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I see poker in my future. Why? Consider what I found upon returning Thursday from a four-day trip to Milwaukee:
1) The wreckage of a heads-up game against my roommate, in which I went all-in on a short stack with A-J offsuit, he called with pocket sixes (making him an 11-9 favorite, as the handy poker odds calculator subsequently revealed), and I got broke when the board helped neither. We played this game last Sunday. Maybe he was rubbing it in.
2) Nothing in the mailbox ... except my roommate's new issue of Card Player magazine, a trade journal at least as quaintly obsessive and inscrutable to the uninitiated as, say, Cat Fancy. In this month's issue, I found articles entitled "Folding Trips," "Should I Turn Pro?" and "How to Get Rich by Breaking Even," which outlines a procedure for creating and exploiting zero-expectation high-variance situations. Does anybody out there love variance? Anybody? Is this thing on?
3) Our DVR -- which, in an aside, is a TiVo/cable box hybrid, easily the greatest invention since Friendster -- packing a solid eight hours of TV poker, including last Tuesday's WSOP Tournament of Champions, in which Annie Duke busted Phil Hellmuth to win the $2 million. Nice to see Annie pick up that cash. Hellmuth's narcissism wears thin after not too long.
I will make just one semi-self-righteous observation, which is that ESPN's series on the ills of poker, its popularity among teens,corruptive influence on the young, etc, is mind-boggling, akin to Philip Morris making PSAs about teen smoking. (And so far as I can tell, there hasn't been a federal poker settlement.) Is there a single greater cause for the poker boomlet than the Worldwide Leader?
But enough about that: This is my last blog of the regular season, so I thought I'd do the obligatory awards roundup.
AL Cy Young: No-brainer. I plugged Minnesota's Johan Santana in this space a month ago, and nothing's changed. Santana leads the league by daylight in ERA (2.65, to Curt Schilling's 3.28), in WHIP (0.94 to Schilling's 1.07) and strikeouts (254, to Pedro Martinez's 217). Wins and losses shouldn't much matter, but Santana is 19-6, and only Schilling (20-6) is better there. Santana's dominance has reached the point that the Yankees and Red Sox would prefer to face Oakland in the Division Series, rather than have to see Santana twice and Brad Radke once. I'm coming around to this line of thinking, and feel that Santana may be sitting on a Josh Beckett-type October.
NL Cy Young: I feel a twinge of guilt here because Jason Schmidt, easily the nicest story subject I've interviewed, had this in the bag until I put the hocus-pocus on him, but his uneven second half has made this a jump ball. I fear Roger Clemens will grab this, especially if the Astros make the postseason, and he does deserve some combat pay for making two-thirds of his starts in Minute Maid Park -- and logging an improbable 2.55 ERA there -- but there hasn't been a more controlling NL pitcher than Randy Johnson. Like Santana, the Unit leads the league in strikeouts (272) and WHIP (0.89); he trails San Diego's Jake Peavy by a wide margin in ERA (2.27 to 2.69) but has thrown 80 more innings and doesn't benefit from a pitcher-friendly home park. Johnson's 14-14 record will work against him, but consider a) his 14 wins constitute 25 percent of Arizona's total, and b) in Johnson's 14 losses, the Snakes have scored 22 runs. Think it's easy to win with 1½ runs per game on the the board?
AL MVP: The really meaty one, which most make a toss-up between Manny Ramirez and Gary Sheffield (and truly, I would throw Mark Teixeira into that conversation because he matches up roughly on the power numbers and is probably the best defensive player of the three). Ramirez has a non-trivial edge on the offensive numbers (he's outslugging Sheff .612-.547, and outhomering him 41-36), and has played a vastly improved left field, the cutoff notwithstanding. And to watch him, as he did last Friday in the Bronx, snatch a home run from Miguel Cairo and then deliver the double-point (really, one of the cooler grandstanding gestures out there) had to make one smile. Sheff will draw support because he's in a slightly softer lineup and has played through shoulder pain, and may win this because Ramirez will split votes with David Ortiz, who's comparable offensively (but to me, out of the MVP conversation because he is, or ought to be, a fulltime DH). But I'll go out on a limb here and take Mariano Rivera. He's saved 50 in 54 chances, been as unhittable as usual (2.05 ERA, ,216 opponents' batting average), and most important, has solidified the New York bullpen when the rotation has scuffled. Without Rivera, Yankee relievers would have a 4.84 ERA, well below the league average. Really, this is a two-man situation: Without Rivera and Tom Gordon, who's been equally effective in an eighth-inning role, the Yankee pen's ERA swells to 5.57. Since Rivera's doing the heavy lifting at the end of the game, he gets the nod. It's the old criterion: Where would the club be without him? Certainly not in first, and maybe not in the playoffs.
NL MVP: Easiest call of all. Yadier Molina.
OK, my time's up, I'll get to rooks and managers two weeks hence. And remember, David Sklansky says it is virtually never correct to slow-play two wired aces.