent of his career matches and spent 310 weeks (including a record 237 consecutive) as the No. 1 ranked player in the world.
2021: Albert Pujols (Baseball)
2020: Jimmie Johnson (NASCAR)
2019: Dirk Nowitzki & Dwyane Wade (Basketball)
2018: Adrian Beltre (Baseball)
by Julian Spivey
Many Americans woke up to the news that basketball star Brittney Griner, who’d been serving time in a Russian penal colony following a drug conviction this summer, was on her way back to America after a high-profile prisoner swap between the United States and Russia in which arms dealer Viktor Bout, who had served 10 years of a 25-year sentence for conspiring to kill Americans, was returned to his home country.
Griner was arrested at a Moscow-area airport on February 17 while trying to enter Russia to join her club team in Ekaterinburg (WNBA stars often supplement their earnings by playing overseas during the offseason) when cartridges containing hashish oil were found in her luggage. Griner had admitted to the drugs, but denied intent to smuggle, saying she committed the crime out of carelessness while packing and had not intended on breaking Russian law. Griner had played basketball in Russia since 2014 and knew the laws were different from those in the United States. Still, the collegiate and professional champion and two-time Team USA Olympic gold medalist was sentenced to nine years in prison in a penal colony known for its harsh conditions. U.S. officials maintained the entire time that Griner had been wrongfully detained. But Russia finally had the high-profile American pawn they wanted.
While many, me included, were thrilled to see Griner rescued from Russia it led to an uproar by others online who disagreed with the prisoner swap for seemingly multiple reasons – whether it was they thought Griner “did the crime and should do the time” or they didn’t believe Griner for Bout was a fair trade.
Before I get to the main reason why I believe people didn’t want to see Griner released I’ll comment about the “fair trade” stuff. This isn’t a sport. There’s no general manager of a team trying to get an even deal. There was never going to be an even deal – if such a thing even exists when it comes to comparing lives – when it comes to Russia, a despicable country that has had a nearly year-long war with the peaceful country of Ukraine because it effectively wants to steal the country for itself and a country that American officials know played a role in trying to affect the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Yes, Russia got a horrible man to go along with its cache of other horrible men, but America had one of its own citizens being held on a bullshit crime returned in the process and that should make people happy, at least those who care about other human beings.
But what’s the real reason people wanted to see Griner suffer?
Well, I’m not sure anyone would admit this, but I think it’s because Griner is the Most Hated American possible. Griner is black, she’s gay, she’s a woman and she’s incredibly successful at what she does. In a country where nearly half the citizens (those who vote at least) are more than willing to vote for white supremacist politicians, that’s enough to make someone hated. Hated just for being who they are.
I think it’s really that simple. It’s not because people take a hard line on a drug that would be legal in many places in this country. Hell, if Willie Nelson had been arrested for pot in Russia many of these people wanting to see Griner complete her prison sentence (again in harsh penal colony conditions) would be demanding a SEAL Team rescue before you could finish singing “On the Road Again.” And surely it’s not because people respect the sanctity of Russian law – again it’s a country that’s killed women and children just because it has wet dreams of returning to Soviet glory. But then maybe some people here really do love Russia – after all, many of the Griner haters voted for Comrade Trump and have been brainwashed by Tucker Carlson and Fox News about how the Russian invasion of Ukraine isn’t so bad.
I can’t imagine the horrors experienced by Griner over the last almost 11 months. I’m happy she’ll be home soon – first she’s being flown to Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio and then I’m sure it’s off to her home in Phoenix and a reunion with her wife Cherelle.
by Julian Spivey
As the second week of the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets underway I think I’ve lost count of all of the articles and statements I’ve seen online encouraging people not to watch the World Cup due to the host country Qatar’s horrible stance on human rights, especially gay rights and migrant worker rights, or in some cases because of FIFA’s corruptness. The whole reason the games are being played in Qatar is that former leaders of FIFA GOT PAID.
I get this sentiment. The World Cup being in a country where homosexuality is illegal and imprisonable is disgusting. The World Cup being held in a country where more than 6,500 migrant workers have died since the games were awarded to Qatar in 2010, according to a The Guardian analysis, is disgusting. FIFA leaders being bribed to hold the games in Qatar is disgusting. The current FIFA President Gianni Infantino’s speech on the eve of the World Cup where he compared critics of the World Cup being held in Qatar to feelings of discrimination of gays, blacks, Middle Easterners, disabled and migrant workers was disgusting. The powers that be keeping everybody from fans to media to the athletes from being able to protest the many things worth protesting in Qatar and around the world at the games is disgusting.
Everything about the World Cup being played in Qatar is disgusting.
