(Via Mike Strobe/Getty Images)
Believe it or not, baseball is almost here. 2019’s Opening Day is on Thursday (well, except for that Japan Series which existed solely to pad Ichiro's stats and send him into retirement) so why not take a look at some bold predictions for the league of the reigning World Series champion, the American League?
The Red Sox don't produce an MVP Finalist
The Red Sox are very good, and barring something unforeseen, they will still be great in 2019. A huge part of that is Mookie Betts, who finished runner-up for the AL MVP in 2016 before winning it in 2018. JD Martinez also got some MVP talk last season although he wasn't named a finalist, finishing fourth in the voting. Now, they're both great players, but even for all-time greats (which, I should say, neither of them are yet) it's difficult to repeat an MVP-caliber season. So, if the Red Sox don't have someone make it to the finalists, who does? Well, Mike Trout is a given, considering he's never finished lower than second in a season where he was fully healthy. Another finalist is Alex Bregman, which sounds bold, but really isn't considering how good he actually is, and the last one….
Giancarlo Stanton is an MVP Finalist
Here's something that a lot of people seem to have forgotten, but is very much true: Giancarlo Stanton is good. Like, really good. “But he wasn't that good last season” you say. Well, you're not looking at the stats and instead choosing to follow a preconceived narrative created by a former Stanton fan and parroted by Red Sox fans who think Sweet Caroline is a good song, it's okay to wear pink hats to games, and that Dustin Pedroia should have his jersey retired. But I digress. Stanton still hit 38 homers and scored 100 runs in 2018, so if that's bad, then when he has a “good” season, watch out. A “good” season for Stanton is like his 2017 season, where he hit 59 home runs, OPSed 1.007, and won NL MVP. It's the only fully healthy season he's ever had. Even in 2018 he was injured down the stretch but still played due to injuries to Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez. In 2019, he'll return to healthy form and begin punishing AL pitchers like nothing the league has seen since the days of prime A-Rod.
Corey Kluber and/or Trevor Bauer gets traded
On the surface, this doesn't make that much sense. Why would a team fresh off three consecutive playoff appearances trade one or both of their All-Star pitchers? Well, it was a possibility this offseason. It was rumored one or both of them were on the block, but ultimately they held on to both. The Indians are well behind the rest of the league when it comes to this whole “spending money for good players” thing, saying it'll take a contract over $1 billion for them to even consider a $300 million contract, so it does make sense for them to clear more money for Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor to turn down.
Dallas Keuchel signs with the Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays won 90 games last season thanks to the revolution of the opener. Despite that, they had an ace going every fifth day in your reigning Cy Young winner Blake Snell. They added 2018 All-Star Charlie Morton, but you really need two great starters to contend. Let's just quickly look at the last three World Series winners as proof of that: the 2018 Red Sox had Chris Sale and David Price, the 2017 Astros had Justin Verlander and Keuchel, and the 2016 Cubs had Jon Lester and Jake Arrieta. The Rays have one great starter in Snell, and they very well could add another Cy Young winner in Keuchel.
Yusei Kikuchi pulls a Valenzuela
Firstly, what is a Valenzuela? This has only been done by Fernando Valenzuela with the 1981 Dodgers, hence the name. Now that we got that out of the way, who is Yusei Kikuchi? You can probably deduce he's a starting pitcher and a rookie, but what about beyond that? Well, he throws and bats lefty, he's 28 years old, and this past offseason, he signed with the Mariners after eight seasons pitching for the Seibu Lions in the Japanese league, Nippon Professional Baseball. That team is the same team that produced former major leaguers Kaz Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka. So, am I saying that just because his team also produced a couple former big leaguers who aren't really that great? Well, Yusei Kikuchi is actually good. He's posted an ERA of 2.80 in his Japanese career, and he's just entering his prime. I know it's more popular to pick Chris Sale or Justin Verlander for the Cy Young and Vlad Jr for the Rookie of the Year, but last time the Mariners signed a late-20's Japanese rookie it turned out alright.
