Cubs

Federer, Djokovic set to meet in a star-studded semi

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Federer, Djokovic set to meet in a star-studded semi

From Comcast SportsNet
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- With "Murray Mania" gripping Britain, it's the other men's semifinal at Wimbledon that has many tennis fans anticipating a griping matchup on Friday afternoon. Six-time champion Roger Federer and last year's winner Novak Djokovic will face each other on the grass of Wimbledon for the first time -- in their 27th head-to-head meeting. "It is interesting that this is our first grass-court match. I'm looking forward to it," said Federer, who can win a record-equaling seventh Wimbledon title after losing in the quarterfinals the past two years. "I haven't put too much thought into it, to be quite honest, yet. I'm just happy that I'm around further than I've been the last couple years." The 30-year-old Federer already owns the most major tennis titles with 16. He completed a career Grand Slam in 2009 by winning the French Open. But his last major came more than two years ago, at the 2010 Australian Open. A win over Djokovic on Friday, and another in Sunday's final, would put Federer back at the top of the game as the No. 1-ranked player. Two more wins at the All England Club also would equal Pete Sampras' seven Wimbledon titles and tie the American's record for weeks spent at No. 1 with 286. "I know it's possible. I know I'm playing really well," said Federer, who is 14-12 against Djokovic overall but 1-6 since the start of 2011. "I am aware things are going to get complicated in the next match. I better prepare well, because it's going to be a tough match." Tough may be putting it mildly. The top-ranked Djokovic has won four of the last six major titles, and lost to Rafael Nadal in the French Open final last month. Those kinds of statistics sound a lot like what Federer did year after year not so ago. "I'm not trying to defend my title here. I'm trying to fight for it as every other player who is in last four of the men's side," said Djokovic, who beat Federer in the French Open semifinals last month. "So my mindset is very positive." After years of playing in the shadows of Federer and Nadal, it's Djokovic that is now the man to beat. The 25-year-old Serb is 43-2 at Grand Slam matches in the past two years. Very Federer-like numbers. "He has a lot of respect from me, from all the players. There is no question about it," Djokovic said of Federer. "But we are all rivals, we are all opponents. I don't think about his history or his success or whatever too much when I'm on the court. I just want to win that match." The other semifinal certainly has Britain all agog. Andy Murray reached the semifinals for the fourth straight year, and with Nadal already out of the tournament, the public is expecting more from him than ever before. "Subconsciously, I'm probably extremely stressed out right now, but I try not to feel it," said Murray, who's from Scotland. "Then, yeah, when the tournament's done there's normally a pretty big release of that. I just don't want to be on the court for a few weeks." Instead of another semifinal match against Nadal, the man he lost to in 2010 and 2011, Murray will face Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France -- who rallied from a two-set deficit to eliminate Federer in the quarterfinals last year. Tsonga will have a second chance to reach the Wimbledon final, but without the pressure that is regularly heaped on Murray at Wimbledon. That kind of local fervor is saved for him when he plays at the French Open -- along with every other French player. "Here for Andy is difficult because he's alone," Tsonga said. "I mean, in France it's OK. We have many players and that's fine, but here for him it's really difficult because every eyes are on him and it's tough for him." Still, "Murray Mania" won't be slowed by Tsonga's words or his chances to win. The fans in Britain have been waiting since 1936 -- when Fred Perry won his last singles title at Wimbledon -- for a homegrown male champion. There hasn't even been a British men's finalist since Bunny Austin in 1938. "Tennis in the U.K. is not really a sport that necessarily gets followed loads for the rest of the year, but everyone gets into it when Wimbledon comes round because they understand how big a competition it is," Murray said. "The support that I've had over the last sort of five, six years here has been great. "I'm trying my best to win the tournament for myself, obviously, but also for everybody else."

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

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USA TODAY

Why did Kris Bryant get a first-place vote in this year's National League MVP balloting?

Kris Bryant was the 2016 National League MVP. And despite having what could be considered an even better campaign this past season, he finished seventh in voting for the 2017 edition of the award.

The NL MVP was awarded to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton on Thursday night, a fine choice, though it was nearly impossible to make a poor choice, that's how many fantastic players there were hitting the baseball in the NL this season.

After Stanton, Cinicinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto finished second, earning the same amount of first-place votes and losing out to Stanton by just one point. Then came Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, Colorado Rockies third baseman Nolan Arenado, Rockies outfielder Charlie Blackmon and Washington Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon ahead of Bryant.

But there was someone who thought Bryant deserved to repeat as the NL MVP. Yes, Bryant earned a first-place vote — as did everyone else mentioned besides Rendon, for that matter — causing a bit of a social-media stir considering the Cubs third baseman, despite his great season, perhaps wasn't as standout a candidate as some of the other guys who finished higher in the voting.

So the person who cast that first-place vote for Bryant, MLB.com's Mark Bowman, wrote up why he felt Bryant deserved to hoist the Kenesaw Mountain Landis Memorial Baseball Award for the second straight year.

"In the end, I chose Bryant because I believe he made the greatest impact, as his second-half production fueled the successful turnaround the Cubs experienced after the All-Star break," Bowman wrote.

"Though I don't believe the MVP must come from a playoff contender, in an attempt to differentiate the value provided by each of these three players (Bryant, Votto and Stanton), I chose to reward the impact made by Bryant, who produced the NL's fourth-best OPS (.968) after the All-Star break, when the Cubs distanced themselves from a sub-.500 record and produced an NL-best 49 wins."

It's easy for Cubs fans and observers to follow that logic, as the Cubs took off after the All-Star break following a disappointing first half. As good as Bryant was all season long, his second-half numbers, as Bowman pointed out, were especially great. He hit .325 with a .421 on-base percentage and a .548 slugging percentage over his final 69 games of the regular season, hitting 11 home runs, knocking out 21 doubles and driving in 35 runs during that span.

Perhaps the craziest thing about this year's MVP race and Bryant's place in it is that Bryant was just as good if not better than he was in 2016, when he was almost unanimously named the NL MVP. After slashing .292/.385/.554 with 39 homers, 102 RBIs, 35 doubles, 75 walks and 154 strikeouts in 2016, Bryant slashed .295/.409/.537 with 29 homers, 73 RBIs, 38 doubles, 95 walks and 128 strikeouts in 2017.

Of course, the competition was much steeper this time around. But Bryant was given the MVP award in 2016 playing for a 103-win Cubs team that was bursting with offensive firepower, getting great seasons from Anthony Rizzo (who finished third in 2016 NL MVP voting), as well as Dexter Fowler and Ben Zobrist. While the Cubs actually scored more runs this season and undoubtedly turned it on after the All-Star break on a team-wide basis, Bryant was far and away the best hitter on the team in 2017, with many other guys throughout the lineup having notably down years and/or experiencing down stretches throughout the season. Hence, making Bryant more, say it with me, valuable.

So Bowman's argument about Bryant's impact on the Cubs — a team that still scored 822 runs, won 92 games and advanced to the National League Championship Series — is a decently convincing one.

Check out Bowman's full explanation, which dives into some of Bryant's advanced stats.

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet

In the latest edition of HandiKapping presented by Xpressbet, NBC Sports Chicago's David Kaplan makes his picks for the weekend.

Kap made his picks with the help of Eddie Olczyk this week.