Here’s the thing though … I understand all of that. But I can’t in good conscience tell people who love the sport of soccer (or football as people literally everywhere else call it) that they shouldn’t watch the game they love on its biggest stage.
I hope soccer fans understand the reasons why the event being played in Qatar is horrendous. I hope they take the time to reflect on how FIFA has turned their favorite sporting event into an embarrassment to many and how they are partaking in sportswashing. Though because the media outlet – Fox – carrying the event in the U.S. is taking a “stick to sports” and “everything in Qatar is fine” mentality (what would you really expect from a Rupert Murdoch-owned network) to covering the event some fans may not even realize what is happening or what has happened in the country.
I understand how it feels to love a sport(s) and be incredibly disappointed in those running the league or event. Just last year I watched and enjoyed many hours of the Beijing Summer Olympics despite knowing the country is at best interning millions of Uyghurs and at work committing genocide against them. Because of my privilege of being American, I can call out the atrocities being committed by China, while still rooting for my favorite American athletes in a multitude of sports, many of which I only get the chance to see every four years when the Olympics come around. I can curse the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for their choice of continuing to give countries like China and Russia Olympic games.
I’ve been a NASCAR fan for over 20 years and the sport is almost constantly doing things that make me roll my eyes and call out the powers that be from almost annually having races sponsored by the National Rife Association (NRA) to inviting the most hateful president in the history of the United States in Donald Trump to attend and grand marshal the Daytona 500, the sports biggest event.
I may despise the NRA and former President Trump, but I love racing.
Does it feel dirty to watch these events when you realize the evil behind them or allowed to attend or sponsor them? Yes, it does, for me at least. But I love competition. I realize some would call me a hypocrite for watching these events, despite hating the politics behind some of them. I feel as long as I’m calling out the atrocities I can give myself a pass for enjoying the on-the-field/court/track action.
by Julian Spivey
I still don’t know quite what to say because even four days later I’m still as flabbergasted and jaw-dropped as I was on the final lap of the NASCAR Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, Oct. 30.
What I do know is Ross Chastain pulled off the greatest pass in the history of NASCAR. If that’s too much for you then I’ll amend my statement to Ross Chastain pulled off the greatest pass in the 21 years I’ve been a fan of NASCAR.
You really just have to watch this for yourself and keep in mind it hasn’t been sped up. This is his move in real time.
With the way the NASCAR playoff system works the penultimate race of the season, which was in Martinsville on Sunday, cuts the playoff driver field from eight to four drivers. The top four drivers in points (or via wins in the playoff round) move on to compete for the championship at Phoenix Raceway on Sunday, November 6.
When Chastain began the final lap of the race at Martinsville he needed to pass two drivers to overtake Denny Hamlin, his fiercest rival this season, in the playoff point standings to qualify for the championship race. The problem was he was well behind the two cars he needed to pass. It was going to take a miracle for him to make the championship four.
So, remembering past (failed) moves that certain drivers have made in years prior and a move his brother Chad had put on him on the GameCube gaming system as young boys playing “NASCAR 2005.” Chastain realized his one chance was to gas it up, grab fifth gear and throw his car into the outside wall where he could just ride the outside wall without braking. Chastain would effectively have to wreck his car to have any chance at passing cars. This takes massive courage or a few screws loose in the noggin or both. When the move was all said and done Chastain not only had passed two cars but moved from 10th position all the way to fifth place, even passing Hamlin for the fifth spot. He also compiled the fastest lap in both Martinsville and NASCAR history at 18.845 seconds.
The announcers broadcasting the race for NBC Sports couldn’t believe what they had just seen, fans in the stands couldn’t believe what they had just seen, and many of the drivers watching him swoop past him on track couldn’t believe what they had just seen and my wife and I watching from our living room, on our feet whooping and hollering at the television screen damn sure couldn’t believe what we had just seen.
Chastain had just made the greatest pass(es) in NASCAR history. It was the single greatest on-track thing I’d ever seen in 21 years of watching NASCAR and it wasn’t even for a win, but for fifth place and a spot in the championship race where he will compete against Christopher Bell (who had to win Martinsville just to qualify – quite the story in its own right), Chase Elliott and Joey Logano for the title.
Despite it being the greatest and certainly the coolest and most badass thing I’d ever seen in more than two decades as a NASCAR fan this is NASCAR – meaning nothing can go without some people bitching about it. It started with the reigning champion of the sport Kyle Larson telling a reporter on pit road he thought the move was “embarrassing for the sport,” even though he was the most recent driver to attempt a similar move (in failing fashion) at Darlington last season. Other drivers and many fans complained about the “video game” move being against some sort of code of competition, despite the fact Chastain broke zero rules in doing what he did.