Chris Sale does not start the All-Star Game
Chris Sale is great. Historically so. He's made seven consecutive All-Star games, and for the past three seasons, he's been the American League starting pitcher in the Midsummer Classic. But that streak will come to an end this year. Barring a major injury or something else completely unforeseen, he will make his eighth straight All-Star team, but for the first time since Dallas Keuchel started in 2015, another pitcher will start the All-Star Game for the American League. Who will it be? Well, Yusei Kikuchi would be in line with my Cy Young pick, but I doubt a rookie will actually be given the starting job, even in an exhibition game. More than likely, it'll be someone like Justin Verlander, maybe his Astros teammate Gerrit Cole, or even someone like the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell.
So those are my bold predictions for the American League. Remember to check out my National League bold predictions, as I'll revisit both after the season to see how I did.
(Via Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Conor McGregor announced today his retirement from mixed martial arts. As such, the sport lost its greatest superstar it will ever see. Sure, the casual sports fan at least recognizes the names Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, but Conor was something else. He was the Lebron James of his sport, the kind of athlete any person would know. So, how did he end up retiring at only 30 years old?
Looking back about a decade ago, McGregor was largely unknown, mostly fighting in Cage Warriors, a United Kingdom-based promotion most known for producing Michael Bisping. He'd slowly build up a reputation in Ireland and England over the first four years of his career, before ultimately signing with the UFC in 2013. He wouldn't become a superstar right away, fighting a few undercards on UFC Fight Nights, but he'd just keep winning. He did it by both TKO and unanimous decision, but ultimately tore his ACL, sidelining him when he seemed ready to take over. In his first fight back, he was on the main card of UFC Fight Night, and he beat Diego Brandão by TKO in the first round in his first fight in Ireland in nearly two and a half years. This led to him getting his first big league call-up: pay-per-view at UFC 178. He, of course, won, defeating Dustin Poirier by TKO in less than two minutes. After one more appearance on UFC Fight Night (where he won again) he'd go pay-per-view for good. After knocking out José Aldo in thirteen seconds at UFC 194, Conor made his claim as the face of the sport: he was featherweight champion and at the height of his popularity. He'd have his own TV shows, would be featured in Call of Duty games, reaching heights unparalleled by any MMA fighter before or since. So, how did he blow it?
It started with Nate Diaz. Both men bulked up to welterweight for this fight, Conor because he wanted another championship and Diaz because Rafael dos Anjos dropped the fight due to a foot injury. Diaz took on Conor at UFC 196, the American forced him into a submission in the second round.
For the first time in over half a decade, Conor lost. Now to be fair to him, Diaz was slated to fight Conor less than two weeks before the fight started. He realistically couldn't prepare, especially in a new weight class. However, this fight did show the world he wasn't unbeatable. He was human after all.
About six months later, they would rematch at UFC 202, and with time to prepare for Diaz and more experience in welterweight, Conor would be back on top. He'd even accomplish his goal of winning a belt in another weight class, taking down Eddie Alvarez in the second round at UFC 202 for the lightweight championship. It would be the last time he would taste victory in any combat sport.
His downfall, unsurprisingly, was his ill-fated boxing career. Conor had been a boxer growing up in Ireland, but had exclusively dedicated himself to MMA since he was a teenager. He publicly flirted with a boxing career for years, but he wouldn't just fight any boxer, it had to be one of the greatest boxers of all time: Floyd Mayweather. At that point in his career, Mayweather hadn't lost a fight professionally ever, and hadn't lost a fight as an amateur since the 1996 Olympics, when he won in everyone's mind but the judges, since they instead ruled in favor of Bulgarian Serafim Todorov, possibly at the discretion of the head of officiating for Olympic boxing. If you want to go back to the last uncorrupted fight Mayweather lost, that would be against Augie Sanchez in Olympic qualifying. By the way, Sanchez would go on to lose twice to Mayweather and miss the Olympics. Dana White, for once, did the right thing and put a stop to Conor's attempts to fight Mayweather. He would cave after Mayweather announced he'd come out of retirement just to fight Conor. The fight was on. Conor stood a chance early, hanging with Mayweather the first few rounds. After that though, he began to get gassed. He wasn't used to fighting that long. Mayweather was, and the boxer would win a boxing match. In a little over eighteen months, Conor went from an unstoppable superhuman force to losing two of his last four fights. Yes, one of those losses was in a different sport, but at the same time, if you come at one of the greatest boxers to ever fight, one with a 50-0 record, you should at least put up more of a fight than Conor did.
