Cubs

In Miami, Ozzie wont stop being Ozzie

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In Miami, Ozzie wont stop being Ozzie

MIAMI Marlins Park is sensory overload. It looks like they dropped a spaceship into the middle of Little Havana.

There are half-naked women dancing in the Clevelander bar beyond the left-field wall. The music is loud rap and salsa and so are the colors - lime green, bright orange, deep blue.

When Hanley Ramirez steps to the plate, he can see his image lit up in a fluorescent Andy Warhol portrait on the center-field scoreboard. Ozzie Guillen is supposed to be the magnet to help draw them to the site of the old Orange Bowl.

Even if the Marlins never envisioned their manager making pro-Fidel Castro comments to TIME magazine, this is what they wanted, flashbulbs popping and the microphones hanging on every word.

Guillen returned from his five-game suspension on Tuesday and spoke to the media for almost 17 minutes, before opening it up to questions from the Spanish-language outlets. He will apologize and reach out to this citys Cuban community, but he cant alter his DNA.

I dont think Im going to change, Guillen said. Just be careful who you talk to. Thats all it is. I made a mistake. I paid for it. And Im here to make it better and win some ballgames.

Guillen believes winning cures everything. The sculpture in center field lit up and sprayed water in the eighth inning after Ramirez drilled a 95 mph fastball off Cubs reliever Rafael Dolis for a three-run homer, snapping a tie game and lifting the Marlins to a 5-2 victory. The manager had no doubts hed be back in that dugout.

I never worried about being fired from my job, Guillen said. Thats not up to me. That was up to the people running this ballclub. They were really, really behind me 100 percent.

Obviously, theyre not too happy. They dont agree with what I did, but they supported me.

The Marlins are standing behind Guillen. Team president David Samson put it like this: I said to Ozzie in a very personal moment: We want you to not change the way you manage or who you are. We want you to think about anything other than baseball as probably not funny.

Guillen and the Marlins front office are looking into community outreach opportunities, and plan to make significant contributions through their charitable foundations.

But Guillen knows when you hurt somebodys feelings, you dont resolve it with money. And the manager is braced for the backlash: I dont expect everybody to be 100 percent onboard with me.

The Marlins drew only 24,544 fans on Tuesday night, though that could say more about this citys indifference to their baseball team than Guillens politics.

Are they going to forgive me? Guillen said. I expect that. I hope that. I want that. Are they going to do it? Time will tell.

This is life inside the echo chamber, where a modern manager might sit through close to 400 media sessions a year, and have anything he says blasted out on Twitter and across cyberspace.

I dont care where you are, if you dont say the right things, (its) going to be magnified, Cubs manager Dale Sveum said. Theres too much media and some people take one thing the wrong way and thats all it takes. It snowballs throughout the whole country.

So its just something you got to be careful of and try to stick to what we know in baseball and thats it.

The Marlins are going to keep Guillen up on that tightrope.

If youre winning and I do what I think I should do in this community it will be better, Guillen said. I want the community to know Im for real. Im not lying to them, and I respect them. I hurt them, yes, but Im for real and Im going to let them know Im going to make it happen.

The Marlins designed this place with off-the-field distractions in mind, but say they want the focus back on baseball now. Time will tell if Guillen can keep this promise.

From now on, lets talk about winning and losing, how good we play and how bad we play, Guillen said. I hope this is the last time I will talk about this situation. And it will be the last time. It will be. I dont care if we go to New York, Atlanta, this will be the last time I talk about the issue.

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.