As the Major League Baseball season winds down and the playoff season looms ahead, much discussion turns to who will be the Most Valuable Player in each league.
In the American League, the chatter is mostly about Vladimir Guerrero Jr. of the Toronto Blue Jays and Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels.
Ohtani, as you know, is a genuine phenomenon. He stars both the plate and on the pitching mound.
“What Ohtani has done has never been done before,” wrote Tom Verducci for Sports Illustrated. “You will never see it again – unless it’s by Ohtani.”
The Angels’ two-way star is hitting a modest .258 at the plate, but hits when it counts. He’s got 45 home runs and 98 RBIs. He’s also a threat on the base paths, having stolen 24 bases.
But, as you know, that’s only half the story. As a pitcher, he’s posted a 9-2 record with a 3.18 ERA. More amazing, he’s struck out 156 batters in 130 innings. His WHIP (a measurement of how many base runners a pitcher allows per inning) is at 1.09, one of the best in pro baseball history.
Now, Vlad Junior has some claims, too. He’s hitting .315 with 46 home runs and 105 RBIs and has an OPS (on-base percentage plus “slugging,” which refers to extra base hits generally) of 1.005.
And he’s a kind of sentimental favorite, being the son of Vlad Senior, who played six seasons in Anaheim and was the 2004 MVP of the AL. Of course, what especially endeared him to many of us was his ability to hit anything. He could convert a bouncing ball into a double, or smack a pitch two feet out of the zone 350 feet into the cheap seats.
But … all that aside, it’s pretty difficult to ignore what Ohtani has done. His WAR (wins above replacement) is at 8.1, which suggests that the struggling Halos (74-82) would have lost eight more games without him.
In a disappointing year, the Angels’ 2021 season would have been an even bigger loss in fan interest and at the box office turnstile. Add all that up, and Ohtani slides in as AL MVP six feet ahead of the throw.
Dodger Blue must become red-hot
The Los Angeles Dodgers have six more games on their regular season schedule, all six at home (three against the Padres and three against the Brewers). They trail the San Francisco Giants (three against the Diamondbacks and three against the Padres) who will also close out at home, by two games.
This final sprint starts Tuesday (both are idle today/Monday) and in order to catch up in the National League West race, the Dodgers have to win at least four of those games and hope the Giants lose at least four. If each team goes 3-3 or 4-2, the Blue Crew will land in Wild Card Hell.
That means a one-game anything-can-happen playoff in order to advance to the “real playoffs.” Can they do it? You bet. Will they do it? Better not take that particular wager. Just watch and hope real hard.
From super start to Super Bowl dreams
It might be destiny that SoFi Stadium in Inglewood is the site of the 2022 Super Bowl. That’s because the “local” NFL teams each defeated last year’s finalists – Tampa Bay and Kansas City – increasing the chances of making that final clash into a home game for one of our own.
The Rams (3-0) as you know, got a great performance for Matthew Stafford in their 34-24 win over Tom Brady and the Buccs. He not only threw for four touchdowns, but he showed a mobility and field sense that made us all say, “Jared Who?”
And the Chargers (2-1) rallied to beat the Chiefs 30-24 in a fashion that elevated Justin Herbert to the rank of “Next Big Thing.”
Much too early to tell, of course, but there hasn’t been this much buzz about pro football in Southern California since the days of Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch. High-flying dreams have a way of coming down to earth, but to rule out either of those teams from being busy on Feb. 13, well, that looks like it might be a bit crazy, too.
“Sports Monday” is written by Pete Zarustica.