He would return to the UFC for one more fight. At UFC 229, the most popular MMA event of all time, over 2.4 million on pay-per-view (not to mention the over 20,000 in the arena) got to watch Conor lose by submission to Khabib Nurmagomedov to retain the Lightweight Championship. After the fight ended, a skirmish between Khabib’s cornermen and Conor resulted in a six month suspension and a $50,000 fine for Conor, which, as we know now, he did not finish. He'd never set foot in an octagon again.
Conor was, and still is, MMA's biggest name and its biggest draw. His fatal flaw wasn't really his fault: he became bigger than his sport. MMA is a niche sport, it always has been, and although it's increasing in popularity, it likely will always be. Conor was the only fighter in at least the history of the UFC to become popular in the mainstream sports media. And it's not hard to see why. A badass Irish guy who was seemingly couldn't be beaten? That's easy for a lot of people to root for. It's why he stuck in the mind of sports fans. He introduced a lot of new fans to mixed martial arts, even if his career was cut short in a way. We as sports fans should appreciate all he did for MMA, because there will (probably) never be another fighter like him. I compared him to Lebron James as the face of his sport. Well, that isn't entirely true. Yes, Conor is the face of MMA like how Lebron is the face of basketball, but the difference is that Lebron has never been bigger than basketball, like how Tom Brady has never been bigger than football or how Mike Trout has never been bigger than baseball. In his prime, Conor was bigger than fighting, and he let it get to his head. So, he had to call it a career.
Don't remember him near the end. Remember him as the unstoppable force he used to be.
The bomb was dropped today. Rob Gronkowski’s NFL career is over. He announced his retirement on Instagram, and now the Patriots can actually move on with their offseason. So what does this mean for New England?
Firstly, let's look at Gronk's entire career. When he was healthy, he may have been the best to ever play tight end in the history of the NFL. But, as anyone who followed the Patriots since Gronk joined the team knows, that was tough for him to do. In his rookie season in 2010, he was solid, especially for a tight end, but it was 2011 where he posted (probably) the greatest season by a tight end in the history of the NFL. 90 receptions, 1,327 yards, and a league-leading 17 touchdowns. Just for good measure, he ran in a touchdown too. He was named a Pro Bowler and a First-Team All-Pro for the first time in his career. He was on pace to be even better in 2012, but he suffered a broken arm blocking on an extra point, leading to him missing five games. He was still named to the Pro Bowl, but these two seasons would be foreshadowing the rest of his career. After a 2013 where he missed more than half of the season with a torn ACL, he returned to form in 2014. Playing in all but one game, Gronk put up 82 receptions for 1,124 yards and 12 touchdowns, while being named a Pro Bowler and a First-Team All-Pro once again. That season, the Patriots would win Super Bowl XLIX, giving him his first ring. 2015 was more of the same, 72 receptions, 1,176 yards, 11 touchdowns, Pro Bowl, First-Team All-Pro, all while playing in 15 games. 2016 would be a step back. Due to a back injury, he would be limited to eight games, but without him, the Patriots would still capture his second ring by winning Super Bowl LI. Gronk would return to being Gronk in 2017, with 69 receptions, 1,084 yards, and eight touchdowns en route to yet another Pro Bowl and First-Team All-Pro. However, following the Patriots loss in Super Bowl LII to the Eagles, this is where the retirement rumors began. He'd give it one more year, but 2018 would be the worst season of his career. Despite playing in a respectable 13 games, he'd be limited to only 47 receptions, 682 yards, and three touchdowns. He had flashes of the greatness he once exuded, but it just wasn't there. Now, the Patriots would win Gronk's third ring in Super Bowl LIII, and they certainly don't get there or win it without him, but ultimately, those performances just weren't enough to bring him back.
