Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 Awards

Photo courtesy of Yahoo

2014 has been a very interesting year in sports, and before we turn the page, it's time to reflect and review the best and worst of the past 365 days. In addition to the four major sports, it also happened to be a World Cup year, which brought an added excitement to that normally dead moment immediately after the end of the NHL and NBA seasons. As usual there were emotional moments, great plays, and of course, scandals. So many scandals.

Here's to 2014.

Worst Team
  • Arizona Diamondbacks. The DBacks looked before the season to be just about average, but injuries and the lackluster roster put together by Kevin Towers led to them having the worst record in the MLB.  
  • Buffalo Sabres. Buffalo finished as far and away the worst team in hockey last season, and haven't improved that much. But at least they're appear later on in this column, but in a good way. 
  • Philadelphia 76ers. The Sixers had a tanktastic 2013-14 season that led to them drafting an injured Joel Embiid and setting themselves up for yet another season of tanking. In the long run, this strategy makes sense, but just because they're purposely terrible doesn't mean they can avoid this category. 
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I, and many others predicted that the Bucs would make the playoffs this season. I fell for the trap once again. I wasn't just wrong, I was dead wrong. They were an absolute dumpster fire that couldn't move the ball offensively and once again underperformed on defense. There must be something in the water in Tampa because in terms of talent this was not the worst team in the NFL. 
And the winner is...

The Philadelphia 76ers. The above video was on half-kidding. That means it was half-serious. That means the Sixers are incredibly bad.

Best Moment
This isn't just for the best play of the year, but it could include a series of plays, or even entire games. Any sort of moment where emotion was high or made you go "wow." 
  • Odell Beckham, Jr.'s catch. This rookie showed blatant disrespect for physics multiple times this season, but nothing will beat the catch heard 'round the world against the Cowboys.
  • Tyler Ennis's goal. This play stands as the goal of the year in hockey right now. Ennis scored while barely looking at the net. How exactly that play actually happened is hard to figure out. But hey, just enjoy it. 
  • Travis Ishikawa's walk off home run to win the NLCS. Why Travis Ishikawa was even on the Giants is beyond me, but this was incredible to watch. He wasn't even a nobody, Ishikawa had become a forgotten nobody. And then he launched San Francisco into the World Series. 
  • Marshawn Lynch's Beast Mode 2 run. He's an incredible player that doesn't go dwon easily and never gives up on runs. He has a unique combination of speed and power, and he's probably the only man in the NFL capable of a run like this, not once, but twice. 
  • Alec Martinez's Cup-winning goal. As painful as this moment was for me as it lost the Rangers the Stanley Cup, it's hard to beat a sudden death overtime winner to win a series. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of Pro Soccer Talk. 
Mario Gotze. It doesn't get better than winning your country a World Cup. Go back and look at the control on that finish. Great play, great moment. 

Worst Moment
  • Brazil's collapse against Germany. Hosting the World Cup put a lot of pressure on the Brazilian team to perform well...and that didn't happen. The team looked shaky throughout the tournament, even as they continued to advance. But everything came crashing down in their final two games of the World Cup, as they were thoroughly outplayed by the Netherlands in the third place game after an embarrassing 7-1 loss to Germany. This nomination is for the Germany game, which was so bad that I had to write an impromptu article while in Ghana. What an awful and disappointing game for Brazil.  
  • Cramps Game. The air conditioning in San Antonio for Game 1 of the Finals was broken, which led to the Heat collapsing as LeBron James was subbed out due to cramps with four minutes left. It was a terrible way to start the series for Miami.
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of Dallas News
Brazil. An entire country was disappointed by this performance. 

Best Martin St. Louis Goal
Now's my time to relive the Rangers' success from 2014, by honoring the Rangers' playoff MVP, Old Man Martin St. Louis. 
  • Sunday, May 11-Mother's Day goal. The night after his mother passed away, St. Louis helped the Rangers win a must-win Game 5 in Pittsburgh to stay alive. Two days afterwards, on Mother's Day, he opened the scoring as the Rangers held off the Penguins once again. That goal was filled with emotion for the MSG faithful and of course, St. Louis. 
And the winner is...
Photo courtesy of The New York Daily News
Mother's Day goal. As amazing as the second one was, this is the goal that shifted the second round series to the side of the Blueshirts, which is what allowed them to even advance to the Conference Finals against the Canadiens. 

