by Julian Spivey
Detroit Lions @ Kansas City Chiefs (Week 1) – Thursday, Sept. 7 on NBC at 7:20 p.m. (CST)
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs have the honor of kicking off the 2023 NFL season at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City hosting the Detroit Lions. Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes looks to have another stellar season in control of the offense, though the team’s defensive leader Chris Jones is holding out for a better contract and there’s no telling when he’ll be available. The Lions, who were 9-8 last year, are looking to make their first playoff appearance since the 2016 season. Expect to see the Chiefs a bunch on this list.
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets (Week 1) – Monday, Sept. 11 on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. (CST)
The biggest player acquisition of the offseason was the Green Bay Packers trading three-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers to the New York Jets after years of whining to get out of Green Bay. Rodgers had the weakest year of his career last season but was MVP of the league the season prior to that. The Jets have their first star-caliber QB in ages and hope to ride him to their first playoff appearance since the 2010 season. The team hasn’t had a winning season since 2015. Rodgers and the Jets will have a big task facing them in his team debut taking on the Buffalo Bills, one of the perennial favorites in the AFC over the last few years led by quarterback Josh Allen. The matchup kicks off Monday Night Football’s season.
Minnesota Vikings @ Philadelphia Eagles (Week 2) – Thursday, Sept. 14 on Amazon Prime Video at 7:15 p.m. (CST)
Football fans how have you liked the NFL on streaming-only options? Might want to get used to it and it’ll probably become more commonplace not only for the NFL but sports in general. Amazon Prime Video’s Thursday Night Football debut for the season features a doozy of a matchup they may wind up being the NFC Championship preview with the Minnesota Vikings going into Philadelphia to face the Eagles, the league’s best team by record last season. Remember when TNF used to get the absolute worst matchups? Well, this ain’t it. Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson vs. Jalen Hurts and DeVonta Smith is going to be a fun watch.
Kansas City Chiefs @ New York Jets (Week 4) – Sunday, Oct. 1 on NBC at 7:20 p.m. (CST)
This matchup is here because it features the MVPs of four of the last five seasons with Patrick Mahomes (2018 and 2022) and Aaron Rodgers (2020 and 2021). Mahomes and Rodgers might be the two most recognizable faces in the league with the retirement of Tom Brady during the offseason and you better believe this Chiefs vs. Jets matchup is going to bring in big Nielsen ratings. Also, get used to seeing the Jets on national broadcasts all of a sudden with the addition of Rodgers.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Minnesota Vikings (Week 5) – Sunday, Oct. 8 on CBS at 3:25 p.m. (CST)
It isn’t all that often you get a matchup during the regular season of teams that go on to meet up in the Super Bowl, but many believe Chiefs/Vikings is a likely potential Super Bowl LVIII matchup next February. Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce against Kirk Cousins and Justin Jefferson will be a fun watch and sorry Fox your Bengals vs. Cardinals and Eagles vs. Rams matchups that afternoon won’t be getting too many eyes scheduled against this one.
Buffalo Bills @ Cincinnati Bengals (Week 9) – Sunday, Nov. 5 on NBC at 7:20 p.m. (CST)
Most notably this will be the first matchup between the Bills and Bengals since the late season Monday Night Football matchup last season that saw the horrific injury to Bills safety Damar Hamlin on the field when he collapsed and stopped breathing after a hit and had to be revived by Bills medical personnel in the scariest on-field moment the NFL has seen in many years. Thankfully, Hamlin recovered and made the Bills roster this season and hopefully, he will be eligible to play in week nine in what will surely be an emotional matchup between these two teams. Not only will it be emotional, but it could be a potential AFC Championship matchup if these teams can find their way past the Kansas City Chiefs.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Kansas City Chiefs (Week 11) – Monday, Nov. 20 on ESPN at 7:15 p.m. (CST)
It’s also not that often you get a Super Bowl rematch the next season, but that’s what will happen in Week 11 when the Philadelphia Eagles travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs, who beat them 38-35 in Super Bowl LVII with a fourth-quarter comeback, on Monday Night Football. The Chiefs are undoubtedly the best team in the league in my opinion, but have a tough schedule this season, which includes the Eagles, Vikings, Bills, Bengals, Chargers and potentially better than we’ve been accustomed to Jets and Lions teams.
Washington Commanders @ Dallas Cowboys (Week 12) – Thursday, Nov. 23 on CBS at 3:30 p.m. (CST)
OK, so in all honesty, this isn’t really one of the 10 best matchups during the NFL season as far as competition goes – but Dallas Cowboys Thanksgiving football is my favorite NFL tradition that isn’t the Super Bowl. The Cowboys are still America’s Team when it comes to television ratings too so I had to get them involved in this list somehow. The Cowboys should be a contender in the NFC this season, but I don’t expect a whole lot from the Commanders squad.
Christmas Games: Las Vegas Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs, New York Giants @ Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens @ San Francisco 49ers (Week 16) – Monday, December 25 – All Day on CBS, Fox and ABC
So, I’m honestly a bit perturbed by this because it’s the NFL – already the top dog in the sports world – encroaching on the NBA’s territory. Encroachment as you know is supposed to be a penalty. Christmas Day has long been the NBA’s biggest regular season day of the season and now the NFL is coming in and will no doubt top the NBA in television ratings. I’ll be honest with you again – I’ll likely be tuning into the NBA instead. But there’s no doubt this will be a big day for NFL and featuring the reigning AFC and NFC champs in the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles is big. This also allows me to get some other teams that won’t be featured on this list into the mix with the Raiders, Giants, Ravens and 49ers.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs (Week 17) – Sunday, Dec. 31 on CBS at 3:25 p.m. (CST)
Are you tired of the Kansas City Chiefs on this list yet? They are such a great football team and have such a star-studded schedule this season that it’s hard to trim some of their matchups off this list, but we accept that appearing on more than half of the matchups on this list is a lot. The Week 17 matchup between the Chiefs and the Cincinnati Bengals is one of the last four AFC Champions with the Chiefs winning three of those and the Bengals winning over the Chiefs in the 2021 season. In fact, Chiefs/Bengals has been the matchup in the last two consecutive AFC Championship games and there’s little reason to believe it won’t happen again this year.
Ranking NASCAR Playoff Field from Least Likely (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) to Most Likely (Denny Hamlin?) to Win the Championship
by Julian Spivey
16. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Every now and then a driver who we know doesn’t have much chance of winning the championship makes it into the playoffs by winning a race, usually at a superspeedway drafting track or via some abnormal strategy in a weather-shortened race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. for JTG-Daugherty Racing is that driver this season. Stenhouse was the first driver locked into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs by virtue of winning the season-opening Daytona 500 in February, which while being an underdog team wasn’t all that surprising as Stenhouse’s previous two career Cup wins also came at superspeedways (Talladega and Daytona) in 2017. Stenhouse has only had one other top-5 finish since winning the Great American Race and has only led 25 laps all year and you simply must win races to win the title under the current NASCAR playoff system.
15. Michael McDowell
Michael McDowell’s dominance at the Indianapolis Road Course a few weeks ago led to his second career Cup Series win and a spot in the playoffs. McDowell is having the best season of his career but his team Front Row Motorsports just doesn’t have what it takes to really give the championship a run against the big teams. Like Stenhouse, McDowell only has one other top-5 finish all season besides his win. If he can point his way into the round of 12, he’ll have a good shot at making the round of 8 thanks to the Charlotte Roval and Talladega Superspeedway – with two of his specialties being road racing and drafting races.