Can’t we just let epic be epic for once?
Chastain’s move is one we’re going to be seeing in advertisements for the sport for years to come.
by Julian Spivey
The 2022 World Series between the Houston Astros and the Philadelphia Phillies might seem like David vs. Goliath based on the season records of the teams with the 106-56 Astros taking on the role of Goliath and the 87-69 Phillies being the underdog. But the way the Phillies have been playing this offseason it might not be such a shock if David beat Goliath. I’m just not sure I’m predicting it to happen.
Let’s break down the team’s position by position.
Both the Astros and Phillies have had four full days off between the League Championship Series and the World Series, so both teams should have their rotations set up the way they’d want them to be. Because of that, we should have about as equal a World Series as we can with each team’s best matching head-to-head. Still, one team has a rather large advantage when it comes to the quantity of solid arms and that’s the Astros. The Astros actually haven’t named their game-one starter (as of the time of this writing), but I imagine it’ll be American League Cy Young front-runner Justin Verlander. Following Verlander will likely be Framber Valdez, who has been a quality start machine for the Astros, in game two. Games three and four will likely be some combination of Cristian Javier and Lance McCullers Jr.
Verlander has made two starts for the Astros this postseason going 1-0 with 14 strikeouts and a 6.30 ERA that was inflated by an atypically bad start (maybe his worst of the entire season) against the Seattle Mariners in the American League Division Series. Valdez is 1-0 with 15 strikeouts and a 1.42 ERA in a team-leading 15.2 innings pitcher this postseason. McCullers has started two games for the Astros this postseason with a 2.45 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 11 innings. Javier’s one playoff start came in the A.L.C.S. against the Yankees in which he went 5.1 innings of one-hit, shutout ball.
Aaron Nola is slated for game one for the Phillies. His first two postseason starts against the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves were near-perfect, but he struggled a bit in his N.L.C.S. start against the San Diego Padres. He’s 2-1 this postseason with a 3.12 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 17.1 innings. Zack Wheeler will likely take the mound in game two for Philly. His four starts this postseason are the most on the team and he’s 1-1 with 25 strikeouts and a 1.78 ERA in 25.1 innings. Ranger Suarez is Philadelphia’s third starter with two starts this postseason – one each in the N.L.D.S. against the Braves and N.L.C.S. against the Padres. Suarez is 1-0 this postseason with a 2.00 ERA and eight strikeouts in nine innings. He also recorded a save in the N.L.D.S. If the Phillies opt for a fourth starting pitcher in the World Series instead of a bullpen game it’ll likely be veteran Noah Syndergaard on the mound. He’s made three appearances this postseason with only one being a start. In 5.1 innings pitched he has a 1.69 ERA with four strikeouts.
I think Nola and Wheeler can hang with the best the Astros have, but the fact the Astros have four solid starters to go (and honestly two more in the bullpen in Luis Garcia and Jose Urquidy) they have the advantage with their depth.
Four of the Astros seven playoff wins thus far have come from their bullpen stepping up big late in games. The four guys getting the bulk of the innings for Houston’s pen have been closer Ryan Pressly (0.00 ERA with four saves and eight strikeouts in 5.1 innings), Bryan Abreu (0.00 ERA with 10 strikeouts in 6.1 innings), Rafael Montero (1.69 ERA with six strikeouts in 5.1 innings) and Hector Neris (2.25 ERA with five strikeouts in four innings).
Jose Alvarado has been the most used arm for the Phillies this postseason getting into eight of the team’s 10 games. Alvarado has a 3.38 ERA in eight innings with nine strikeouts. Seranthony Dominguez has been a strikeout machine for the Phillies out of the pen with 15 in just 7.2 innings pitched. He has an ERA of 1.17 and has been the team’s most effective reliever. Zac Eflin has appeared in six games this postseason with a rather high 5.68 ERA in 6.1 innings. David Robertson, who was the team’s closer this season, has only appeared in four games so far this postseason due to missing the N.L.D.S. due to injury. Robertson has pitched 3.2 innings with six strikeouts and a 2.45 ERA. The Phillies have gotten four saves this postseason with four pitchers each getting one (Alvarado, Dominguez, Eflin and Ranger Suarez).
As I mentioned in my A.L.D.S. and A.L.C.S. previews the Astros intentionally give up offensive production at the catcher position because the team loves the way Martin Maldonado handles its impressive pitching staff. If the Astros wanted more offensive production from the position they’d give Christian Vazquez, whom they acquired prior to the trade deadline from the Red Sox. Maldonado is a meek hitter with a .214 average and one RBI this postseason. Vazquez has only appeared in three of the Astros seven postseason games and is 2-for-10 at the plate.
