Turning Two – At the Half

The second half of baseball has officially begun, and we are two and a half weeks away from the trade deadline. Soon the pennant races will be enter the home stretch and teams will be preparing for October. But, until then, there is plenty of time. Time enough to reflect on the first half of the season, which was pretty spectacular in case you’ve been under a rock for the past four months.

I’ll start this blog with my first half awards.

American League MVP – Josh Hamilton, TEX

While his numbers dipped in June because of health issues and a little slump, there is no doubt about it – Josh Hamilton is the best player in baseball. His four home run performance against the Orioles in early May is one of the highlights of the season. At the break, Hamilton’s numbers (.308 AVG, 27 HR, 75 RBI, .380 OBP) are comparable to Mark Trumbo and Mike Trout, who are second and third place on my ballot, respectively. The sheer power, and presence of Josh Hamilton in a line-up is a card that trumps nearly everything else in baseball. I can understand those that argue for Trumbo or Trout to be the MVP, but I simply think that Hamilton is having the better season. If Trumbo or Trout continue to go on a tear in the second half, they will get the award, but for now, Hamilton is in the driver’s seat.

American League Cy Young Award – Jered Weaver, LAA

Jered Weaver is having an even better season than his 2011 campaign. Between his April no-hitter, his 10-1 record, his 1.96 earned run average, and his WHIP of 0.90, Weaver has been the best starter in the American league. Chris Sale, C.J. Wilson and Justin Verlander are all a step below Weaver, but if his second half has any drop off, any of them can find their way into contention by season’s end. But with little competition currently, the pick is certainly Jered Weaver.

American League Rookie of the Year – Mike Trout, LAA

Mike Trout’s first half, which began on April 28th when he was promoted from AAA, was so prolific that many experts are saying that he should win the MVP. It was scary good. Trout leads the American League in batting, with a .342 average. He’s hit 12 home runs in just 258 at bats. His speed, which may be the fastest in baseball, has helped him steal 26 bases (2nd in all of baseball) and enabled him to become a human highlight reel in center field. There is talk that this might be the greatest rookie season in the history of baseball. It’s no doubt that he is the Rookie of the Year, unless of an injury or unfortunate divine intervention.

American League Comeback Player of the Year – Adam Dunn, CWS

Adam Dunn’s 2011 season might have been the worst in baseball history. He batted .195 with just 11 HR, down from his season average of 35. This year, Dunn is back to his old all-or-nothing self. With 25 home runs, he’s 3rd in baseball. His OBP of .357 makes up for his .208 average, but Dunn has never been a contact hitter. He hits home runs, and hits them far, and when he’s not busy trotting around the bases, he’s either walking or striking out. That’s what Adam Dunn is, and it’s fun and sometimes comical to see him play. You’re practically guaranteed of knowing either a home run, a strike out or a walk is coming up.

American League Manager of the Year – Robin Ventura, CWS

In his first year, Ventura has led the White Sox to first place in the AL Central, which many expected to be dominated by Detroit. A mess on and off the field last year, Ventura has restored order to a team that last year often looked frazzled by Ozzie Guillen’s old management style. He’s gotten the most out of his players, including the aforementioned Dunn. Most notably, he’s improved the pitching. Last year, Chicago finished 19th in team ERA with 4.10. This year, they are 11th in the league at 3.90. Chris Sale has been lights out every 5th day, and Jake Peavy has resurrected his career. The White Sox are not the most talented team in baseball, but they have far exceeded their expectations, which is usually what goes into consideration when this award is handed out. Honorable mention to Manny Acta, whose Indians sit just three games back of the White Sox.

National League MVP – Andrew McCutcheon, PIT

Andrew McCutcheon edges out Melky Cabrera because, although I have not watched the Pirates play all that much, I am pretty sure that he is the only player on that team to walk up to the plate with a bat in his hands. McCutcheon’s numbers are astronomically good. He’s leading the game in batting average (.362), tied for 4th in the NL with 18 home runs, and has driven in 60 runs, tied for 3rd in the NL. Most importantly is that McCutcheon is doing it alone, on a team that somehow has scored enough runs to be in first place in the NL Central. Without him, this team is in the cellar, simple enough. Cabrera and David Wright are also in contention for this award, if McCutcheon’s second half slips up.