14. Darrell Wallace Jr.
As a fan of the sport, I’m thrilled to see Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr. make his first playoff appearance of his NASCAR Cup Series career but as a realist, I can see that he doesn’t win enough to truly have a championship shot, and as mentioned above you have to win to be successful in this format. Nobody has fewer career wins in this playoff field than Bubba’s two. Now, in the pro column for him is one of the tracks in the first round of the playoffs is Kansas Speedway, where he dominated last fall for his second career victory. If he can do that again it’s straight to the round of 12 for him.
13. Tyler Reddick
I hate to do this to the 23XI organization, which for the first time in its three-year history has a driver in the playoff field (Kurt Busch qualified last season but was forced to give his spot up due to injury) and the organization has both of its drivers in the playoffs in Bubba Wallace and Tyler Reddick, but I have both Wallace and Reddick failing to make it out of the first round. Reddick does have a win this year at the Circuit of Americas road course in Austin, Texas early in the season but I just haven’t seen enough from him and his no. 45 Toyota team this summer to think he’s a big threat at the title.
12. Kevin Harvick
It’s Kevin Harvick’s final season and he’s running out of races to win before he calls it quits in November. The whole Stewart-Hass Racing organization has been down this year and Harvick was the only one of the four drivers on the team to make the playoffs due to his consistency. His average finish has been 13.8 and his career did not finish (DNF) percentage may be the best in the sport’s history who’s competed in as many races as he has. Harvick has six top-5s and 12 top-10s this season but just hasn’t been leading many laps (122 total).
11. Ryan Blaney
Ryan Blaney finally got off the schneid with a win this season at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the Coca-Cola 600 in May after going winless in 2022. But the no. 12 Penske Racing driver still doesn’t seem to have the swagger he did in the 2021 season when he won three races and had 20 top-10s. Blaney has four top-5s and 12 top-10s this season with an average finish of 15.8 (his worst since 2017). The whole Penske organization seems down this season.
10. Brad Keselowski
Brad Keselowski has looked worlds better in his second season driving for his own organization of Roush Fenway Keselowski Racing than he did in his first year with the organization in 2022 but he still hasn’t found Victory Lane driving for the team he co-owns. He’s had a solid 2023 otherwise with six top-5s (he had only one last season) and 11 top-10s and an average finish of 13.8. His teammate Chris Buescher has won three of the last five races coming into the playoffs – but like I’ve already said you have to win in this format and I’ll have to see Keselowski do it in the no. 6 Ford to believe it.
9. Ross Chastain
Ross Chastain just doesn’t seem to be quite the driver he was in 2022 and it seems like it is because he’s toned down his aggression on the track after numerous run-ins with fellow drivers on the track that gave his reputation a bit of a black eye. He did win at Nashville Superspeedway this summer but overall, he’s not running up front near as much as he did last season when he made it all the way to the Championship Four. His average finish this season is two positions worse than last season. Maybe Trackhouse Racing owner Justin Marks needs to tell Chastain to go back to his aggressive ways and forget about the competition.
8. Chris Buescher
I feel bad about having Chris Buescher this low on the list after the last month-plus he’s had winning three of the last five races of the series regular season. He’s the hottest driver in the Cup Series headed into the playoffs bar none, but I can’t get over the feeling that he needs a bit more playoff experience to really be successful in the format. At this time last season, Buescher only had one career Cup win and that came in a strategy call to stay out in a race that ended under foggy conditions at Pocono Raceway. He’s been a great story lately for the sport so maybe he’ll show us the high-stress conditions of playoff racing won’t hinder him any.
7. Joey Logano
The reigning NASCAR champion hasn’t had a season you would think would be befitting of the reigning champion with only one win, which came very early in the season at the drafting super speedway of Atlanta Motor Speedway. Logano has eight top-5s, 13 top-10s and has led 260 laps this season but overall, his performance, along with that of the entire Penske Racing organization, has just kind of felt ho-hum. I’d never count him out though. I don’t think he was ever the title favorite last season until he was hoisting the trophy at Phoenix.
6. Kyle Busch
Kyle Busch has three wins this year in his first season with Richard Childress Racing after having the best years of his career, which included two championships, with Joe Gibbs Racing. The three wins are likely more than anybody had predicted for Busch in his first year with RCR but for some reason, some of the luster has already seemed to have worn off for him and his new team this season with those three wins coming in the first 15 races of the year and him having three finishes of 36th or worse in the last six races. The team is going to need to find that gear it had in the first part of the season to have a successful playoff.
5. Christopher Bell
Christopher Bell has about the most fairytale playoffs a driver could have without actually winning a championship in 2022 needing to win in the cutoff race of a playoff round on multiple occasions to survive to the next round and doing so. His clutch gene must be massive. He feels like he’s kind of just been hanging around this year with one win, six top-5s and 13 top-10s, but it also kind of felt that way last season before he turned it on in the playoffs.
4. Kyle Larson
Kyle Larson feels like he’s having a down season simply because he’s only found Victory Lane twice thus far and memories of his extremely dominant championship year in 2021 where he won 10 races are still fresh. But Larson has been one of the most consistent drivers all season long and even has more top-5 finishes with 10 than any driver in the sport this season. The only thing really keeping him behind this year is he already has six did not finish (DNF) results. If he can finish races he’ll be a title threat for sure.
3. William Byron
William Byron is no doubt having a career year and has somewhat surprisingly been the top driver at Hendrick Motorsports this season. His five wins, which lead the sport, through the first 26 races of the season are more than the rest of his five-year career coming into 2023 combined. He has nine top-5s and 13 top-10s on the season and enters the playoffs tied with Martin Truex Jr. in the lead position. What he doesn’t have – and this is the factor that keeps me from putting him any higher than I have – is the experience in the late stages of the NASCAR playoffs. When it comes to competing in the postseason against six former champions and the greatest driver in the sport’s history to never win a title it’s probably going to get a bit harder on Byron and the no. 24 team over the next 10 weeks.
2. Martin Truex Jr.
Martin Truex Jr. is having his typical sneaky good season after a shocking playoff absence in 2022. His three wins during the regular season are second only to William Byron’s five. His nine top-5s are second only to Kyle Larson’s 10 and his 15 top-10s lead the sport. His clinching of the regular season points title allowed him to equal Byron’s point total going into the playoffs, where they each begin the fight toward the championship race with 2036 points. Truex has been to the Championship race five of the eight times since the creation of the current playoff format, with one title (2017) and three runner-up positions. When it comes to experience there is nobody more successful in this format than Martin Truex Jr.
1. Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin didn’t have the best regular season of all of the playoff drivers. William Byron, Chris Buescher, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. all had more wins in the season’s first 26 races. Truex, Busch, Christopher Bell, Byron and Joey Logano all had more top-5 finishes in the regular season. Truex, Byron, Kyle Larson and Ross Chastain have all led more laps. But he’s always consistent and finds himself in a good position to start the playoffs in third place just 11 points behind the two leaders Byron and Truex. I’ve got a hunch that this might be the year Hamlin finally wins the title – and he’s certainly running out of chances. Hamlin has reached the point where he’s the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR to never win a championship and I bet he tries like hell to get it this year.
by Charles Bell Sr.
I have been a Philadelphia Eagles fan since 1999. Growing up as a black kid in southwest Arkansas, I didn’t see many black quarterbacks when I watched football on TV. I remember the first time I saw Donovan McNabb play. I was amazed and I have been an Eagles fan ever since. I have gone back and looked at some of Randall Cunningham’s highlights, but I was too young to remember his run with the Eagles.