The Phillies, on the other hand, have maybe the best complete catcher in baseball when compiling offensive and defensive numbers. J.T. Realmuto is nearly impossible to run on and is one of the best offensive catchers in the game. Realmuto is hitting .244 this postseason with two homers (one of which was an inside-the-parker) and three RBI. There’s probably more distance between Realmuto and the Astros catchers than any other position in this series.
Astros first baseman Yuli Gurriel was the American League batting champion in 2021 and absolutely fell off the table this season hitting nearly 80 points less. However, Gurriel has turned things around in the postseason and leads the team with a .367 average. He has two homers and three RBI to go along with it.
Rhys Hoskins has been an interesting case for the Phillies this postseason. His average is just .182, but he’s found his power stroke co-leading the team with five home runs and 11 RBI. Five of his eight hits this postseason have left the yard.
This one’s hard for me. Gurriel seems more likely to get on base, but Hoskins’ power stroke right now seems more likely to have a bigger impact on the series with the ability to put up crooked numbers with one swing. I’m going to give the advantage to Gurriel because he’s been getting on base more often and setting the table for the other great hitters in Houston’s lineup.
Jose Altuve has been the best second baseman in Major League Baseball over the last decade but has been surprisingly and uncharacteristically cold this postseason at the plate. Altuve opened the playoffs with a historically bad hitless streak and has a .094 average without driving in any runs. He’s also struck out a team-leading 11 times this postseason.
Jean Segura had played the most games of any player in MLB without a postseason appearance prior to the Phillies Cinderella run this October. He’s been solid for Philly hitting .257 with five RBI.
I know Altuve is the better player of these two and that he has the potential to get hot and be more of a game-changer than Segura, but I’ve got to ride the hotter player right now and that simply isn’t Altuve.
Alex Bregman was a back-to-back All-Star in 2018 and 2019 but has had some injury problems and struggles since then. He has been one of the Astros hottest hitters this postseason with a .333 average, two homers and seven RBI.
Bregman’s counterpart on the Phillies, Alec Bohm, hasn’t done a whole lot at the plate this postseason hitting just .189 with five RBI.
In what might be a World Series first both teams feature rookie shortstops. It’s been a tale of two stories for those shortstops this postseason, though. The Astros 25-year old rookie Jeremy Pena has been one of the club’s hottest hitters with a team-leading three home runs to go along with five RBI and a .303 average (third highest on the team). Bryson Stott, the Phillies’ 25-year-old shortstop, has hit .200 with three RBI.
There is an awful lot of pop at the corners of the outfield for both of these teams. Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker were the Astros two-leading home run hitters this season and Kyle Schwarber led the National League in homers with 46 this season and despite a down year Nicholas Castellanos is always capable of changing a game with just one swing. Both teams have lighter-hitting center fielders mostly in the lineup for their defense with Chas McCormick for Houston and Brandon Marsh for Philadelphia.
Alvarez has hit two big-time homers for the Astros this postseason and leads the team with eight RBI and sports a .241 average. Tucker hasn’t been hitting so well this postseason with a .214 average and one solo homer. McCormick has two homers and three RBI this postseason to go along with a .250 average.
Schwarber was pretty much dormant for the Phillies in the N.L.W.C. and N.L.D.S. but came alive in the N.L.C.S. against the San Diego Padres. Schwarber has three homers and six RBI this postseason while hitting .200. Castellanos hasn’t done a whole lot this postseason with a .220 average and six RBI. Marsh is hitting a measly .154 with a homer and four RBI (three of which came on the homer).
It’s a pretty close matchup between the outfielders, but I’ll take the playoff experience of the Astros here.
With all apologies to Trey Mancini of the Astros, who’s just an all-around great story having come back from cancer to now reach the World Series, but this matchup isn’t close at all. Bryce Harper has been the best hitter this entire postseason for any team. He leads the Phillies in all three Triple Crown categories this postseason with a .419 average, five homers and 11 RBI. He has 11 extra-base hits this postseason on his tear. He is the single scariest hitter in the World Series.
Mancini hasn’t done anything for Houston this postseason. He’s 0-for-12 with four strikeouts. The Astros might opt to start Alvarez at DH and play Aledmys Diaz in the outfield at some points in the series.
Prediction: Astros in 6 games
World Series Schedule:
by Julian Spivey
The American League Championship Series between the Houston Astros and New York is the exact opposite of what’s going on on the National League side of the playoff bracket. Whereas the two lowest seeds in the N.L. the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies found their way past three division winners and three 100-plus game winners into the National League Championship Series, the A.L. side of things is more traditional in that it features the two teams with the best records on the season in the 106-56 A.L. West winning Astros and the 99-63 A.L. East winning Yankees.
