BRINGING HOME THE HARDWARE

A way-too-early MLB season awards list that includes a Houston Astros player or two

Angels Mike Trout, Astros Yordan Alvarez
Yordan Alvarez already has 11 home runs this season. Composite image by Jack Brame.

That didn’t take long. The baseball season is only 1/5th done and everything is going to script. The best teams are in first place, ace pitchers are firing on all cylinders and big boppers are balling. For the most part. Joey Gallo can’t hit .191 forever. We might want to revisit that, however.

Pretty much baseball could call off the season, start the post-season with the teams on top now, and save everybody the time and trouble until November when the Astros hire A.J. Hinch to replace Dusty Baker after the Astros win the World Series.

That’s not a prediction. That’s a spoiler. Free dining room furniture for everybody!

As the great philosopher Bobby Heenan once said, “No matter how hard you shake the bottle, the cream will always rise to the top.” The American League division leaders are the Astros, Yankees and Twins. The Angels, Rays and Blue Jays are in wildcard position.

Nobody else in the American League is above .500. You know Newton’s first law of motion – an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction. That goes for American League baseball, too.

National League division leaders are the Dodgers, Mets and Brewers. They ain’t going nowhere. The Padres, Giants and Cards round out the wildcard picture. Done.

Let’s look at the results for MLB’s 2022 individual awards.

American League MVP: Mike Trout. After missing most of last year with a nagging leg injury that wouldn’t heal, Trout is up to his old tricks. He’s mashing .310 with 8 homers and leading the Los Angeles Angels to a surprising 24-14 record and, here’s something new, playoff contention. This will be his fourth MVP. He’s just 30 years old. The record is seven, held by Barry Bonds. It’s a shaky record for the obvious.

National League MVP: Manny Machado. Unlike the NBA, or so it seems, personality and likability don’t matter to baseball’s MVP voters. Machado is raking .359 with .443 on base percentage and 1.029 OPS. That’s Cooperstown stuff.

American League Cy Young Award: Coming off Tommy John surgery that cost him two seasons, Justin Verlander is 5-1 with an itty 1.38 ERA. It’s a shock when the other team scores a run. Verlander could double up the Cy Young Award with Comeback Player of the Year.

National League Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, 4-2 and still throwing 95 mph, same as he did as a rookie in 2008, says anything Verlander can do, he can do better. One better. If Verlander wins his third Cy Young this year, Scherzer will get his fourth, while leading the Mets back to prominence. Pretty impressive for a guy suffering from heterochromia iridum.

American League Home Run King: Let’s give it to Aaron Judge, 12 homers thus far, over Yordan Alvarez and Byron Buxton with 11 bombs. How many times have we heard, “that ball would be a home run in only one MLB park, Yankee Stadium.” Yeah, the Crawford Boxes are cozy, but Yankee Stadium makes Minute Maid Park look like a West Texas cow pasture.

National League Home Run King: Pete Alonso of the refurbished Mets. He’s a one-tool guy, but that one tool is putting a ball into orbit.

Rookie of the Year: Astros shortstop Jeremy Pena, unless his “day to day” injury status turns into weeks to weeks, Astros-style. Who’s the Astros’ team physician, Dr. Feelgood? Remember when Alex Bregman stubbed his toe and was out for a month? George Springer burned his tongue on some hot soup – two months. Last night Jake Odorizzi collapsed on the mound like he was Gillooly’d, and the Astros describe it today as “lower leg discomfort.”

The only mystery left in the 2022 season is … every time the camera turns on Jose Altuve, he’s biting his fingernails. How’s he not chewing on nubs now?

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Cougars win in OT. Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images.

The only cheers Houston guard L.J. Cryer heard in his return to Baylor came when he missed a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game for the second-ranked Cougars.

Cryer, who as a freshman three years ago was part of Baylor’s only national championship, made six free throws in overtime and finished with 15 points as No. 2 and Big 12-leading Houston beat the 11th-ranked Bears 82-76 on Saturday after blowing a 16-point halftime lead.

“I was expecting the boos and stuff like that, like not welcoming,” said Cryer, who had no turnovers while playing nearly 43 minutes.

“Really proud of L.J.,” Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson said. “L.J. was in a tough environment today. ... He showed his maturity because he just played solid.”

The Cougars (24-3, 11-3 Big 12) never trailed in regulation and appeared to win the game on a long 3-pointer by Jamal Shead at the buzzer. But replay showed the ball was still in his hands when the clock ran out.

All six of Cryer’s free throws came in overtime, the first two with 3:06 left to put the Cougars back ahead to stay after falling behind for the first time. After playing 70 games the past three seasons for Baylor before transferring to Houston, he got booed loudly every time he touched the ball early.

Emanuel Sharp had 18 points to lead the Cougars. J’Wan Roberts had 17 points and eight rebounds, while Shead had 12 points and 10 assists.

“Everybody contributed to this win, we’re all responsible for this win,” Shead said. “This was a really good team win.”

Ja’Kobe Walter scored a game-high 23 points for Baylor (19-8, 8-6), and RayJ Dennis had 21. Jalen Bridges had 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Jayden Nunn scored 11 points.

The Bears didn’t tie the game for the first time until Yves Missi, their 7-foot freshman, made a layup while being fouled with 4.4 seconds left in regulation to make it 69-all. Roberts rebounded Missi’s missed free throw, and Shead was just a tick late in ending the game without overtime.

Baylor opened the second half with a 12-0 run while Houston missed its first eight shots. Bridges scored 14 of his 17 points in the second half, including nine in a row for the Bears in the final 5 1/2 minutes of regulation.

The Cougars led 41-25 at halftime after scoring 13 points off 11 Baylor turnovers. They made 10 of 11 shots in one stretch, which Roberts started by assisting on consecutive baskets before ending it with a jumper that made it 27-10.

“We just felt like they brought it to us in the first half. They’re easily the most physical team that we’ve played so far and I feel like we were a little bit taken back,” Bridges said. “And we just came out in the second half trying to punch them back.”

MISSING GUARDS

Bears sophomore guard Langston Love, their sixth player averaging double-figure scoring going into Saturday, was out of the fourth time in five games because of a leg injury. He played 15 minutes at BYU on Tuesday. ... Sampson revealed after the game that Cougars junior guard Ramon Walker, who got hurt in practice this week, will miss the rest of the season because of a torn meniscus.

BIG PICTURE

It was their first meeting as Big 12 foes, and first since the Final Four three years ago when Baylor beat Houston in a semifinal game on way to winning its first national championship.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Some consider Houston the best team in the country, even though reigning national champion UConn is No. 1. The Cougars won both games this week against top-11 teams, also beating sixth-ranked Iowa State. Baylor is certain to drop several spots, even though its consecutive losses are to Top 25 teams.

UP NEXT

Houston is home Tuesday night against Cincinnati.

Baylor plays Monday night at TCU, which won 105-102 in triple overtime on Jan. 27 to become the first and only other opposing team to win at Foster Pavilion.

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