Any Eagles fan will tell you; we have had our share of ups, downs and shocks over the years. In my opinion, the biggest shock was the Eagles selecting Jalen Hurts out of the University of Alabama in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. This did not have as much to do with Hurts, but rather the needs of the team. At that time, Philadelphia had one of the worst secondaries in the league. Guys like Jeremy Chinn were on the board. The Eagles also suffered injuries on the offensive line and general manager Howie Roseman is notorious for beefing up both lines. Oh yeah, they also just signed their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz to a 4-year/$132 million contract. This pick sent shockwaves throughout the entire Eagles fanbase. Eagle fans were already pissed at the selection of receiver Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson in the first round. I remember tons of Eagle fans losing it. Twitter, which is now known as X(LOL), was a crazy place. It’s something I will never forget. Fans wanted Roseman fired on the spot. But then Wentz had a horrible 2020 season and was replaced by Hurts in a game against the Green Bay Packers. Wentz was traded the following offseason and Hurts was named starting QB.
Fast forward three years and Hurts is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. I have no problem admitting, I was dead wrong about him. I wish other people would admit that, but we will get to that later. As I mentioned previously, I had nothing against Hurts, but the Eagles had other needs. At the time I was a big Wentz fan. I thought his struggles were more about the banged-up offensive line and the mediocre receiving core than his abilities. The pick was just odd to me. We can now definitely say it was a great pick. Hurts is everything you want in a franchise quarterback.
Other people, however, do not view things that way. Even after the last season he had and the fact that he has improved every year, he has critics and skeptics. They say: it’s only been one year, the Eagles had an easy schedule, etc etc. But I have not heard these things when it comes to other quarterbacks in similar positions around the league. When Joe Burrow led the Cincinnati Bengals to the Super Bowl in his second year, no one said it was just one good year. The consensus was he built on his rookie year and was ascending into superstardom. Another thing I hear is he only had 22 touchdown passes. Let’s put that into perspective. I can think of four fourth quarters Hurts mostly sat on the bench or played conservatively because the Eagles were winning big. He also missed two games due to injury. I can easily make the case he could have thrown 30-plus TD passes if those things didn’t happen. Let’s compare this with another young Quarterback, Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers. Herbert played in all 17 games last year and “only” threw for 25 TD passes. Have you heard people calling him a running back or question his throwing? Jacksonville Jaguars QB Trevor Lawrence only threw for 12 TD passes his rookie year and followed that up with 25 in his second. Fans and media seem to all say Lawrence is ascending (which I agree with) instead of saying only one good year.
We all know of the racial components when it comes to black quarterbacks. Hurts alluded to this recently in an interview. When it comes to the critics of Hurst, I think it’s more ego-driven. Scouts and executives can’t fathom they were so wrong about a player. I’ve personally never seen a player improve this quickly. Hurts went from being called a gadget player to signing a $250 million dollar deal within 18 months. I am not a scout or player developer. I am simply a fan of the Eagles who pays attention to every move. I gladly admit I was wrong about Hurts. It’s time others did it too. Trust me I know, it Hurts.
by Julian Spivey
A 57-member voting panel selected the 2024 class of the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday, August 2 and seven-time NASCAR champion driver Jimmie Johnson and seven-time champion crew chief Chad Knaus - the duo winning those seven championships together – were each elected on their first year on the Modern Era ballot. After being chosen on the Pioneer Ballot, Donnie Allison will join Johnson and Knaus in the 2024 class. Janet Guthrie, the first female driver to start in the Daytona 500, received the Landmark Award for Outstanding Contributions to NASCAR and will be celebrated alongside Johnson, Knaus and Allison at the Hall of Fame Induction ceremony next January in Charlotte.
Johnson received 93% of the vote, Knauss received 81% and Allison 53%.
Much of the controversy online around the NASCAR community, including drivers, media and fans alike, was the fact that Johnson wasn’t a unanimous choice by the voting panel with four members leaving him off their ballot. The Athletic reporter Jeff Gluck was among the media personnel saying the four members of the voting panel who didn’t vote for Johnson should be removed from the panel. Luckily for those four individuals, the balloting is anonymous, unless the individuals announce who they voted for themselves.
The fact that Johnson, arguably the greatest driver in the history of NASCAR with his record-tying seven titles and 83 career Cup Series wins placing him sixth all-time, wasn’t a unanimous choice is idiotic for sure but I don’t think quarreling about the percentage of vote he got was the most controversial NASCAR Hall of Fame choice of the day – though seemingly few are talking about the one that truly is.
There is simply no reasonable metric or reasoning I can think of as to how or why Donnie Allison is a NASCAR Hall of Famer.
Nothing about his 21-year, 242-race Cup Series career comes close to explaining why he’s now a NASCAR Hall of Famer.
He won 10 races in his career. That’s 61st all-time in Cup Series history. Of those 10 wins only the 1970 World 600 is really the only one considered a “grand jewel” of the sport. Three wins in the 1970 season were his career high for a single season.
Do you know who else won 10 career NASCAR Cup Series races?
No one is out there clamoring that Bowyer is a Hall of Famer. Hell, Clint Bowyer is more worthy of the NASCAR Hall of Fame candidate than Allison because he also had lower-level NASCAR success with an Xfinity Series championship and eight wins in that series, as well as three wins in the Craftsman Truck Series.
Allison’s highest career finish in the season-long point standings was 17th. It was the only time he finished in the top 20. Now, Allison never ran a full-time NASCAR Cup Series schedule. He never ran more than 65% of any season, but should that matter when it comes to the Hall of Fame?
I’d argue it shouldn’t help his Hall of Fame case, especially when other drivers who never ran full seasons are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame with much more impressive resumes. Hell, Junior Johnson never ran a full-time NASCAR schedule and won 50 races, good enough for the 13th all-time in the sport’s 75-year history.
Another head-scratcher to me is how Allison topped the Pioneer Ballot when it featured legitimate candidates like A.J. Foyt, Sam Ard, Ralph Moody and Banjo Matthews.
Every single one of those other Pioneer Ballot candidates is more deserving of Hall of Fame induction than Allison.
Ard was one of the first greats of what’s now the NASCAR Xfinity Series winning two championships and 22 wins over three years in that series before his career was cut short due to injury.
Foyt, perhaps the greatest open-wheel driver in motorsports history, wasn’t too shabby when he moonlighted in NASCAR. His seven career Cup wins might be fewer than Allison, but Foyt won the sport’s biggest race in the Daytona 500 in 1972. Those three fewer wins than Allison also came in more than 100 fewer career races.
Matthews and Moody were legendary owners and mechanical geniuses. Moody was a two-time NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning car owner. Matthews won three championships as a car owner and won more than 250 Cup Series races, including five of Allison’s 10 career wins.
I would really love for the 53% of voting members who checked Allison’s name on the Pioneer Ballot to explain why they chose him over any of the other four members because right now all I have are theories.
Theory #1: The Allison name
Donnie’s older brother, Bobby, is one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history. Bobby Allison’s 84 career Cup Series wins are tied for fourth most all-time. Allison was also a champion (1983) and won bukoos of “grand jewel” races like the Daytona 500 four times, the Southern 500 at Darlington three times and the World 600 at Charlotte three times.
Donnie’s association with his brother and the gang of drivers known as the “Alabama Gang” for their shared home area around Birmingham, Ala. has no doubt helped further his name and legacy.
The plain truth to me is that if Donnie Allison had any other surname he would not have been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame now or ever. Why do I believe this? Just look at some of the drivers he’s jumped over into the Hall of Fame. Dick Hutcherson won 14 races in just over 100 career races for a much higher winning percentage than Allison and hasn’t even sniffed the Hall of Fame. Jim Paschal won 15 more races than Allison. He can’t even get his name on the Pioneer Ballot. Jack Smith, Speedy Thompson, Fonty Flock and Marvin Panch all have better resumes than Allison. Crickets.
