Bears

Who should win the NL Rookie of the Year?

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Who should win the NL Rookie of the Year?

We've already seen some MLB postseason awards, but the biggest accolades kick off this week.

The Rookie of the Year for each respective league will be announced Monday night.

The finalists, as already announced by the league, are Washington's Bryce Harper, Arizona's Wade Miley and Cincinnati's Todd Frazier.

Harper took the world by storm when he was called up at the end of April. He didn't put up other-worldly stats like Mike Trout, his counterpart in the AL, but Harper had arguably the best season ever for a 19-year-old.

The Nationals' super rookie hit .270 with a .817 OPS, 98 runs, 22 homers, 59 RBI and 18 steals in 597 plate appearances over 139 games. He ran hard on the bases, played hard in the field, and swung hard at the plate, netting a 5.0 WAR (according to BaseballReference's metric).

Miley, 26, got a taste of big-league action last season, starting seven games for the Diamondbacks. The southpaw appeared in 32 games in 2012 (including 29 starts) and compiled a 16-11 record with a 3.33 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 194.2 innings. Miley struck out 6.7 batters per nine innings and boasted a fantastic 3.89 KBB ratio while putting up a 3.2 WAR

Frazier, 26, also saw some time in the majors last season, with 121 plate appearances over 41 games. The big right-hander spent most if his time at third base for the Reds this year, but also started 36 games at first base in Joey Votto's absence and even made a few appearances in the outfield. He slugged 19 homers and drove in 67 in 465 plate appearances with a .273 average and .829 OPS, good for a 1.9 WAR.

Harper and Miley were both named to the NL All-Star team, while Frazier missed out. Given the hype surrounding Harper and the fact he is a full six years younger than both of the other challengers, the Nationals' phenom will likely take home the award Monday night.

All three are good choices, as both Harper and Frazier helped lead their team to the playoffs while Miley was Arizona's most consistent starter, but I think one more player should have been added to the finalists.

Milwaukee signed Norichika Aoki away from Japan this winter and the 30-year-old outfielder forced his way into the starting lineup as the season progressed. Aoki hit .288.355.433 with 37 doubles, 10 homers, 81 runs and 30 steals in 151 games. As the Brewers made a push for the playoffs in the season's final month, Aoki keyed the charge with an .898 OPS in September, adding seven steals, 21 runs, 18 RBI and 18 extra-base hits.

Aoki also played a very solid outfield and sported a 3.3 WAR, second only to Harper among NL rookies. There are some out there that believe foreign players should not be eligible for Rookie of the Year awards, and it's a valid point, but the adjustment from Japan to MLB is arguably just as hard as going from Double-A or Triple-A to the big leagues.

Aoki won't usurp any of the three candidates, but he should at least have been in the consideration.

MLB will announce the Manager of the Year Tuesday night, Cy Young winners Wednesday night and the MVP of each league Thursday evening.

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

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USA Today

As the Bears begin to form an identity, special teams need to catch up

If you squint, you can start to see the Bears forming an identity. The offense, at its best, will control the game with Jordan Howard and an offensive line that’s improving with cohesion over the last few weeks. The defense will stop the run, rarely blow assignments and — at least last week — force a few turnovers. 

Those can be the makings of a team that's at least competitive on a week-to-week basis. But they also leave out a critical segment of this group: Special teams. And that unit is obscuring whatever vision of an identity that may be coming into focus. 

Jeff Rodgers’ special teams unit ranks 29th in Football Outsiders’ DVOA ratings, and is below average in all five categories the advanced statistics site tracks: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kickoff returns, punts and punt returns. 

Had the Bears’ just merely "fine," for lack of a better term, on special teams Sunday, they would’ve controlled a win over the Baltimore Ravens from start to finish. But a 96-yard kickoff return (after the Bears went up 17-3) and a 77-yard punt return (which, after a two-point conversion, tied the game in the fourth quarter) were the Ravens’ only touchdowns of the game; they otherwise managed three field goals. 

Rodgers didn’t find much fault with the way the Bears covered Bobby Rainey’s kickoff return — he would’ve been down at the 23-yard line had the officiating crew ruled that Josh Bellamy got a hand on him as he was tumbling over. But the Bears players on the field (and, it should be said, a number of Ravens) stopped after Rainey hit the turf; he got up and dashed into the end zone for a momentum-shifting score. 

“A lot of our players stopped, all their players stopped,” Rodgers said. “There were players from both teams who came on to the field from the sideline. So there’s a lot of people on that particular play who thought the play was over.”

That return touchdown could be chalked up to an officiating-aided fluke, but Michael Campanaro’s punt return score was inexcusable given the situation of the game (up eight with just under two minutes left). The Bears checked into a max protect formation, and no players were able to wriggle free and get downfield toward Campanaro (Cre’von LeBlanc, who replaced an injured Sherrick McManis, was knocked to the turf). Rodgers said O’Donnell’s booming punt wasn’t the issue — it didn’t need to be directed out of bounds, he said — and instead pointed to a lack of execution by the other 10 players on the field. And not having McManis isn’t an excuse here. 

“We expect everybody to play at the standard at which that position plays,” Rodgers said. “I don’t put that touchdown on one guy getting hurt, but you’d always like to have your best players on the field.”

In isolation, the special teams mistakes the Bears have made this year can be explained — beyond these two returns, Marcus Cooper slowing up before the end zone was baffling, yet sort of fluky. But while the Bears’ arrow is pointing up on defense and, at the least, isn’t pointing down on offense, these special teams mistakes collective form a bad narrative. 

“We take those players, we practice it, and like all mistakes, you admit them and then you fix them,” coach John Fox said, “and then hope to God you don’t do it again.”

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football Fix Podcast: Midseason trade targets and who you should sell high on

Rotoworld and NBC Sports fantasy analyst Josh Norris joins the Fantasy Football Fix Podcast to discuss if Derrick Henry's time in Tennessee has finally arrived. Plus, the CSN Fantasy crew analyzes which players you should sell high on and who you should target in midseason trades.