Now, did Gronk make a good decision by retiring? Honestly, while I could be selfish and say he could've given it another go, this is probably for the best. He's only 29, but remember, he entered the league at 20. The wear and tear after nine years was too much for him to deal with anymore. This was a man who had a third of his NFL career end on injured reserve, but also had a third of his NFL career end with him getting another Super Bowl ring. The negatives for him outweighed the positives. Football is the most violent non-combat sport. It's just too much for his body to handle anymore.
So, how do they replace him? Well, you could argue you can't really replace a guy that talented, but someone needs to fill his roster spot. Who would do that? The answer might be on roster: Jacob Hollister. Hollister doesn't have the stats in the NFL, posting only eight receptions for 94 yards in two seasons so far, but he has three things going for him: his age, being only 25, his size, at 6’4”, 245, and his speed, running a 4.64 40 yard dash at the combine, which just barely beats Gronk's 4.68 40. Outside of him, other candidates include Iowa's Noah Fant or TJ Hockenson, or Alabama's Irv Smith Jr in the draft.
So that's all well and good, but where does Gronk rank historically? I'll preface this by saying that Gronk is almost certainly a Hall of Famer, and if he doesn't get in, we need to re-examine what's going on in Canton, Ohio. It's also hard to imagine the Patriots not retiring his #87 at some point. With that out of the way, let me say this: Gronk is not the greatest tight end of all time. However, he is the best. There's a difference, which I'll explain. The greatest tight end in NFL history to me is Tony Gonzalez. Why? Gonzalez doesn't have the rings that Gronk does, but he does beat him in almost everything else. Gronk played nine seasons, Gonzalez played 17. Gronk made five Pro Bowls, Gonzalez made 14. Gronk was named First-Team All-Pro four times, Gonzalez did it six times. Tony Gonzalez is also sixth all time in receiving yards. Only two other tight ends, Jason Witten and Antonio Gates, rank in the top 30. When it comes to touchdowns, Gonzalez was #1 for tight ends all time until 2017, when he was passed by Antonio Gates, but still, his 111 soundly beat Gronk's 79. But Gronk, not Gonzalez, is the best. Why? Because, in his prime, Gronk brought a combination of size, speed, strength, and athleticism unmatched by any other tight end before or since, including Tony Gonzalez.
What else can I, or any other Patriots fan really say, except this: Thank you, Gronk. Thank you for three rings. For 79 spikes. For a countless number of superhuman highlights. Most of all, thank you for suiting up in New England for nine seasons, allowing us to see the greatest quarterback of all time throw it to the best tight end any of us will ever see. You'll be in Canton one day. Best of luck in retirement and whatever you choose to do now that your football career is over.
(Via Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
So, Mike Trout has signed the largest extension in history. 12 years, $430 million to stay in Anaheim until his age-39 season. He has a full no-trade clause and no opt-outs. For all intents and purposes, he is an Angel for life. What could this deal mean for Trout, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the AL West, the American League, all of Major League Baseball, and the Red Sox?
First, the man himself. Mike Trout is far and away the best player in baseball. It's not even close. Since his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012, three players have recorded 9+ WAR in a season. Mookie Betts did it once. Bryce Harper did it once. And Trout did it five times. In three of those seasons, Trout broke 10 WAR. Let's put those three times into some context. 19,429 players have played in Major League Baseball. Eight have recorded 10+ WAR in three seasons. Seven are in the Hall of Fame (or should be) and the eighth is Trout. Five of those players, including Trout, have recorded three 10+ WAR seasons before turning 30. Trout is the only one to do it before turning 27. He's incredible at nearly everything baseball has to offer, and is easily worth $430 million, if not even more.