Theory #2: The Good Old Boys Club
This one kind of goes along with Allison’s name but a bit differently. I think Allison still being alive at almost 84 years old and being such an effervescent personality has helped his case. Maybe more so than still being around and his personality though is the fact that many of the drivers he raced against and owners he competed against – some who are no doubt on the 57-member voting panel – helped his cause. That just doesn’t seem fair to more worthy candidates.
Theory #3: His Association With Maybe the Most Famous Moment in NASCAR History
It’s very likely Donnie Allison was a player in one of the most famous moments in the 75-year history of NASCAR, along with his brother Bobby and fellow Hall of Fame driver Cale Yarborough, at the end of the 1979 Daytona 500, the first-ever NASCAR race aired live from start-to-finish on television and had the luxury of doing so while most of the Eastern Seaboard was snowed in from a massive blizzard.
Allison and Yarborough were racing for the lead and win in the sport’s biggest race when the two contacted each other and wrecked into the infield. A fight between Yarborough and both Bobby and Donnie Allison would break out in the infield near the wrecked racecars in front of millions watching from home. It’s likely more people could tell you about that fight today than the fact that Richard Petty won the race after driving by the wreckage.
Maybe some of the writers feel like Donnie Allison was owed a Daytona 500 win because of that moment and that win would be enough to get him in. To that I’d say – Sterling Marlin won two Daytona 500s and has the exact same number of Cup Series wins as Allison and we’ll see if he ever makes it down the road on the Pioneer Ballot.
One honor Marlin has that Allison doesn’t is this year he was named one of the 75 greatest drivers in NASCAR history. However, Foyt and Ard are also among the 75 greatest drivers honorees and we see what good that did them.
There are more than a dozen drivers on the 75 greatest drivers list eligible for the NASCAR Hall of Fame that haven’t been inducted yet, many of them eligible for the Pioneer Ballot, yet Allison will be enshrined come January.
Why does all of this bother me so much?
Because I want to believe in the sanctity of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Are Hall of Fames perfect? No. We’ve seen head-scratching inductions in every other sports hall of fame. I remember feeling this same way a few years ago when Harold Baines was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Donnie Allison isn’t even at the level in NASCAR that Baines was in Major League Baseball in my opinion.
My wife said to me tonight as I was telling her of the 2024 NASCAR Hall of Fame class: “Do you believe everybody in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is worthy?”
My answer: “No. But music is something that’s subjective. Sports are something that is mostly objective. You have statistics and things like championships and awards/honors to go by.”
Allison doesn’t have the statistics, championships or awards/honors to qualify in my opinion for such an esteemed title as “Hall of Famer.”
It makes the process of getting into the NASCAR Hall of Fame feel dirty or at least confusing. Most importantly, Donnie Allison's induction into the NASCAR Hall of Fame dilutes the entire hall of fame. Now that might put it on the same level as all of the other halls of fame, but up until Wednesday the NASCAR Hall of Fame hadn’t undergone such a dilution.
by Julian Spivey
The Major League Baseball trade deadline is today (August 1) at 5 p.m. (CST) and some big names have already been dealt like three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer from the disappointing New York Mets to the American League West Division leading Texas Rangers.
But the biggest name, not just thought to have been a potential deal at the trade deadline, but in the sport right now in general – Shohei Ohtani, baseball’s unicorn who is both an All-Star pitcher and hitter for the Los Angeles Angels, is not going to be dealt. The Angels made that known a week or more ago.
The Angels, currently five games out of the A.L. West Division lead and four games out of the final A.L. Wild Card spot, have opted to hold onto the player who will be the most coveted free agent in the history of baseball once the season ends in order to attempt a playoff or even championship run.
Ohtani, who is currently leading Major League Baseball with 39 home runs as a hitter and has the lowest batting average against him in the majors as a pitcher, is projected to make between $500-600 million in free agency this offseason.
The Angels currently have a 4.9% chance to win the A.L. West, a 19.4% chance to make the playoffs as one of the three A.L. Wild Cards and a 1.2% chance at winning the World Series, according to FanGraphs. This means the Angels are 80.6% likely to miss the postseason altogether.
The Angels front office has opted to risk losing Ohtani – and he’s more than likely not going to re-sign with the franchise, which hasn’t shown the ability to even come close to winning in his six seasons with the team despite having arguably the two best hitters in the entire league (Ohtani and Mike Trout) – for a minuscule chance at postseason glory.
Some fans might appreciate the Angels ballclub for not packing it in by the end of July and going for broke, but others might be disappointed in a franchise that has managed to put together losing season after losing season while having two of the most talented players to ever set foot on a baseball diamond.
Sure, the Angels have made some acquisitions prior to the trade deadline in hopes of bettering themselves for a run toward the postseason – but it’s unlikely Lucas Giolito, from the Chicago White Sox, and Randal Grichuk and C.J. Cron, from the Colorado Rockies, are going to move the needle in such a manner that the team gets to where it hopes to go.
Ohtani is currently having one of the greatest, if not the greatest, single seasons of any player in the history of baseball and some fans might want to see him stick around in an Angels jersey until the end of the season to have a shot at the American League single-season home run record of 62 set last season by New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge. Ohtani is currently on pace to hit 60 homers.
But the sheer truth of the Angels refusing to even take offers on Ohtani before the trade deadline is that it’s just setting the franchise up for many more seasons of failure. Ohtani is likely walking this offseason to a team that can both break the bank for him and compete annually for a title. Trout is getting older by the minute and has shown himself to be more and more injury prone as he ages. The team is essentially going nowhere.
Now, it’s true that teams don’t really want to give up the farm for a two-month (potentially three if they go all the way to the World Series) rental and the package the Angels would have gotten in a deal for Ohtani would’ve been less than he was worth, but by-God King Midas’ touch would be less than this one-of-a-kind ballplayer is worth.
The Mets got the 44th-ranked prospect in the game in Luisangel Acuna, a middle infielder with a great pedigree (his brother is Atlanta Braves likely National League M.V.P. Ronald Acuna Jr.), from the Texas Rangers for a 39-year old pitcher in Scherzer, who’s having his worst season arguably of his career, but at least in the last dozen years.
The Tampa Bay Rays just gave up the 37th-ranked prospect in the game first baseman Kyle Manzardo yesterday for pitcher Aaron Civale from the Cleveland Guardians. Civale is having a good season with a 2.34 ERA in 13 starts, but it might also be an anomaly as his career ERA through his first few seasons is closer to 4 than 2.
So, there were potential gains for the Angels to make for the right to have Ohtani in the box and on the mound for the last few months of the season. Now the Angels just get to watch their unicorn leave for a better franchise in the offseason for nothing in return. That’s no way for a franchise, with the longest active playoff drought in the sport, to engender faith from its fanbase for the future.
by Eric Fulton
The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup kicks off early Thursday morning (our time) in Australia and New Zealand. For the next month, the best national women’s soccer teams will compete to see who the best in the world is. The United States Women’s Team has been the most successful women’s international team in the World Cup, winning four titles, including the previous World Cup in 2019. However, coming into this year’s World Cup, they will go through some adversity with a couple of key players not available for the entire tournament due to injuries and a new head coach taking over the team.
Players Becky Sauerbrunn and Mallory Swanson will not participate in the World Cup due to injuries. While both players will be sorely missed on the team, they will have a new voice as former FC Kansas City head coach Vlatko Andonovski takes over the head coaching duties. With a lot going on, the focus is to win, and they still have what it takes to extend their record by winning a fifth World Cup.
Here are five players everyone should focus on during the U.S. run toward that fifth World Cup.
