Cubs

Obama to attend NCAA Tourney game

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Obama to attend NCAA Tourney game

From Comcast SportsNet
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Basketball fan-in-chief President Barack Obama is giving British Prime Minister David Cameron a front-row seat to March Madness, taking his European partner to an NCAA tournament basketball game in Ohio, an election swing state. Obama and Cameron are attending a "First Four" matchup in Dayton, Ohio, between Mississippi Valley State and Western Kentucky on Tuesday night, a gesture of goodwill during Cameron's official visit to the United States and a way for an incumbent president to reach sports fans in an election year. The White House said the trip to the NCAA tournament game was intended to showcase the special relationship between the two key allies during Cameron's three-day visit. Obama and Cameron will discuss the upcoming NATO and G-8 summits on Wednesday, followed by a state dinner at the White House. Obama and Cameron were scheduled to appear in a live halftime interview on truTV, which was airing the game, with sportscaster Clark Kellogg. Kellogg interviewed Obama at halftime of a Duke-Georgetown game in 2010 and spoke with the president later that year during a White House game of "HORSE" aired on CBS during the NCAA tournament. Obama was also maintaining his tradition of discussing his NCAA tournament bracket picks on ESPN, the sports network he watches on a daily basis. The president's selections for the men's tournament were being released Wednesday morning. Republicans panned the trip, saying many Americans would prefer Obama to focus on more pressing issues. "While showing off our amazing college basketball teams is great, many Americans struggling to find jobs, dealing with soaring gas prices, or concerned with our rising deficit and debt would probably like the president spend at least as much time dealing with those issues," said Sean Spicer, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee. Obama's quick trip to Ohio gives him a chance to connect with basketball fans and generate attention in Ohio, which he carried in the 2008 election and is considered one of the top toss-up states in 2012. The trip comes one week after Republican front-runner Mitt Romney captured Ohio's GOP primary. It also lets Obama lavish praise and attention on Cameron at a time of weighty foreign policy challenges in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria. Britain has been an important U.S. ally in Afghanistan and the bombing campaign in Libya that led to the removal of Moammar Gadhafi. Cameron is frequently spotted running near his official Downing Street residence, flanked by his security detail, and follows sports like tennis and cricket. But he's not much of a basketball fan; British Ambassador Peter Westmacott told reporters in Washington on Monday that Cameron was "busy briefing himself on March Madness." Basketball has been a big part of Obama's life. At his Hawaii high school, Obama frequently carried a basketball along with his school books and bonded with his teammates on the court. His brother-in-law, Craig Robinson, played college basketball at Princeton and is now head coach at Oregon State. The president regularly plays pickup basketball and keeps close tabs on his favorite NBA team, the Chicago Bulls. In a recent interview, the president said he gets League Pass on his iPad, letting him watch out-of-market NBA games on his tablet computer. Obama kicked off the basketball season with a Veterans Day game between Michigan State and North Carolina on the flight deck of the USS Carl Vinson in November, enjoying a game on the aircraft carrier that took Osama bin Laden's body to a burial at sea after the U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaida leader. The president said in an interview last month with journalist Bill Simmons that the "mythology of sports" is deeply embedded in the U.S., allowing viewers to discern who is winning and who is losing -- a principle that could easily be transferred to politics. "People -- for all our differences politically, regionally, economically -- most folks understand sports. Probably because it's one of the few places where it's a true meritocracy," Obama said. "Ultimately, who's winning, who's losing, who's performing, who's not -- it's all laid out there."

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.