For the Angels, well, they won't do much, at least not yet. Their major league roster has pieces, even outside of Trout. Andrelton Simmons is the greatest defensive player this side of Ozzie Smith, and his offense has substantially improved as well. Shohei Ohtani is a superstar both pitching and hitting when healthy, even if he won't be doing both until 2020. Their pitching is a little suspect, but maybe, just maybe, they can resurrect the Dark Knight in Matt Harvey. In the minors, they have one all-world prospect in outfielder Jo Adell. He is the consensus top prospect in their organization, and all three top prospect ranking sites are high on him, all naming him a top 15 prospect in all of Minor League Baseball. Outside of him, they also have catcher/first baseman Matt Thaiss, who could get some major league playing time this season to give Albert Pujols a day off, and Jordyn Adams, an incredibly athletic outfielder who signed to play football at North Carolina before opting to play baseball instead.
However, this does not change the outlook for the AL West in the short term. The favorites to win the division are still the Astros. They may not have a player as good as Trout is, but they still have a young core coming off back to back 100-win seasons, a World Series win, and an ALCS appearance. There's also the upstart A's, who themselves just won 97 games in 2018 and keep most of the same players for this season. On the other side, they're still better than the Rangers, who are in an all-out rebuild, and the Mariners, who can't decide if they want to blow it all up or try to actually contend for their first postseason berth since 2001. However, they'd probably still be better even without re-signing Trout.
As for the American League, again, not much changes in the short term. The Angels are still not quite World Series contenders, and it isn't bold to say they're not quite playoff level. I previously mentioned that the Houston Astros and Oakland A's are ahead of them in their own division, and that's ignoring the other two in the league. The big ones are the defending World Series Champion Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, who also won 100 games despite Aaron Judge missing significant time and Giancarlo Stanton spending much of the second half with a hamstring injury, both in the AL East. The AL Central is probably the weakest division, with four of its five teams in a rebuild. The one that isn't, the Cleveland Indians, is the weakest of all of the American League’s playoff teams, but still better than the Angels.
For the entirety of Major League Baseball, there's one team most impacted: the Phillies. They, of course, recently signed Bryce Harper to the then-largest contract in sports history, 13 years for $330 million. Trout has been connected to the Phillies ever since it first appeared the end of his Angels tenure was in sight. Trout is from south Jersey, but grew up a Phillies fan. He's still connected to Philadelphia, as he is frequently seen at Philadelphia Eagles games as a season ticket holder. The Angels made sure he could never go home, and personally I don't believe that it was a coincidence the Angels paid Trout exactly $100 million more than the Phillies paid Harper. Still, it's hard to feel bad for them, given they added a historically great player, even if he isn't Mike Trout.
Now for the Red Sox. While they still have to deal with Trout for the next decade, well, at least he's out of the division. Trout, shockingly, is amazing against the Red Sox. He's slashed .311/.408/.527 with a .935 OPS, 52 hits, 8 home runs, 31 runs scored, and 7 stolen bases in 9 attempts against the Red Sox. And when he plays in Fenway Park? He might be just as good: .350/.441/.475, a .916 OPS, 28 hits, 14 runs scored, and 6 stolen bases, although he has yet to hit his first Fenway home run. Still, with how great Trout is (and how much of a hitters park Fenway is) don't be surprised when it finally happens.
The difference between Mike Trout and every other young player in the majors today is this: guys like Mookie Betts, Bryce Harper, Jose Altuve, whoever- they're all great players. Some historically so. In ten or fifteen years, we could be talking about them as Hall of Famers. Mike Trout is already a Hall of Fame player as it is. In ten or fifteen years, we could be talking about him as the greatest player of all time. And that right there is why he's worth the largest contract in the history of sports.
First of all, if you want to be technical, then the King, Richard Petty, has 201 career NASCAR wins in a National Series, winning a race in the Convertible Series in 1959. But nobody seems to count that, even though non-Cup Series races are counted for Kyle Busch's 200* career wins.
*Kyle Busch, only including Cup Series wins, has 53 career wins. Not the most ever, but still impressive.
So, why should Busch's wins count towards his career totals? He's the all-time leader in Grand National and Truck Series wins, so why shouldn't that be celebrated? Well, they should be. After all, being an all-time great in one series is incredible. Being an all-time great in all three National Series is incredible. Being the greatest of all time in two of them is almost unthinkable. But he's not the greatest of all time, and his 200 wins shouldn't be compared to Petty. And there's a few reasons why.