Best Rising Star
  • Jose Abreu. The 27 year old Cuban joined the MLB in his prime and led the league in slugging percentage in his first season. He might have the most raw power of anyone in recent memory and he definitely showed it off. He's quite the talented hitter. 
  • Odell Beckham, Jr. It's impossible to cover this man, and he became one of the most exciting forces in the NFL this year with his incredible play in the latter half of the season. 
  • Anthony Davis. The Brow averaged 20.8 points, 10 rebounds, and led the league in blocks at 2.8 per game in 2013-14, and has only gotten better. The numerical improvements 24.4-10.5-3 are marginal, but he looks like a new player and a true go to guy. 
  • Filip Forsberg. The Predators' young center has 35 points in 36 games so far this season and has shown dazzling skills many times. His performance is one of the main reasons that the Preds have been catapulted to status of a bona fide playoff team. 
And the winner is...
Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune
Anthony Davis. Beckham's athleticism is incredible, but his style of play is something we're currently seeing with Antonio Brown. Davis has never been seen before. And by the end of the year, if not already, he'll be clearly a top three player in the NBA. 

Worst Coach
  • Terry Collins. I have him on here pretty much just to represent all other bad managers and coaches all over sports whose mistakes aren't highly publicized. Collins is terrible for the Mets, and continues to submarine the team with disgusting lineup management and even worse use of his bullpen. 
  • Ned Yost. His Royals won the American League, but that doesn't excuse Yost's consistently bad decisions. Mismanagement of his bullpen, an incredible reliance on pinch runners, and bunting for absolutely no reason is what makes Yost a bad manager. Luckily for him, the Royals were good enough to overcome him and make it to the World Series. 
  • Mike Smith. He's an NFL coach who doesn't know how to manage the clock. It's really funny to watch, if you're not a Falcons fan. There's a reason why he was let go the day after the season ended. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of Bleacher Report
Mike Smith. He cost his team a playoff spot by consistently messing up late game situations.

Biggest Surprise
  • Charlotte Bobcats. Prior to their name change, the Bobcats had a nice season, earning the seventh seed in the East. Things looked like they were on the upswing as they headed toward their rebranding over the summer. 
  • Corey Kluber. Kluber was fine in 2013, as he looked with a back of the rotation piece. But this year, he turned into a strikeout machine and won the AL Cy Young. At 28, it looks like a star has been born right as he enters his prime. 
  • Nashville Predators. The addition of James Neal, the emergence of Forsberg, and the lack of Michael Del Zotto has propelled to third in the Western Conference, only three points behind the conference leading Blackhawks. 
  • New York Islanders. The Isles are 1 point behind a two way tie for the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and it's hard to see exactly how that happened. The Isles have a ton of youth, and they all developed much quicker than anyone could have forseen. John Tavares is a star, and support from Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome have suddenly made the Isles a scary team in their last season in Nassau County. 
  • Jacob deGrom. At 25 years old, deGrom was an afterthought in the Mets' farm system. He was a fine prospect, but was never expected to be much better than a fourth starter in the MLB. In his rookie year, he turned out to be a star pitcher. His gorgeous locks were only a plus, as his 2.69 ERA brought fans to the park regularly. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of The Score
The Nashville Predators. Unlike the Islanders, the Preds have an elite goaltender, which makes them a force to contend with in the playoffs. I'd say they're a dark horse title contender, but I don't think they're a secret at this point. 

Biggest Disappointment
  • Charlotte Hornets. Funny that the Bobcats were a surprise and the Hornets are a disappointment. It's been an up and down year for the Horcats. I and many others saw the Hornets as one of the more fun teams in the NBA this season. Instead, they're sitting at 10-22 , the same record as the Lakers. Instead of being a top dog, Lance Stephenson has shown that he's not able to carry a team at this stage of his career. It's very unfortunate, because I was pumped for this team to make a run. 
  • New Orleans Saints. Coming into this year the Saints were expected to be a juggernaut. Many even picked them to win the upcoming Super Bowl. Instead, they finished 7-9 and blew a chance to win the division in Week 16 by getting thrashed at home by the Falcons. And now with their salary cap situation, the future looks bleak in New Orleans. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of Fox Sports
The New Orleans Saints. Instead of winning the Super Bowl, they're in the top half of the 2015 Draft. 

Worst General Manager

  • Ruben Amaro, Jr. Instead of properly pawning off the few valuable assests that the Phillies have left on their roster, Rube decided that it would be nice to hang onto long gone success, to the tun of 73 wins from the Phillies this year and the further depreciation of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee, and Cole Hamels. He seems to be turning it around by actively trying to trade Hamels, and already getting rid of Byrd and Rollins, but it may be too little too late for the Phils who could have already begun their rebuild a year ago. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of ABC
Ruben Amaro, Jr. Sitting on your hands is not the way to rebuild. 