5. Alyssa Naeher – Goalkeeper
Alyssa Naeher is the most experienced goalkeeper on the roster. She has made 91 appearances for Team USA with 53 clean sheets. Naeher ranks third all-time in caps, wins and shutouts for a goalkeeper in U.S. history. Her shutout in the CONCACAF final helped the United States clinch this year’s World Cup appearance and the Summer Olympics in 2024.
4. Crystal Dunn – Defender
Crystal Dunn has made 132 appearances, scoring 24 goals and 19 assists in international play. Dunn is also a two-time Olympian. In the last World Cup in 2019, Dunn played a key role in defense against host country France shutting down France’s attack and helping the U.S. win that match. Dunn started all six matches in 2019, scoring one assist in the tournament.
3. Rose Lavelle – Midfielder
Lavelle has made 88 appearances, scoring 24 goals and 20 assists in international play. In 2021 and 2022, Lavelle played 38 matches for the United States, scoring nine goals and 11 assists, while playing 2,518 minutes. In the 2019 World Cup, Lavelle won the Bronze Ball as the third-best player in the tournament. She scored the clinching goal in the 2-0 victory over the Netherlands in World Cup Final.
2. Alex Morgan – Forward
Making her fourth World Cup appearance, Alex Morgan is one of the best women’s soccer players of all time. Last year, Morgan became just the 13th player in USWNT history to reach 200 matches played. She is also a two-time United States Female Soccer Athlete of the Year, a four-time CONCACAF Player of the Year, and a three-time Olympian. Her performance in the 2019 World Cup was one of the greatest of all time. She scored six goals and added three assists in France. Five of her six goals came in one game alone against Thailand, which tied a single-game record for the United States. Morgan will look to continue to add to her 121 goals and 49 assists in Australia and New Zealand.
1. Megan Rapinoe – Forward
Rapinoe announced recently that this year will be her final World Cup as she plans to retire at the end of the year. You know she would love to finish her career in a blaze of glory. Rapinoe is one appearance away from reaching the 200 matches played milestone. She has scored 63 goals and 73 assists in her international career, both rank in the top 10 in USWNT history. Her play in the 2019 World Cup was memorable and unforgettable. She won the Golden Ball and Golden Boot as the most outstanding player in the World Cup with her six goals and three assists. She scored a penalty kick goal in the World Cup Final, which was her 50th career goal. Rapinoe has even made a tremendous impact off the soccer field, advocating that her teammates and women’s soccer, in general, should have equal pay to men’s soccer. The two-time World Cup champion received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2022.
The United States Women’s National Team will be in group E of the 2023 Women’s World Cup. Teams in Group E include Vietnam, Netherlands and Portugal. The United States and the Netherlands played in the final in 2019, with the U.S. winning the match 2-0. The USWNT’s first game will be against Vietnam on Friday, July 21 at 8 pm Central time and can be seen in the U.S. on Fox. The championship match will be on Sunday, August 20 on Fox.
by Julian Spivey
The second half of the Major League Baseball season gets underway tomorrow with two and a half months of tight pennant races and wild card fights ahead of us. It should be a thrilling second half, but before the first pitch of it is thrown let’s take the time to recognize the best (and a worst) from the first half of the season.
Best Team: Atlanta Braves
Shortly before the All-Star break, the Atlanta Braves became the first team of the season to reach the 60-win mark. The Braves are 60-29 and hold an 8.5-game lead on the Miami Marlins in the National League East Division. The team has a +147 run differential, meaning they are absolutely demolishing teams on the offensive side of the game while keeping runs at a minimum from the mound – which is wild as their two best pitchers of 2022 – Max Fried and Kyle Wright – have combined for just 10 starts this season due to injury and both have been out since the first month of the season. Fried, the team’s ace, should return by the end of the month and Wright is slated for about the end of August. That will be like adding two big arms at the trade deadline for the squad. The offense has been lights out for the team all season with six players (Matt Olson, Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuna Jr., Sean Murphy, Marcell Ozuna and Austin Riley) all at 16-plus home runs. Acuna and Olson are both in the top five in baseball in On-Base Plus Slugging percentage and Olson and Albies are the top two in the National League in Runs Batted In. Acuna also leads the N.L. with 41 stolen bases, which is 17 more than the next-closest player in the league. Things can change in the game’s second half and especially in the postseason, but as of July 13, the Braves are far and away the scariest team in baseball.
Biggest Surprise: Miami Marlins
You may have said, “Really?” in the previous paragraph when you saw the Miami Marlins were in second place in the National League East Division at 8.5 games behind the Braves. After all, the N.L. East is the division of last year’s N.L. champion Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Mets, by far the highest payroll in Major League Baseball this season at over $348 million. You’d be really surprised to find out – if you didn’t already know – that the Marlins ace Sandy Alcantara, who ran away with the N.L. Cy Young Award in 2022, has been pretty disappointing this season with a losing record and Earned Run Average of 4.72 (his ERA was 2.28 last season). Now, the Marlins aren’t the only surprising team in baseball this year – not even close. If you take a look atop the National League Central Division standings you’d likely be stunned to see the Cincinnati Reds with a one-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers, but what truly makes the Marlins a surprise is they have the second-best record in the National League at the All-Star break, despite allowing five more runs to their opponents this season than they have scored. That kind of makes me believe the Marlins are somewhat pretenders this season, but as of now, they are three games ahead in the N.L. Wild Card standings and might just stick around for the postseason.
Biggest Disappointment: New York Mets
OK, so the San Diego Padres have been massively disappointing this season. They are four games under .500 with the third-highest payroll in the game at over $246 million with a lineup of perennial M.V.P. candidates like Manny Machado, Juan Soto, Fernando Tatis Jr. and Xander Bogaerts that should be absolutely crushing its opponents. However, their 8.5-game deficit to the National League West Division-leading Los Angeles Dodgers and six-game deficit in the Wild Card hunt isn’t insurmountable and what’s going on in Queens, N.Y. is even more embarrassing. The highest payroll in baseball – by A LOT – shouldn’t be 18.5 games back in its division at the season’s midway point, but that’s exactly where the Mets find themselves at 42-48 and with disappointing seasons from usually stud pitchers Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer and their two biggest offensive stars in Pete Alonso and Francisco Lindor both hitting under .240. Mets owner Steve Cohen has been attempting to buy himself success with this franchise and it’s been a nightmare thus far.
A.L. MVP: Shohei Ohtani
Baseball’s unicorn Shohei Ohtani just keeps on growing more mythical by the game. Not only has he been the American League’s best hitter overall with a .302 batting average, league-leading 32 home runs and 71 RBI (second in the A.L.) he’s been statistically the hardest pitcher in the league to hit with an opponent’s batting average of .189. There is absolutely no way, whatsoever, anyone can take the A.L. M.V.P. from him this season. The only thing keeping Ohtani was three consecutive M.V.P.s is the fact that New York Yankees slugger Aaron Judge set the A.L. single-season record for home runs last season. There is one thing that could potentially keep Ohtani from winning M.V.P. this season and that’s if the Angels trade him to a National League ballclub before the trade deadline in just over two weeks (which would likely be the smartest thing for the franchise but seems unlikely at this point) as he’s set to be a free agent after the season and some team is going to break Fort Knox open to pay the game’s most unique player in its 150-plus year history.
N.L. MVP: Ronald Acuna Jr.
While the National League M.V.P. race may not be as over as the A.L. one is at the midway point of the season I’d say that Atlanta Braves right fielder Ronald Acuna Jr. should be damn close to having it on lock. Acuna leads the N.L. in On-Base Plus Slugging, is second in batting average, eighth in home runs, 11th in RBI (but remember he’s a leadoff hitter), first in stolen bases by a mile, first in runs scored, second in hits, third in On-Base Percentage and second in slugging percentage. Los Angeles Dodgers teammates Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman are probably the closest competition to him for M.V.P., but not only are their numbers not better but they likely would split the vote.