Let’s take a look at the team’s position-by-position and find out which one has the ALCS advantage.
The Houston Astros rotation is so good that they were using talented members of their starting staff in Luis Garcia and Christian Javier out of the bullpen in the American League Division Series against the Seattle Mariners. The Astros have probable A.L. Cy Young winner Justin Verlander going in game one of the A.L.C.S., which will be a huge advantage for the team facing a Yankees squad that’s going to have to both travel from NYC to Houston and play game one of the series merely 24 hours after vanquishing the Cleveland Guardians in the Division Series. Verlander was uncharacteristically shaky in his game one start in the A.L.D.S. against the Mariners going only four innings and allowing six runs, but surely that was just a fluke for the veteran who’s pitched in multiple World Series. The Astros should have quality start machine Framber Valdez going in game two of the series. Valdez pitched 5.2 innings in the A.L.D.S. against Seattle, allowing two runs on four hits while striking out six. Lance McCullers Jr. is likely to be the game three starter for Houston. McCullers pitched six scoreless innings against the Mariners in game three of the A.L.D.S. Verlander was 18-4 this season with a league-leading 1.75 ERA, Valdez was 17-6 with a 2.82 ERA and McCullers was 4-2 with a 2.27 ERA in limited action this season. I’m not sure what the Astros have planned for game four of the series, but it should probably be Garcia who was dominant in extra innings out of the bullpen in the clinching third game of the A.L.D.S. against the Mariners.
The Yankees have had some bad luck going when it comes to setting up their rotation for the A.L.C.S. Jameson Taillon, who’s probably their fourth-best starter, is going in game one after a Division Series that went the distance against the Guardians and was delayed by a rain postponement has them mix-matching their rotation right now. Taillon was 14-5 with a 3.91 ERA this season. The rest of the series will be some sort of formation of Luis Severino, Gerrit Cole and Nestor Cortes Jr. for the Yanks.
Severino was 7-3 this season with a 3.18 ERA in limited work due to injury. He pitched 5.2 innings against the Guardians allowing three runs and striking out six. Cole, the Yankees ace, was 13-8 this season with a 3.50 ERA and led the game with 257 strikeouts. Cole made two starts in the A.L.D.S. against the Guardians going 2-0 with a 2.03 ERA in 13.1 innings and striking out 16. Cortes also made two starts in the series against the Guardians, including coming up big in the decisive fifth game of the series on just three-days rest. Cortes was 12-4 with a 2.44 ERA this season as arguably the team’s best starting pitcher in 2022.
The Astros have the best rotation between these two teams period, but also with the unfortunate way the Yankees have to set up the series it’s a clear advantage for Houston.
Much has been made this season about how the Yankees don’t really have a true closer. Aroldis Chapman imploded this season and isn’t even on the playoff roster. Clay Holmes has been the team’s best reliever but has had shaky moments closing himself. After Holmes, the arms used the most out of the pen for the Yankees this season have been Lou Trivino (4.57 ERA), Lucas Luetge (2.68 ERA), Michael King (2.29 ERA), Jonathan Loaisiga (4.12 ERA) and Wandy Peralta (2.73 ERA). It’s not a bad bullpen, but it’s not going to scare anyone either.
The Astros have one of the best closers in the American League in Ryan Pressly who compiled 33 saves this season with a 2.99 ERA. The other most used arms out of the pen for Houston include Hector Nerris (3.73 ERA), Rafael Montero (2.38 ERA) and Bryan Abreu (1.95 ERA). I also believe the Astros will be using Christian Javier and Jose Urquidy, usually starting pitchers, out of the bullpen in the A.L.C.S.
The Astros love the way veteran pitch caller Martin Maldonado handles the pitching staff. He doesn’t hit much, but they don’t really care with the rest of the boppers in their lineup. From what I saw in the A.L.D.S. against the Mariners Maldonado has been catching the starters and then later in the game Christian Vazquez has been entering the game for some offensive help. Maldonado hit a measly .186 this season, but again the Astros aren’t so concerned about that.
The Yankees backstop Jose Trevino was a first-time All-Star this season and surprised many with his production for the team. Trevino hit .248 with 11 homers and 43 RBI this season.
I don’t think either of these catchers is going to have a huge offensive impact on the series, but I’ll give the Yanks the advantage because if one does it’ll likely be Trevino.
Yuli Gurriel was the 2021 batting champion in the A.L. for the Astros but spent much of 2022 scuffling at the plate hitting only .242 with eight home runs and 53 RBI. He did lead the Astros with a .400 average in their three games in the Division Series though.