Busch needed three series to do what Petty did in one
Unless you want to be overly pedantic like I was at the beginning and say that Petty has 201 over two series, then Petty won every race in his motorsports career in one series: the Cup. If we only include Kyle Busch's Cup Series wins, well, it looks like this:
1. Richard Petty, 200
2. David Pearson, 105
3. Jeff Gordon, 93
11. Kyle Busch, 53
That 53 wins is incredible. Historically great. He's likely to pass the father of the King himself, Lee Petty, this season. But the gap between Busch and Richard Petty is still 147 away. But in case the fact that only one driver in the history of the sport has that many wins isn't enough for you, let's look at it this way: The highest number of wins Kyle Busch has ever gotten in a season is 8 (which he did twice, in both 2008 and 2018). Assuming he wins that many races every season for the next 18 seasons, then that puts him at 197 wins. Just short. He'd have to come back at the age of 52 to win three more races. And that's rare to even get to that age at all. For comparison, Jeff Gordon (who has 93 wins) retired full-time at 43. Dale Earnhardt (who has 76) tragically died at 49. David Pearson (who has 105) was out of racing at 51. He'd unretire at 54, only to retire again during qualifying of a race. Petty made it to 52, but only recorded one top 10 finish.
The cars are different in Grand National and Trucks
This should really go without saying, but just in case, I'll cover it anyway. Firstly, the Trucks. Even the most casual racing fans or anyone who knows anything about cars know that stock cars are different than pickup trucks, so I won't go into that here. Now, for the big one. Cup vs Grand National. The cars look similar, so how different can they be? For one, Grand National racecars are smaller than Cup Series cars by about five inches. They're also lighter than their Cup series counterparts, weighing about 100 pounds less. The last big difference: the Cup cars have a more powerful engine than Grand National Series cars. There are other, smaller differences, like Cup Series cars using fuel injectors rather than carburetion, but those are the most important and well known ones.
Petty faced tougher competition than Busch did
This isn't to say the competition Busch faced was “bad”. Jeff Gordon's in the Hall of Fame. Tony Stewart will likely be inducted this year. Jimmie Johnson is a lock once he retires. Even guys like Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Joey Logano aren't exactly “bad”. They just don't compare to who Petty raced with. Dale Earnhardt. Darrell Waltrip. Cale Yarborough. Bobby and Donnie Allison. Rusty Wallace. Junior Johnson. And that's not even mentioning his legendary rivalry with The Silver Fox, David Pearson. I could go on, but you get the point. It gets even worse when you look at the drivers Busch is facing outside of the Cup Series. Sure, Christopher Bell could be something once he gets called up to the Cup from Grand National, and Justin Allgaier is a really good Grand National driver, but guys like them are definitely in the minority. Most of the drivers Busch faces in these two series are faint memories in the minds of NASCAR fans. Guys like Matt Crafton. Jeff Green. Stephen Leicht. Jeffrey Earnhardt. If they're not has-been's or never-were's, their development is being stifled because Busch is just dominating their entire series. So sorry Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, John Hunter Nemechek, and others, your time to shine has been taken by a full-time Cup Series driver who is likely heading to the Hall of Fame. The best way to describe it is if Mike Trout also played in the minor leagues, or if Patrick Mahomes or Lebron James played in college and the pros simultaneously.
Kyle Busch is a historically great driver. Seriously. I know I've been ripping into him this entire time, but I mean it. The sheer dominance he's shown throughout all three NASCAR national series is unlike anything we've seen before, and it's unlikely we'll ever see anything like him again. When he retires, you'll be hard-pressed to find anyone saying he isn't a Hall of Famer. He even has the hardware to back it up. A Rookie of the Year in the Grand National Series and the Cup Series in back to back seasons. He won a Grand National Series Championship back in 2009, and a Cup Series Championship back in 2015. The only reason he hasn't won one in Trucks was because NASCAR stepped in and stopped full-time Cup drivers from winning titles in the lower series. That 2015 season started with him breaking his leg and missing 11 races, and ended with him winning his only Cup title. So, congratulations on 200 wins Kyle Busch.
But you're still a long way away from catching the King.