Cubs

McDonough never lost faith in Coach Q, proud of Hawks

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McDonough never lost faith in Coach Q, proud of Hawks

When the Chicago Blackhawks went through their awful nine-game winless streak through late January and early February, the sky was falling through the world of fandom and knee-jerk reactionary sports blogs.

Fire this guy, fire that guy, trade somebody, do something now. And as unpleasant as it all was, the team president said he had faith that the guys in charge, and the guys playing for them, would get through it.

Blackhawks president John McDonough said there was never a thought of getting rid of coach Joel Quenneville or trading anyone during the losing streak. And hes proud of how the Blackhawks came out of that mess to be back in the playoff race.

Absolutely not, McDonough said. We have great confidence in Joel. Hes been through these things before and won two Stanley Cups (one as an assistant with the Colorado Avalanche). Ive been in sports for 32 years; weve seen these losing streaks. Theyre not a lot of fun to go through but good teams figure a way to come out of them, which we did. Im proud of the organization. Theres no panic button here.

McDonough credited Joel with his work, as well as Stan Bowman. The general managers move to acquire defenseman Johnny Oduya at the trade deadline has paid big dividends, balancing a defense corps and giving it another needed veteran presence.

And McDonoughs also impressed with how the Blackhawks have fared without Jonathan Toews; the team is now 11-5-2 without their captain.

Im really proud of how they responded. Its a challenge to be without your captain for close to 20 games, but it speaks to the depth of the organization, the job Joel and the staff has done, the pickup that Stan made with Johnny Oduya. We still have a little ways to go, want to get that playoff berth nailed down ad hopefully that happens soon.

The playoffs are close to the Blackhawks grasp. McDonough said there was no doubt the team was going to stay the course, losing streak or not. And even if the Blackhawks go on a short playoff run, he doesnt foresee changes.

The knee-jerk reactions remain well outside the front-office walls.

Weve all been through this before. We have a very good team from top to bottom and we have one of the premiere coaches, McDonough said. Joel Quenneville has more wins than any active NHL coach. Were proud of what hes done here in Chicago, but we all had conversations on how to get out of it. The time and effort everyone put into that is really laudable.

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.