The Yankees have veteran Anthony Rizzo at first base. Rizzo hit .224 this season with 32 homers and 75 RBI. In the Division Series against the Guardians, he was one of the team’s better hitters.
Jose Altuve has been baseball’s best second baseman over the last decade and is probably still the best in his league. He’s also been one of the greatest postseason players of all time and he’s certainly used to the big moments in his six straight A.L.C.S. Altuve hit .300 this season with 28 homers and 57 RBI. This postseason he’s hitless through three games.
Gleyber Torres is at second base for the Yankees and hit .257 this season with 24 home runs and 76 RBI. He didn’t do a whole lot at the plate in the A.L.D.S. against Cleveland.
Alex Bregman is one of the best at the hot corner in the A.L., though hasn’t quite lived up to his back-to-back All-Star seasons of 2018 and 2019 over the last few seasons. He hit .259 this season with 23 home runs and 93 RBI.
Josh Donaldson is manning the hot corner for the Yankees. He hit .222 this season with 15 homers and 62 RBI and doesn’t seem to be near the threat he was in his MVP-winning heyday.
Rookie Jeremy Pena had one of the biggest hits of the A.L.D.S. for the Astros, putting us all out of our misery in a never-ending 18-inning game three with a game-winning homer. Pena hit .253 in his freshman year with 22 homers and 63 RBI.
Isiah Kiner-Falefa is a light-hitting shortstop with some speed for the Yankees. He hit .261 this season with four homers, 48 RBI and 22 stolen bases.
The Yankees have the biggest masher in all of baseball in Aaron Judge coming off the biggest (clean) power-hitting season in baseball history with an American League record 62 home runs. He also hit .311 and drove in a league-leading 131 runs in an epic season. A guy who doesn’t hit that many homers is Yankees center fielder Harrison Bader, but he actually led the team in the A.L.D.S. against the Guardians with three in five games. He spent much of the season injured but plays stellar defense in the outfield at all times. The Yanks have been using Oswaldo Cabrera as their third outfielder lately. He only had 154 at-bats in the regular season hitting .247 with six homers.
The Astros have a scary outfield offensively led by Yordan Alvarez and Kyle Tucker at the corners. Alvarez hit .306 this season with 37 blasts and 97 RBI as the team’s offensive leader. Tucker hit .257 with 30 homers and a team-leading 107 RBI. Chas McCormick mans center field for Houston and hit .245 this season with 14 homers and 44 RBI. Alvarez hit two homers for Houston in the A.L.D.S. and drove in seven.
Judge is the best outfielder in the series, but I’ll take the two power hitters of Alvarez and Tucker here for the advantage.
The Astros acquired Trey Mancini from the Baltimore Orioles before the trade deadline and he’s been getting many of the at-bats at DH, with Alvarez playing the outfield. Mancini hit .239 this season with 18 home runs and 63 RBI. He was 0-for-6 in the A.L.D.S.
Power-hitting Giancarlo Stanton is the DH for the Yankees and even when he’s scuffling can put fear into the opposing pitchers. Stanton hit .211 this season with 31 blasts and 78 RBI. He homered twice against Cleveland in the A.L.D.S.
Prediction: Astros in 6 games
by Julian Spivey
The National League Championship Series between the San Diego Padres and Philadelphia Phillies is the most surprising and unlikely NLCS in Major League Baseball history. It’s the first time there isn’t a division winner among the teams competing for the chance to reach the World Series with the addition of the third Wild Card making it a possibility for the first time in the sport’s history.
Despite the fact that few, if any, believed a Padres vs. Phillies NLCS was possible it should be a fun series in that the teams are pretty close, at least on paper. Both teams have high-powered offensive superstars in Manny Machado and Juan Soto for San Diego and Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber for Philadelphia. The pitching staffs are full of ace-caliber pitchers with Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove highlighting the Padres’ rotation and Zack Wheeler and Aaron Nola taking the mound for Philly.
Let’s take a look at the team’s position-by-position and find out which one has the NLCS advantage.
*Note* The probable starting pitcher for game one for the Phillies is actually Zack Wheeler with Aaron Nola going in game two
The rotations for both the Padres and Phillies have been pretty stellar this postseason. Aaron Nola has been the best pitcher on the National League side thus far dominating the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card Series and the Atlanta Braves in the National League Division Series and both of those teams sported top-notch offenses. Nola hasn’t allowed a run in 12.2 innings thus far going 2-0 in his two starts with 12 strikeouts. Nola’s game one competitor tonight will be Yu Darvish, who’s also 2-0 this postseason beating the New York Mets in the NLWC and Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLDS, also two high-powered offenses, while compiling a 3.00 ERA in a dozen innings pitched. Darvish has struck out 11 batters this postseason. When it comes to their regular season numbers Darvish had a better record and slightly lower ERA, but Nola strikes out more hitters.