A.L. Cy Young: Gerrit Cole
There are a handful of pitchers deep in the American League Cy Young hunt at the season’s midpoint, including Shohei Ohtani (Los Angels Angels), Nathan Eovaldi (Texas Rangers), Framber Valdez (Houston Astros), Shane McClanahan (Tampa Bay Rays) and Gerrit Cole (New York Yankees). The two frontrunners right now are likely McClanahan and Cole, but I’m giving Cole the edge simply because his WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is almost a full point higher than McClanahan’s, likely because Cole strikes out more batters. I do like that McClanahan is on the A.L.’s top team at the All-Star break and that his ERA is more than 30 points lower than Cole’s. He also has a slightly better winning percentage, but I’ve got to go with the analytics here.
N.L. Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
The National League Cy Young race is even more wide open than the American League’s, but the pitchers aren’t as big of names (for the most part) and don’t quite seem to be having as dominant of seasons as their counterparts. My six contenders at this point in the season are Clayton Kershaw (Los Angeles Dodgers) – the outlier on the not-big-names thing -, Marcus Stroman (Chicago Cubs), Justin Steele (Chicago Cubs), Bryce Elder (Atlanta Braves), Blake Snell (San Diego Padres) and Zac Gallen (Arizona Diamondbacks). Gallen has the best record at 11-3, but the highest ERA of the bunch at 3.04. Steele and Elder don’t strike out nearly as many batters as the others and Ks are sexy to Cy Young voters. Snell has a losing record and the lowest WAR of the bunch but leads them in strikeouts. Stroman and Kershaw have the highest WAR at 3.1, but I’m going to give the edge to the elder of the bunch in Kershaw as his ERA is 40 points lower than Stroman’s. Kershaw already has three Cy Young wins in his career, but his most recent came in 2014 when he was 26. He’s now 35 and arguably still the best pitcher in his league. His longevity is amazing. He did, however, land on the injured list shortly before the All-Star break with shoulder soreness, which could play a major role in his second half.
A.L. Rookie of the Year: Josh Jung
Josh Jung’s first half was so good that he was voted by the fans as one of five Texas Rangers ballplayers to start for the American League team at the All-Star Game manning the hot corner at third base. Jung, who was probably behind Gunnar Henderson (Baltimore Orioles), Masataka Yoshida (Boston Red Sox) and Anthony Volpe (New York Yankees) on most people’s A.L. Rookie of the Year prognostications prior to the season has been a huge part of the surprising upstart season for the Rangers. Jung has hit .280 with 19 home runs, 56 RBI and a 2.7 WAR.
N.L. Rookie of the Year: Corbin Carroll
Corbin Carroll had such a breakout first half of the season for the Arizona Diamondbacks that he was rightfully voted into the starting outfield for the National League’s All-Star squad. The D’Backs’ center fielder has hit .289 with 18 home runs, 48 RBI, 26 stolen bases and a 3.7 WAR. He’s running away with the N.L. Rookie of the Year Award at the midpoint of the season and it seems like the Diamondbacks will have a really good one patrolling center for them for the next few years or hopefully longer.
by Julian Spivey
NASCAR’s first foray into racing in the streets last weekend in downtown Chicago was a complete success when it comes to the actual NASCAR Cup Series race on Sunday, July 2.
The overall weekend, which was billed as something more akin to a festival than a sporting event, was a pretty big failure – though it was all the fault of the weather and nothing to do with NASCAR or the city of Chicago itself.
The sight of NASCAR cars going around the streets of downtown Chicago with the city skyscape in the background, images of traffic on nearing streets and the ‘L’ train going by in the background made for the most unique backdrop in the sport’s history, or at least since the days of driving around on the beaches of Daytona.
It gave hope of the sport, which has seen a drop in the number of fans from its early-to-mid-‘00s heyday, could capture a new audience with the bulk of people attending the Chicago street race saying it was their first time at a NASCAR race. The race was the most-watched one televised on NBC in six years, which includes every championship race of the last six seasons, which was amazing considering the race was delayed by more than an hour due to heavy rain and flooded streets.
The Chicago street race gave me hope that NASCAR could do anything. As a fan of more than two decades, I’d started to wonder if the sport could do anything right, let alone anything it set its sights on.
The race was historical, not simply because it was the first of its kind in the 75-year history of the sport, but also by how it ended. Three-time Australian Supercars champion Shane van Gisbergen came over from his homeland of New Zealand to run the race for Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 team, which is sort of a special team used on a very select basis that brings champions from other types of racing into the sport for one-offs. The car had run last year’s Watkins Glen race and this season’s Circuit of the Americas race in Austin, Texas with former Formula 1 champion Kimi Raikkonen, with a top finish of 29th place. van Gisbergen didn’t just come over to run this race – he came over and won this race. He looked like one of the best on track from the opening minutes of practice, which he led, qualified third and after some pit strategy and the race being shortened by 25 percent (mid-race) due to impending darkness placed him back in the pack he was able to almost cruise from 18th position to the win by the end of lap 75. It was a dominant performance that frankly in the minds of some may have left the regulars of the sport looking a tad embarrassed. van Gisbergen was the first debut winner in a NASCAR Cup Series race since open-wheel star Johnny Rutherford won a qualifying race (which at the time were points-paying races) at Daytona International Speedway in 1963, 60 years ago. He was the first New Zealander to ever win a NASCAR race and just the sixth non-American winner in the series’ 75-year history.
Pretty much everyone within the sport and the majority of the fans – at least those who didn’t already have it out for the sport doing a street race or the event being held in Chicago – deemed it a success, which was something that felt like a miracle given how the rest of the weekend and the day leading up to the race on Sunday early evening went.
Most want to see the sport continue with a street course into the future and the sport is contracted to hold another one next summer in downtown Chicago, but unlike with most tracks, its future isn’t set in stone. The deal for NASCAR to compete in downtown Chicago was agreed to under a previous city administration and the current mayor of Chicago, Brandon Johnson, doesn’t seem to be as gung-ho about the event taking up city streets and affecting local businesses, despite the excitement the event garnered. The city has until 180 days (six months) before the next race to decide whether it wants to bring the NASCAR race back to the city, which means there’s a chance the 2024 race will appear on the NASCAR schedule and still not happen. If the race is canceled for the 2024 season it would make it nearly impossible for NASCAR to run a street race in 2024.
Either way, the sport will likely look into holding street races in other major cities across the country, though it’s doubtful any would be bigger than Chicago, the third largest city in the United States – though don’t think NASCAR wouldn’t try to ask about the two larger ones – New York City and Los Angeles (where the series has held an exhibition race to open the season the last two years in the L.A. Coliseum).
As for the rest of the Chicago weekend, that turned into a disaster, sometimes the weather just wins. That’s likely the biggest issue with the sport running races on city streets, postponements could be tricky or even non-existent based on the length of them.
The Xfinity Series race, the NASCAR support series that typically runs the day before the Cup Series’ premiere event, was delayed before the halfway point (which typically would make a race official if weather or other issues arose) due to lightning strikes and postponed to the next morning. The next morning came record-setting rain for the time of year for the city of Chicago and NASCAR made the unprecedented decision to call the Xfinity Series race official despite reaching the halfway point, awarding the win to Cole Custer, the leader at the time of the postponement.
The NASCAR weekend, which as previously mentioned was billed more like a festival than a sporting event, was to feature multiple concerts by megastars like The Chainsmokers on Saturday and Miranda Lambert among others on Sunday. Every single concert during the weekend was canceled either due to lightning or torrential rain and flooding.
