In the Around the Dorm playoffs, the “Ref,” Alec Zucker, challenges staff writer Mike Herold, correspondent Greg Oriolo and Editor-in-Chief Brendan McGrath to answer questions about the Heat’s playoff competition, the Miguel Cabrera vs. Mike Trout debate, and who is the favorite to hoist the Stanley Cup this year.
1. Coming off their championship last year, the Miami Heat have had a dominant regular season and are the clear favorites to win this year’s NBA title. With the season coming to a close, does any team in either conference have a chance to beat the Heat?
MH: The short answer is yes, several teams have a chance. However, they almost all lurk in the Western Conference and will have to duke it out amongst themselves just to get there. The Heat are not only better than everyone else this season, but they’ve also had some phenomenal luck in terms of injuries. None of their key players have gone down, while the two biggest threats in the East (Chicago and Boston) have lost their best players, and the other contenders to dethrone their Eastern supremacy (New York and Indiana) will have to beat each other first, and will most likely not have enough gas left over to take on Miami. In the West, I’d give the Thunder (the only team with the star power to match Miami) and the Nuggets (the only team with the sheer speed to handle the Heat) a fair shot, and the Spurs if they can stay healthy. I’d also say that the Clippers and Grizzlies would have a puncher’s chance, due to Chris Paul and Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol, respectively. So while several teams could beat the Heat, I don’t think any of them will. Unless, of course, Derrick Rose suddenly returns.
GO: With the NBA season coming to a close, there are a few teams that have a chance to beat the Heat in a seven-game series. First, if OKC meets the Heat in Finals they will have a chance to win. The Thunder have the star power, and offensive ability, and matchup defensively better than most teams against the Heat. Also, they have been there before, and I do not think they would make the same mistakes they did in the Finals last year. Next, several teams in the East have a shot to take the Heat down. The Knicks, Pacers, Nets and Bulls are all very deep teams, which in the playoffs is overlooked by the stars in the NBA. The way to take down the Heat is to play a physical game, getting them in foul trouble. The four teams listed all have deeper benches than the Heat and can afford to play this style of basketball against them. With that being said, I do not think that any team could execute and win four games against the Heat ,and come early June, Miami will be repeat champs.
BM: It seems pretty unlikely that any team would knock off the Heat, but there’s no way you can rule out the Knicks. The Heat are, without a doubt, a better team than the Knicks, but that doesn’t mean that they have a lock on the conference. If the Heat get beaten up in the first couple of rounds and the two teams meet in the conference finals, the Knicks have the ability to sneak four wins out of a seven-game series. Don’t get me wrong, if LeBron turns it on in the playoffs again, it’ll be nearly impossible. But at the same time, it’s no little fact that the Knicks beat the Heat convincingly three times already this year. If Brooklyn beats up the Heat in the second round, the Knicks play at the top of their game, and either LeBron or Wade is off their game, New York will have a chance.
Greg gets 3 points on his analysis of how to beat the Heat. Mike gets 2 points for listing the teams that may contend with Miami. Brendan gets 1 point for giving the Knicks a little too much credit and leaving out OKC and San Antonio.
2. Even though Miguel Cabrera hit for the Triple Crown last year, many baseball fans insist that Mike Trout is the best player in baseball (including pitchers and hitters). Do you agree?
MH: I can’t say for certain that Trout is the best player in baseball, as I think it isn’t possible to properly compare hitters to pitchers, but I do agree that he’s better than Cabrera. I take this position mostly because baseball is about more than just hitting — defense also plays a role. By virtually every statistical and non-statistical measure, Trout is fantastic on the field, whereas Cabrera hovers somewhere between average and lacking on that side of the ball. And while Cabrera did hit for the Triple Crown, his numbers weren’t that astronomically better than Trout’s, especially considering that he’s a power hitter and Trout isn’t. His batting average was a mere four points higher, and while he stole just four bases all last season, Trout swiped 49. Also interesting to note is that Trout walked one more time than Cabrera, despite having 63 fewer at bats. This generally means that Trout is either better at beating out counts, or that he’s intentionally walked more often. Either way, it speaks to how much pitchers respect his abilities. So the offensive difference is marginal at best, and with Trout’s considerably better defense, I’d say he’s better than Cabrera overall.
