Giants catcher Posey named NL Rookie of Year


Giants catcher Posey named NL Rookie of Year


Mychael Urban

Though he hit the big-league scene a little late this season, Giants catcher Buster Posey did enough in four months to trump the huge head start, not to mention the national publicity that came with the splashy debut, of Braves outfielder Jason Heyward.Called up to the Giants from Triple-A Fresno on May 29 and handed the starting job behind the plate on June 30 after Bengie Molina was traded to the Rangers, Posey on Monday was named the National League winner of the 2010 Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award. Posey's selection, voted upon by select members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, marks the sixth time a Giant has won the award and first since John Montefusco in 1975. Gary Matthews won it in 1973, and the other Giants so honored are Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Orlando Cepeda."It gives me chills," Posey said Monday afternoon. "Those guys were unbelievable players and great ambassadors for the game -- and still are. I'm just humbled to be mentioned in the same category."Posey, 23, batted .305 with 18 home runs, 67 RBIs, a .357 on-base percentage and a .505 slugging percentage for the Giants and handled a pitching staff that helped the Giants win the NL West title and World Series. In voting that closed before the postseason started, Posey was named first on 20 of the 32 ballots cast by two writers in each NL city. He placed second on nine ballots and third on two to finish with 129 points, based on the 5-3-1 tabulation system. Heyward (.277, 18 HR, 72 RBIs, .393 OBP, .456 SLG) made the Atlanta roster out of spring training as a 20-year-old, homered in his first at-bat of the regular-season and was featured in an April issue of Sports Illustrated that declared him a "Legend Before His Time." The Braves phenom finished second in the voting, receiving nine first-place votes and finishing with 107 points. "I definitely was following him," Posey said of Heyward. "I remember seeing him hit the homer on Opening Day, and as a baseball fan myself it was a really cool moment. He had an unbelievable year."St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Jaime Garcia (13-8, 2.70 ERA) got one first-place vote and placed third with 24 points. The other two first-place votes went to Florida Marlins first baseman Gaby Sanchez (.273, 19 HR, 85 RBIs), who finished fourth with 18 points. In all, nine players gained mention.Posey, who deflected any talk of individual accolades as the Giants chased down their first world championship since moving to San Francisco in 1958 (and since 1954 overall), dropped his guard a touch Monday when asked if he'd allowed himself to dream of claiming the top-rookie trophy in the two weeks since the end of the World Series."I'd be lying to you if I said I didn't think about it once we finished up," he conceded. "All the talent in the National League this year makes it even more special." Posey, a first-round draft pick in 2008 after winning the Golden Spikes Award as the nation's top amateur player that year, made his big-league debut late last season, batting .118 (2-for-17) without an extra-base hit or an RBI.
Despite a solid spring training, Posey was sent to Fresno for the start of 2010. The Giants said they wanted him to further develop defensively as a catcher; he started his college career as a shortstop and also pitched at Florida State. His eventually proved too potent to keep on the farm, though, and he forced the offensively-challenged parent club's hand with a torrid start to the season (.349, 21 XBH, 32 RBIs, .442 OBP, .552 SLG.) for the Grizzlies."It gave me an opportunity to work on some stuff that maybe I wouldn't have had the leeway to work on in the big leagues," Posey said of his time at Triple-A this season.Played primarily at first base upon being promoted, Posey collected three hits and three RBIs in his 2010 debut, and shortly after Molina was traded he embarked on a 21-game hitting streak (July 4-28) that was the longest of the season by a rookie in either league."It was a good, confident span," Posey said of the streak. "I felt like every time I was up at the plate I was going to hit the ball hard. Baseball's funny like that. You go through streaks like that. .. But just like that, you can lose it."Posey slumped occasionally, but he never quite lost it. His seven home runs in September included a solo shot that gave the Giants a huge 1-0 win at Chicago on Sept. 21, when he also guided four pitchers through a two-hitter and threw out a runner at second base. It was what many consider Posey's command performance on the way to becoming the sixth catcher to be named NL Rookie of the Year, joining Johnny Bench, Earl Williams, Benito Santiago, Mike Piazza and Geovanny Soto. True to form, however, Posey went the humble route at every turn during his conference call with the nation's media.
"I was just trying to make an impact with the team and get some wins," he said.

Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs


Raiders put Amari Cooper in position to break out vs Chiefs

Raiders receiver Amari Cooper has been creating steady separation for a few weeks now. That didn’t break him out of a prolonged slump.

Coaches were impressed by Cooper’s route running in a Week 5 loss to Baltimore. It only earned two targets and an eight-yard catch. They tried to find No. 89 more often in a Week 6 loss to the L.A. Chargers, though six targets generated five short catches for 28 yards.