The game two probable pitchers for the series are Blake Snell for the Padres, a pitcher with big-time postseason outings before reaching the 2020 World Series with the Tampa Bay Rays, and Zack Wheeler for the Phillies. Snell is 1-0 this postseason beating the Dodgers in the NLDS. He has a 3.12 ERA in 8.2 innings with 11 strikeouts. Snell has been a bit wild this postseason with eight walks in two starts. Wheeler has been the better of these two starters this postseason, despite having a 0-1 record to show for it. He has a 2.19 ERA in 12.1 innings with nine strikeouts. During the regular season, Wheeler was 12-7 with a 2.82 ERA and Snell was 8-10 with a 3.38 ERA.
The game three probable pitchers are Joe Musgrove for the Padres and Ranger Suarez for the Phillies. Musgrove had potentially the best starting outing for any N.L. hurler thus far in the postseason in the Wild Card round against the high-powered offense of the Mets holding them to one hit over seven scoreless innings. In two starts this postseason he’s 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA and 13 strikeouts in 13 innings. Suarez has made one start this postseason in the NLDS against the Braves and he didn’t stick around too long only going 3.1 innings. He’s ineffectiveness when it came to allowing walks (five in just those 3.1 innings) did him in, though he did pitch out of a couple of big jams before doing so. During the regular season, Musgrove was 10-7 with a 2.93 ERA and Suarez was 10-7 with a 3.65 ERA.
In a best-of-7 series, teams are usually going to want to have a fourth starter. But neither team has really gotten to the point in this postseason. The Phillies have veteran Noah Syndergaard whom they may use, though he’s come out of the bullpen so far this postseason. I’m not sure whom the Padres would run out for a game four start. There’s a possibility game four could be a bullpen game for either team.
The Phillies have a slight pitching advantage in the first two games of the series, but I like that the Padres have a definite advantage in game three. I wouldn’t be shocked if the Phillies had a 2-1 series lead after three games, but I’m still going to give San Diego the rotation advantage because overall they have the better starters.
I might be a bit affected when it comes to my bullpen analysis because I had the opportunity to see more Phillies games so far during this postseason than I have Padres games and the Phillies bullpen has been absolutely lights out, even though they don’t have a traditional closer.
Seranthony Dominguez has been the best arm out of the Phillies bullpen this postseason with a perfect ERA and whopping eight strikeouts in 3.2 innings. Jose Alvarado and Zac Eflin have been the most used arms out of the pen for Philly, though both have fairly high ERAs in a combined 9.1 innings. Each reliever has five Ks. Brad Hand and Andrew Bellatti have each given the team 2.2 innings this postseason with three Ks. It’s possible the Phillies could have David Robertson, their best case for a closer, back in the NLCS after missing the NLDS with a calf injury. The Phillies may also use veteran Noah Syndergaard out of the pen, but I expect he’ll likely be the game four starter.
Josh Hader has been dominant closing games for the Padres this postseason, which is what they acquired him for from the Milwaukee Brewers before the trade deadline, despite being shaky for much of the second half of the season after his acquisition. He’s yet to allow a run in 4.1 innings and has three saves and seven strikeouts. Robert Suarez has been the most used hand out of the pen for San Diego with five postseason appearances with a perfect ERA and 5 Ks over six innings pitched. Nick Martinez has hurled five innings for the Padres this postseason with a 1.80 ERA and three strikeouts. Steven Wilson has appeared in three games with a 3.38 ERA in 2.2 innings.
Having seen the Phillies more, I knew their bullpen had been good, but honestly looking at the Padres numbers, especially when it comes to the dominance Hader and Robert Suarez have shown they have the advantage here.
J.T. Realmuto is likely the best catcher in the National League. Offensively he’s strong and defensively you absolutely cannot run on his arm. He’s hitting .250 this postseason with two RBI and his inside-the-park home run against the Braves in the NLDS was one of the most thrilling plays of the postseason thus far. During the regular season, Realmuto hit .276 with 22 homers and 84 RBI.
One of the most interesting moments of the NLCS is certainly going to be in game two when Padres catcher Austin Nola steps into the batter’s box to face his younger brother, Aaron, pitching for the Phillies.
Nola has been hot at the plate for the Padres this postseason tied for the team lead in batting average at .381. He’s driven in four runs thus far during these playoffs. During the regular season, Nola hit .251 with four home runs and 40 RBI.