GO: Mike Trout is one of the few “five-tool” players in the MLB. The skill set he possesses makes him one of the most talented in baseball and his production last year was off the charts, but I cannot say he is the best after just one season. If he produces like he did last year for a season or two more, hands down this claim can be made, but there are others that have produced for more years. In my opinion, there are two players that I consider better than Trout. First is Matt Kemp. Like Trout, he is a “five-tool” player that has had several remarkable seasons in a row. Kemp is a gold glove center fielder, who can run the bases, hit for average and hit for power in timely moments. He has proved to be arguably the most complete player in the league. Another factor about Kemp is that he is reliable and proven to last a whole season. With the exception of 2012, Kemp has played over 150 games in four straight seasons, which is so valuable. That is why he is the best in baseball.
BM: I wasn’t opposed to Cabrera winning the MVP last year, but I would say it is fair to call Trout the best player in baseball. If you look at a stat like WAR, Trout comes out on top. That’s the big argument for Trout being the best, but in reality, he dominates the traditional categories too. He has good power and run production, though his totals are currently short of what Cabrera puts up. Beyond this, however, he brings defense and speed into the equation. This at least puts him on even keel with the rest of the best players in the game, but if you count the fact that he’s only 21 years old, it seems like he has a good chance at “developing” more power, to the point where he may be the best in these categories in a couple of years as well. I don’t know how he’s going to turn out, and I think there’s an argument to be made for Cabrera, a future Bryce Harper and a healthy Matt Kemp, but if there is one player who I want in my team’s lineup today, it’s Mike Trout. And if there’s one player I want in my lineup 10 years from now, it’s Mike Trout.
Mike gets 3 points for discussing Trout’s skill set and Cabrera’s weaknesses. Brendan gets 2 points for talking about Trout’s epic potential for years to come. Greg gets 1 point for being realistic about Trout after only one season.
3. The shortened NHL season is almost over. Which team has the best shot to win the Stanley Cup this year?
MH: While it might seem like a two team race between the Penguins and Blackhawks right now, I’m going to take into account the lessons from past seasons. Last year, the Kings won it all despite being a No. 8 seed and barely squeaking their way into the postseason, and in hockey, it often seems as though seeding and regular season record don’t matter all too much. What’s more important is having a stud goalie and heating up heading into the playoffs. At the moment, the two teams who most fit that description are the Washington Capitals and the St. Louis Blues. Both, as of writing this, are riding winning streaks, and have seen strong goalie play from Braden Holtby and Brian Elliot, respectively. Of the two, I’d pick Washington to take home the cup, if only because they have the best overall player on either team in Alex Ovechkin, and often in the playoffs, the best players come out on top.
GO: Like I’ve said before, the NHL playoffs are by far the hardest to predict in any sport. Before the Crosby injury, I would have said the Penguins would have been the team to beat. Now, with him out, each team that makes the playoffs will have a shot. My prediction for who wins the cup is whoever is the hottest team entering the playoff tournament. Last year, the No. 8 seed Kings got hot at the right time, only losing a handful of games on their way to the cup. Right now, the hottest team is the Washington Capitals. Led by Alex the Great, who is playing better than anyone in the NHL, the Caps have reeled off six straight wins. If the playoffs were to start today, they would be my pick. Unfortunately, they do not. In the end, I feel that Anaheim will raise the cup. They are the least talked about elite team in the NHL and possibly the most well rounded team in the league. Look for them to knock off the much more talked about Blackhawks squad in the Western Conference Finals and whoever comes out of the East.
BM: I think the Blackhawks are obviously a great team and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if they win, but my money’s on the Penguins. This does not look like a year where a low seed is going to make it all the way to the finals. In this shortened year, the Penguins and Blackhawks, along with a couple of other well put together teams, are in pretty strong position. The Penguins, come playoff time, will be in the strongest position. This is an experienced, successful and very talented team. Crosby’s out right now, but they’re just holding off on him until they need him. Until then, Malkin and Iginla, two of the other greatest players of the last two decades will carry the team — not to mention the other 10 plus quality skaters they boast. By the second round, this team will be running on all cylinders and they’ll be able to overcome the Canadiens, Bruins, Rangers and any other team that might appear to be a challenge. Pay no attention to what they do the rest of the season, because as soon as the playoffs come, they’ll tear up the competition in the East. In the finals, they can outgun the Blackhawks or Ducks, and ride an adequate M.A. Fleury to the Cup.
Greg gets 3 points for mentioning the Ducks and their balanced squad. Brendan gets 2 points for talking about Pittsburgh’s acquisitions and playoff experience. Mike gets 1 point for noting that the Kings get hot at the right time and comparing them to Washington and St. Louis.
Greg wins Around the Dorm, 7-6-5.