I can see how those who paid ticket prices, which were among the highest, if not the highest in the sport’s history, would’ve been disappointed to the point of cursing NASCAR for the rest of eternity – and I hope the sport was able to reimburse fans in some way, though with Sunday’s race happening I’m not sure the sport will believe there are grounds to do so. It’s the risk you take when purchasing tickets for a sporting event, even if it was billed more as a festival.
As a sporting event, the NASCAR Chicago race was a major success by all metrics – entertaining race, historic winner, huge TV ratings, beautiful images, etc. It would be a shame if racing in the streets doesn’t continue.
by Julian Spivey
Every year I like to do this sort of exercise where I select my Major League Baseball All-Star Game starting players simply by looking at the information given to me on the MLB All-Star Game ballot itself at mlb.com/all-star/ballot. That info includes a player’s batting average, home run total, RBI total and OPS. Now, if I happened to know something about a player – like for instance Atlanta Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr. has 30 stolen bases already – it may sway my vote, but for the most part, I’m going off those four categories given.
We are a little less than a month away from the MLB All-Star Game, taking place at Seattle’s T-Mobile Park on Tuesday, July 11. Phase one voting for the MLB All-Star Game ends on Thursday, June 22 at 11 a.m.
Here are my current selections to start that game…
*All stats shared in this article will be as of June 16.
American League: Salvador Perez (Kansas City Royals)
Some of these positions are pretty hard to decide with players with comparable numbers. American League catcher is one of those spots because I don’t think you can go wrong with Baltimore Orioles backstop Adley Rutschman (who is the current vote leader) or Texas Rangers catcher Jonah Heim (who is the current runner-up in the vote). But I’m going with Royals veteran Salvador Perez, who has a bit higher power numbers than the other two, though Heim does have more RBI. Perez’s OPS of .816 is higher than Heim’s, where he has more homers and RBI than Rutschman. Also, if the fans could pick a Royals player (they’re currently the worst team in baseball) it means their likely lone representative at the game is taken care of.
National League: Will Smith (Los Angeles Dodgers)
When I made my first ballot (which I didn’t publish here) a few weeks ago I believe I had Atlanta Braves catcher Sean Murphy (who is the leading vote-getter right now) as my choice, but I believe he’s been surpassed in my mind since then by Dodgers backstop Will Smith (who is the runner-up in the vote). Smith has a slightly higher OPS and a batting average that’s eight points higher. Though, Murphy does still have him beat in homers and RBI. Colorado Rockies catcher Elias Diaz should be in the conversation too.
American League: Yandy Diaz (Tampa Bay Rays)
Yandy Diaz of Tampa Bay isn’t exactly a household name, so it might be a bit harder for him to win a fan vote – especially with Tampa Bay likely having one of the smaller fan bases in baseball. Though, he’s not too far behind leading vote-getter Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays. Guerrero has a few more RBI than Diaz, but Diaz has him beaten in every other statistical category shown on the ballot.
National League: Freddie Freeman (Los Angeles Dodgers)
The first base selection for the National League should be 100 percent clear and that’s Freddie Freeman of the Dodgers, who’s likely the leading MVP candidate right now in the league (either him or Acuna Jr. for Atlanta). Freeman is hitting .325 this season with 13 homers (third among first baseman), 46 RBI (second among first baseman) and an OPS of .961 (highest among first baggers).
American League: Marcus Semien (Texas Rangers)
Marcus Semien is currently the leading vote-getter among second baseman in the American League and I think the fans have gotten this one right, so far. Semien combined offensive numbers are far and away the best of any second baseman in the league right now with a .283 average, 10 homers, 53 RBI and .821 OPS.
National League: Luis Arraez (Miami Marlins)
Luis Arraez should be a no-brainer to start second base for the National League at this point – he may be the best pure hitter in the game right now. Sure, he has almost no power, his two home runs are 13 fewer than Ozzie Albies of the Braves and Nolan Gorman of the St. Louis Cardinals, but he’s hitting nearly .400 two-and-half months into the season. His OPS is quite a bit higher than anyone else at second base too. Arraez is the current leading vote-getter.
American League: Jose Ramirez (Cleveland Guardians)
On my first ballot a few weeks ago, I had Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Matt Chapman as my starter, but he’s fallen off quite a bit since then. A lot of others must’ve been doing the same because he’s the current vote leader. Josh Jung has been putting his name on the map for the Texas Rangers this season and is second in the vote-getting, which is right where I think he should be at this point. My current selection to start the game is Jose Ramirez of the Guardians, who’s been on a tear lately and has been one of the most unsung players in baseball over the last half-decade or more now. Ramirez is currently hitting .292 with 11 homers, 41 RBI and a .869 OPS, higher than Chapman in all categories and better than Jung in everyone but homers.
National League: J.D. Davis (San Francisco Giants)
Here’s where name recognition or lack thereof can hurt a player in the MLB All-Star Game fan vote because I think J.D. Davis of the Giants is having the best season thus far at third base in the National League and isn’t among the top two in the fan vote – whereas perennial superstars like Nolan Arenado of the Cardinals and Austin Riley of the Braves are. Arenado’s numbers are worthy of the spot, but I feel like the major disappointment of the Cardinals’ season should be considered. Davis has a higher batting average and OPS than Arenado. Riley has been a bit of a disappointment for Atlanta this year.
American League: Corey Seager (Texas Rangers)
It’s possible that the Texas Rangers double-play combo of Marcus Semien and Corey Seager will start the All-Star Game for the A.L. It would be the first since 2017 when Jose Altuve and Carlos Correa did so for the Houston Astros. Seager is currently second in the fan vote behind Toronto’s Bo Bichette, whose numbers are really nice too. Seager is hitting .344 with nine home runs, 36 RBI and 1.030 OPS.
National League: Orlando Arcia (Atlanta Braves)
Potentially the biggest surprise among All-Star Game hopefuls in the first half of the season has been Orlando Arcia at shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. He really wasn’t expected to be the starting shortstop of the team following Dansby Swanson’s departure to the Chicago Cubs during the offseason. Many thought 22-year-old Vaughn Grissom would take over the position, but with his defensive struggles in Spring Training, it became clear Arcia should have the job. He has never for one second made the team think otherwise. Arcia is hitting .329 with five homers and 23 RBI and his numbers would likely be even more impressive without a three-week stint on the injured list early in the season. Braves’ country must be showing out to vote for him because he doesn’t exactly have household name recognition. He’s currently the leading vote-getter at N.L. shortstop over Francisco Lindor of the New York Mets.
American League: Aaron Judge (New York Yankees), Yordan Alvarez (Houston Astros) & Randy Arozarena (Tampa Bay Rays)
How much fun would it be watching an outfield of Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez and Randy Arozarena in the All-Star game? They’re currently all in the top four of the fan vote, but the massive popularity of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout currently has Arozarena as the odd man out. Judge is currently on the injured list, but I’m not going to let that impact my current vote when he’s hitting .291 with 19 homers, 40 RBI and a 1.078 OPS. He may not be back in time for the All-Star game. Alvarez, one of the scariest men at the plate in the entire game, is hitting .277 with 17 homers, 55 RBI and an OPS of .977. Arozarena, one of the leaders of baseball best Tampa Bay, is hitting .285 with 13 home runs, 48 RBI and a .891 OPS.