Rhys Hoskins mans first base for the Phillies, though I think many fans would prefer a move back to the outfield or to designated hitter next year if Bryce Harper gets healthy due to his sometimes shoddy defense. Hoskins’ bat is not usually a liability, though it has been this postseason. Hoskins is only hitting .154 this postseason with a homer and four RBI. He hit .246 with 30 homers and 79 RBI during the season.
The Padres have been platooning Brandon Drury and Wil Myers at first base this postseason. Drury typically has been the team’s DH when not at first. Neither player has hit a lick for the team thus far with Myers sporting a .087 average and Drury a .066 average. Drury definitely has pop in his bat with 28 homers during the season.
Veteran second baseman Jean Segura had played in the most regular season games of any active MLB player without reaching the postseason before doing so this year with the Phillies and you can tell he was ready for some playoff action as he’s had a hot bat with a .389 average thus far to go along with three RBI. During the season he hit .277 with 10 homers and 33 RBI.
Padres two-bagger Jake Cronenworth is one of the best hitting second basemen in the league. He hit .240 this season with 17 home runs and 88 RBI. This postseason Cronenworth has hit .241 with a homer and tied for the team’s lead (with three other players) with 5 RBI.
Segura has had the better postseason thus far, but Cronenworth is the player more likely to impact the series.
This one frankly won’t even be close. There’s a good possibility that Padres third baseman Manny Machado wins the National League Most Valuable Player this honor after hitting .298 with 32 home runs and 102 RBI and compiling a 6.8 WAR, while also playing solid defense. Machado is one of the previously mentioned four Padres with a team-leading five RBI this postseason. He’s hitting .296 with two homers through two playoff rounds this year.
The Phillies have Alec Bohm at third base, and he’s been one of the bats scuffling in their lineup with a .200 average over the first two series (though that’s only six games). He’s driven in three runs this postseason. For the regular season, Bohm hit .280 with 13 homers and 72 RBI.
Ha-Seong Kim wasn’t supposed to be the Padres starting shortstop this season but has manned the position admirably in the absence of the selfish Fernando Tatis Jr., the superstar who missed the entire season due to an injury he occurred during a motorcycle accident and suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Kim hasn’t hit well this postseason with a .192 average, but he plays solid defense. This season he hit .251 with 11 homers and 59 RBI.
Rooke Bryson Stott is the Phillies shortstop, and he hasn’t done much this postseason either hitting .133 with two RBI. This season Stott hit .234 with 10 homers and 49 RBI.
The biggest noticeable difference between Kim and Stott is Kim had a 4.9 WAR this season compared to 1.3 for Stott, which is good enough for me to give San Diego the positional advantage here.
The Padres have one of the best players in all of baseball Juan Soto out in right field. Trent Grisham has been one of the stars of the postseason thus far for San Diego out in center field. Jurickson Profar mans left field for the team.
Grisham is tied with Bryce Harper of the Phillies for most home runs thus far in the National League playoffs with three. He’s tied for the team lead with five postseason RBI and tied with Austin Nola for a team-leading .381 average. Soto is hitting .250 this postseason with three RBI but could pop off at any given time. Profar also has five RBI this postseason for San Diego, while hitting .280.
For the regular season, Grisham hit almost 200 points worse than he is this postseason with 17 homers and 53 RBI. Soto hit .242 with 27 homers and 62 RBI in a down year for him split between Washington and San Diego. Profar hit .243 this season with 15 homers and 58 RBI.
The Phillies have two boppers in their outfield with National League home run champion Kyle Schwarber, who hit 46 bombs this season, in left field and Nick Castellanos in right field. The team has been platooning Brandon Marsh and Matt Vierling in center.
Despite his league-leading home run total, Schwarber has been an absolute disappearing act for the Phillies this postseason with zero homers and a disgusting .050 average. Castellanos has been one of the team’s better bats this postseason, even with an average as low as .217. He has five RBI this postseason, second on the team to Harper’s six. Marsh has four RBI this postseason, three of which came off one blast against the Braves in the previous round.
Schwarber and Castellanos are scary bats. If they can click the Phillies might take the advantage here, but as of right now I’m taking Soto and the hot bat of Grisham for the advantage.
This one isn’t close. Bryce Harper is the bat the Phillies are going to have to ride or die with in the NLCS and he’s been their hottest hitter thus far in the postseason with three bombs, six RBI and an average of .435, leading the team in all of those categories. It’s starting to look like he’s come around off his fractured thumb injury that cost him about two months of the season just in time for the most important stretch of the year.
The Padres have been using Josh Bell and Brandon Drury at DH. Bell seemed to play more in the series against the Mets and Drury more in the series against the Dodgers. Neither is hitting very well this postseason with Bell having a slight advantage. Both, however, are capable of hitting the ball a long way.
Prediction: Padres in 7 games