Biggest off the Field Story
Usually, the biggest measure for this award is whether or not a non-sports fan has heard of a particular story. I'll use my mother for example. She knows nothing about sports and doesn't care to. But she's very well aware of each of these three. 
  • The Decision Part 2. LeBron actually did. A few years ago, a return to Cleveland was a total joke, but he saw the young, talented roster that the team had assembled in his absence and decided to return home, sending shockwaves throughout the sports world. 
  • Donald Sterling. Not only were Sterling's racist comments horrible, but it also had ripple effects later on in the summer as the Atlanta Hawks got in some trouble of their own. 
  • Roger Goodell's ineptitude. His mishandling of the cases of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson at points overshadowed the NFL regular season and continues to show his shortcomings as a commissioner. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of NBC News
Donald Sterling. The Goodell situation called into question the idea of domestic violence and how it's handled, but that's simply because of the commissioner's inability to make good decisions. Sterling was so much bigger than sports. He was simply a flat out racist.

Best Game 
  • Rangers-Kings Game 5. In the second double overtime game of the Cup, the Kings clinched the title with 5:17 left in the fifth period. Yes, we were that close to a triple overtime Stanley Cup game. Obviously I was invested in the game because of the Rangers, so my heart was pounding the entire time, but it was also a great game for any unbiased observers. Both teams had many opportunities to win, and it made for entertaining television. 
Photo courtesy of ESPN
Rangers-Kings Game 5. Great way to cap off a great Stanley Cup Finals. It was only 5 games, but it was very closely contested. 

Best Player
This was a year of many historic performances. Kevin Durant, Clayton Kershaw, and J.J. Watt each had 
  • Sidney Crosby. After missing major chunks of time due to injury, and a quarter of the strike shortened 2012-13 season, Crosby played in 81 games for the first time since 2009-10 and won the points title with 104 on his way to his second Hart trophy. 
  • Kevin Durant. Durant had the best year of his career and finally won the MVP that he could have won so many times, if it weren't for the man named LeBron James. But when you're averaging 32 points, 7.4 rebounds, and 5.5 assists, it doesn't matter who else is in the league, you're the best player in the NBA. And that's exactly what happened to KD this past season. 
  • Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw became the rare pitcher to win the MVP Award, and it was well deserved. His dominant 1.77 ERA and 0.857 WHIP showed that he was virtually unhittable. The best part is, he was only marginally better this year than in 2013. 
  • Aaron Rodgers. Capped by his Hollywood film-esque performance in the NFC North title game last week, Rodgers was great all year. After struggling a bit out of the gate, he took over and led the Packers to many dominating victories. 
  • Mike Trout. Trout finally won the MVP that he's deserved, but in what was the worst season of his three year career. His .287/.377/.561 slash line looks bad up against everything else he has accomplished, which is scary. And he's only 23. 
  • J.J. Watt. The other candidate for the NFL MVP is a touchdown catching/pass rushing freak who had himself an incredible season. He affected nearly every play on defense and also was useful as a tight end in goal line packages. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of ESPN
J.J. Watt. His play by play impact combined with versatility makes 2014 the Year of Watt. Turn down for Watt indeed. 

Best Team
  • German National Team. Outside of a draw in an amazing game against Ghana, Germany rolled through the World Cup with great play on both halves of the field, capped by a well earned victory over Argentina in the final. 
  • Los Angeles Kings. For the second time in three years, the Kings once again fought their way from a lower seed in the playoffs to win the Cup. Johnathan Quick's great play, and new acquisition Marian Gaborik made Los Angeles a powerhouse when it was all said and done. 
  • San Antonio Spurs. Outside of a 7 game series against the Mavs in the first round, the Spurs steamrolled throught he playoffs including a beatdown of the defending champs in the Finals. 
  • San Francisco Giants. The Giants weren't the best team in the MLB during the regular season, but were amazing during the playoffs led by the lights out pitching of Madison Bumgarner, leading to their third title in five years and the worst dynasty of all time. 
  • Seattle Seahawks. Coming off their dominating Super Bowl victory in February, the Seahawks stumbled out of the gate early in the year before righting the ship and returning to their championship form. And they look as if they're in pole position for another title. 
And the winner is...

Photo courtesy of The Mirror
Germany. The only game they didn't win was against Ghana, and they looked unbeateable throughout.

Happy New Year everybody.

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