National League: Ronald Acuna Jr. (Atlanta Braves), Corbin Carroll (Arizona Diamondbacks) & Nick Castellanos (Philadelphia Phillies)
Ronald Acuna Jr. might be the most exciting player to watch in all of baseball and the fans realize that which is why he’s the overall National League vote-getter with already more than a million votes. Acuna is hitting .327 with 15 home runs, 45 RBI and a .970 OPS to go along with the previously mentioned N.L. leading 30 stolen bases. The Arizona Diamondbacks have been one of the surprises of the first half of the 2023 MLB season and one of the biggest reasons is the play of outfielder Corbin Carroll, who is hitting .308 with 14 homers, 36 RBI and a .977 OPS. Nick Castellanos of the Philadelphia Phillies is my third outfielder selection with an OPS of .851, an average of .315, with eight homers and 42 RBI. Carroll and Castellanos are not currently among the outfield fan-vote leaders with Carroll’s Arizona teammate Lourdes Gurriel Jr. in one of the spots and the massively popular Mookie Betts of the Dodgers in the other position.
American League: Shohei Ohtani (Los Angeles Angels)
Shohei Ohtani is the leading vote-getter among all American League players and is likely well on his way to being named to the game as both a designated hitter and pitcher, as he was for last year’s midsummer classic. Ohtani is hitting .301 with an A.L. leading 22 homers, 54 RBI and an OPS of .1.006.
National League: J.D. Martinez (Los Angeles Dodgers)
There really isn’t a clear-cut favorite for the starting designated hitter slot in the National League thus far. I’ll agree with the fans’ choice thus far and go with J.D. Martinez of the Dodgers. Martinez is actually leading the N.L. in slugging percentage this season. He’s hitting .257 with 16 homers and 48 RBI.
by Eric Fulton & Julian Spivey
JS: The Miami Heat finally put away the Boston Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the NBA Finals to face the Denver Nuggets, who put away the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals more than a week ago. Let’s break down the NBA Finals matchup - which sees a no. 1 seed facing a no. 8 seed for just the second time in league history. The last time was 1999 when the No. 1 seeded San Antonio Spurs put away the No. 8 seed New York Knicks in 5 games. The Heat are just the second 8 seed to ever reach the Finals. This is the first Finals appearance in Nuggets franchise history. Let’s start with the best player on each team, even if they don’t play the same position. The Nuggets have two-time MVP Nikola Jokic at center, and he may very well be the best player in the entire NBA right now. The Heat have Jimmy Butler, who’s put his team on his back for most of the postseason to get them to this almost unprecedented point. Even if the two don’t defend each other much if ever in the series, which team has the superstar advantage?
EF: I love Jimmy Butler's game. I have always had respect for his game and the way he plays basketball. But I have to say that I am choosing Nikola Jokic because I have never seen a big man who can be walking triple-double and do it with ease. Butler plays the better defense of the two, but the way Jokic can impact the game and make the right play offensively is a total game-changer.
JS: Butler has likely been, with the exception of some of the games in the ECF against Boston when Miami tried to give the series away, the MVP of the postseason. He's averaged 28.5 points per game in the postseason and has absolutely willed the Heat this far. He may continue to will them even further, but there's no way I could take him over Nikola Jokic. Jokic is an absolute unicorn in the way he plays basketball as a big man. He's one of the best passers in the league and isn't afraid to take and hit long jumpers. Jokic has averaged just under 30 points per game this postseason, while leading all players in the playoffs with 10.3 assists per game (again, as a center!) and he's been second in rebounding (behind only Anthony Davis of the Lakers) with 13.3 a game.
JS: Caleb Martin has played some big games for the Heat in the postseason, but I'd have to say the No. 2 guy for Miami behind Butler is center Bam Adebayo. And Denver's second-best player is its point guard Jamal Murray. Which team has the advantage with its second-best player?
EF: I am going with Jamal Murray. He has been really good so far in these playoffs. Murray had a serious knee injury during the 2021 playoffs and he miss all of last season. He has come back stronger than ever. In the Western Conference Finals, he averaged over 30 points per game while shooting 50% from the field, 40% from three, 90% from the free throw line. That's only the second time any player has ever put those kinds of numbers in a playoff series. He is averaging 28 a game the entire playoffs. Murray has definitely become a great player on his own terms.
JS: Yeah. I truly mean no offense toward Bam Adebayo, who can be a big threat for Miami scoring inside and redirecting shots on defense, but Jamal Murray is clearly the best No. 2 of this series. Not only has he been putting up massive scoring numbers he's also averaging six assists and nearly two steals per game. Adebayo has been averaging roughly 17 points per game with 9.2 rebounds as Miami's second-best player.
JS: OK, let's talk about the rest of the starters for these two teams. Denver has Aaron Gordon at power forward, Michael Porter Jr. at small forward and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at the two-guard position. Miami has seen Caleb Martin play big at forward - some even feel he should've been ECF MVP. They've been starting Gabe Vincent at point guard and Max Strus at two-guard. Which team has the advantage?
EF: I have to think Denver still has the advantage on this one. Gordon can be a machine at the power forward position, Porter Jr is right now a top-five small forward when healthy, and KCP has a new edge to his game since leaving the Lakers. Martin, Vincent, and Strus have been nice stories for the Heat. All of them have helped Miami get better as the playoffs continue, but I think that the Denver three compliments the duo of Jokic and Murray. That is a really good starting five.
JS: Denver does have a really solid starting five and I agree they have the advantage here too. Porter has been averaging 14.6 points per game along with eight rebounds. Gordon has been averaging 13 points a game and Caldwell-Pope nearly 12. That comes out to 100 points per game just with Denver’s starting five. If Martin can play as well in the Finals as he did in the ECF that’ll be a huge boost for Miami, but overall, the Nuggets probably take this matchup too.
JS: What about the benches? I know when it comes to the playoffs and finals teams tend to shorten up their bench and play the starters more minutes but will either bench play a big factor? And if Tyler Herro is able to return from his injury how do you see him impacted the series for Miami?
EF: If Tyler Herro returns for Miami, that would be huge for the Heat because of Herro's outside game. He is their best shooter. The Heat may steal a game because of their good shooting and it would be led by Tyler Herro. As far as the bench is concerned, Denver does not use their bench as much. There will probably be just an additional three guys for the Nuggets: Jeff Green, Bruce Brown and Christian Brown. Green is the vet while the other two are young players. I don't really expect much from their bench. The Heat will be fully stocked with guys with a ton of experience like Kyle Lowery, Kevin Love and Cody Zeller. I see the Heat having a much more efficient bench than the Nuggets. So, I will give them the advantage on this one.
JS: Brown has been the Nuggets’ fifth-highest scorer this postseason. But I’ll agree with you on the Miami bench, especially if Herro could return (with that possibility happening around game three). The veteran presence of Lowry and Love could be huge for Miami. Love has now made the Finals all five times he’s reached the postseason in his career. I assume Erik Spoelstra has the advantage at coaching simply because this is his sixth Finals appearance and it’s the first for Michael Malone.
EF: Bonus stat: This will be the 19th NBA finals for Pat Riley as either a player, coach, or executive. He's been involved in 25% of the NBA Finals.
JS: Do you think the almost week and a half layoff for the Nuggets will have any impact on them?
EF: I think they will be rusty early in game 1 but I do think they will have the maturity to pick themselves up and play better late. I expect game 1 to be close and I don't think it will be a sweep. Miami can steal one of the first two games in Denver. But once they get things together, the Nuggets are going to show they are the better team.
JS: All right, so do you think the Nuggets will win the series in 5 games or do you see it going longer?
EF: I debated whether it would be five or six games. I am leaning toward six games.
JS: My first inclination was to predict the Nuggets to win the title in five games, but I don’t want to underestimate the sheer determination of Jimmy Butler, which might be big and good enough on its own to take multiple games in the series. So, not to bore our readers too much, but I’m going to agree with you on the Nuggets in six games prediction. We’re both taking Denver to win its first-ever NBA title.