Low production stretched through a four-game losing streak, with nine catches for 51 yards. Including stats from to early wins, Coopers season stats (18 catches, 146 yards and a touchdown) were worse than nearly 200 others.

Even that astonishment didn’t make Cooper demand the gosh darn football, please. The low-key Cooper attitude: The ball will find me.

It finally did in Thursday night’s 31-30 victory over Kansas City. Several times in fact.

Cooper had 11 catches for 210 yards and two touchdowns. He was targeted 19 times. Nineteen. That’s no coincidence.

They moved him around, including significant snaps in the slot. He was targeted 11 times from that position, per analytics site Pro Football Focus, and produced six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.

They schemed opportunities and quarterback Derek Carr used them to create big plays early.

Carr’s first pass went 12-yards to Cooper. His third was a 38-yard touchdown strike. His seventh was an in-stride delivery that Cooper took across and then up the field for a 45-yard score.

Just like that, Cooper was off and running for the first time this year.

“We put him in positions to make plays, obviously,” Carr said. “We knew that there were certain things that we liked. Nothing changed in his demeanor or his mentality or the way he worked or anything like that. We just stayed the course. We know what we have here and we know that if we just stay the course and work and grind through the tough times.

“…For ‘Coop’ to just continue to grind and get on the other side of it, I just felt good for him. You guys know Amari. I think we all felt good for him.”

Cooper said the early explosive touches provided confidence. Ability produced a signature performance. The Alabama product is excellent extending production with his legs, and had 78 of his yards come after the catch. That’s an average of 7.1 yards after the catch per reception, per PFF.

His second touchdown reached him 15 yards downfield, and he hit the jets and reached the end zone. He turned a short catch into 15 crucial yards to start the game-winning two-minute drill, and later high pointed a 39-yard receptions.

“The way he finished after the catch was really special,” Carr said. “Obviously, we all know he can go up and get a ball and all those things. That second touchdown where he cam across, the burst that he had, that’s freakish. Not a lot of guys have that. To turn the jets on like that and just out run the angles of the defense, that was really special. I think just after the catch he just played with some dog in him, which we know he has. We were able to get him the ball and let him shine and do what he does.”

Cooper’s showcase was vital to a huge victory that kept his team in the hunt. It also ended a rough month where Cooper and the Raiders both struggled. Veteran running mate Michael Crabtree was never concerned with the downturn and told the young receiver to stay the course during tough times.

“(I told him), ‘Just be you,’” Crabtree said. “It’s just about everything coming together. Coop’s a fighter, man. Coop has got skills. I don’t worry about Coop and I’m sure he doesn’t worry about me. That’s why we are so good together.”

The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks


The world’s most famous arena is a house of horrors for Sharks

Whenever the NHL's schedule comes out, a trip to Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers is usually a highlight. A matchup against one of the league's biggest teams, in the country's biggest city, in a historic venue? That's a date worth circling.

If the San Jose Sharks circle it, it’s for entirely different reasons.

Throughout the entirety of the franchise’s 26-season existence, the Garden has been anything but welcoming. The Sharks have traveled to the world’s most famous arena 17 times, and have only skated off with a win four times. They didn’t even win a game there until October 19, 1999, in San Jose’s eighth appearance in the building.

Madison Square Garden has been “King” Henrik Lundqvist’s castle against the Sharks. The king in the castle is also the moat surrounding it: In four career appearances against San Jose at home, Lundqvist has only allowed four goals.

The Sharks haven’t been able to solve his squires, either, losing games to two of his most recent back-ups: Martin Biron, now on television, and Antti Raanta, now in Arizona. Lundqvist will likely start on Monday night, but if he doesn’t, this is probably the one instance where San Jose wouldn’t want to face Ondrej Pavelec, even though he’s never managed to eclipse a .920 save percentage in a season.

That’s because the team’s most recent appearances at the Garden have been among their worst. The Sharks have been shut out twice in their last four visits to Manhattan, and have only scored five goals over that span. They did manage to win one game, thanks to a Lundqvist-like shutout from then-goaltender Antti Niemi in 2014.  

Martin Jones, on the other hand, has been decidedly unlike Lundqvist. He’s allowed nine goals on 55 shots in two road starts against the original six franchise, good for an .837 save percentage. The skaters in front of him exactly helped Jones, either. The Sharks have played from behind in their last two trips to Madison Square Garden, failing to score first and trailing after the first two periods both times.

Those recent struggles are especially strange, given Peter DeBoer’s relative success in the building. He won big road games against the Rangers before assuming his role behind the Sharks’ bench, most notably two in the 2012 Eastern Conference Finals, when DeBoer’s Devils upset the top-seeded Rangers. Once you coach this team in that arena, though, all bets are off.

Somehow, in a month known for horror, there may be nothing scarier than the thought of the Sharks playing in Madison Square Garden.