National League Cy Young Award – R.A. Dickey, NYM

The best story in baseball deserves the hardware. Dickey, at age 37 and a journeyman, is having the best season a pitcher could dream of. He’s captured a city’s hearts, and New York’s, no less. His numbers? An NL best WHIP of 0.93, a record of 12-1, and an ERA of 2.40. His back-to-back one-hitters are in my mind just as impressive as Matt Cain’s perfect game. It also should not be overlooked that Dickey is the primary reason why the Mets are in contention in the National League East. There will be competition from Cain, Johnny Cueto, and Gio Gonzalez, but it is the knuckleballer’s to lose.

National League Rookie of the Year – Bryce Harper, WSH

Much like Mike Trout in the American League, this one is a simple decision. Bryce Harper has electrified the Nationals since the day he was called up in late April. He’s batting .282, with 8 HR, and 25 RBI. His defense, aside from his gaffe in the All-Star Game has been solid. Playing with the intensity of a mad man, Harper has stolen 10 bases, including a steal of home on national television. There’s no doubt that the Nationals have a centerpiece and a center fielder for the future, and he’s only going to get better. Honorable mention to the Mets’ Kirk Nieuwenhuis, who probably would get this award if Harper were out of the question.

National League Comeback Player of the Year – David Wright, NYM

After missing 60 games in 2011 and batting just .254, David Wright is having the best year of his career. While his power numbers will never be the same as they were before he moved to Citi Field, Wright is putting up respectable power numbers, with 11 home runs and a slugging percentage of .563. However, it is his batting average which has been his biggest improvement. Wright is batting .351 and getting on-base 44% of the time. The batting average ranks third in the NL, while the OBP trails only Joey Votto’s insane .471. With the adjusted fences at Citi Field, Wright is once again hitting the ball to the opposite field with authority, which makes him the front runner for this award, and should guarantee him a high placement in the MVP award when the season is over.

National League Manager of the Year – Clint Hurdle, PIT

Clint Hurdle has done the impossible in Pittsburgh. As much as McCutcheon has carried the offense, Hurdle has carried the team. With no brand name starting pitcher, Hurdle and pitching coach Ray Searage have transformed the pitching staff. The Pirates rank 4th in the NL in team ERA, James McDonald is having a season that will place him high up in the Cy Young voting, and Joel Hanrahan is anchoring a bullpen that leads the league in bullpen ERA. And, he has had to do this with the everlasting pressure to not give up runs, because his offense simply can not score. Hurdle is my pick, with an honorable mention to Terry Collins of the Mets.

Now that awards are out of the way, we can get to more fun stuff.

Most Surprising Team – Baltimore Orioles

I was convinced after the disastrous 2011 season that the Orioles would be no better this season. I was wrong. While the Yankees pulled away from them with a fiery June and July, the Orioles are still holding their own at 45-40. Their pitching, which was great for the first month and a half of the season, has hit several roadblocks since. But their offense continues to be solid. Adam Jones and Chris Davis have had stellar first halves to lead the way. Slightly disappointing have been J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, and Matt Wieters. Wieter’s has yet to take his game to the next level and become a premier catcher that the highly touted prospect was pegged to be, while Markakis and Hardy have not replicated their usually solid seasons. It will be tough for the Orioles to contend the rest of the way, but they put on a solid first half and if the season were to end today, they would be the final team to make the American League playoffs.

Biggest Disappointment – Philadelphia Phillies

The Phillies were my pick to win the NL East. However, because of injuries, age, and inconsistent relief pitching, they are currently in last place in the NL East. That was fine when they were in last place despite having a .500 record, as was the case into June, but the team is now 13 games under .500, and ten games behind the first place Nats. Roy Halladay is rehabbing from his May injury, Ryan Howard came back from his torn ACL shortly before the break, and Cliff Lee might have some more confidence after getting his first win on July 4th, so there is some hope left. However, to leap frog every team in the division, especially the Nats and Mets, will be difficult.

Best Moment – Johan Santana’s No-Hitter

Even as a Yankees fan, there was nothing more magical in the first half than seeing Johan Santana throw the first no-hitter in the 50 year history of the New York Mets. It’s just some of the magic that the team has had in the first half and for a team that usually has magic work against them.

The Oooooof Award – Cliff Lee

The Ooooooof Award (spelled with as many O’s as you like), goes to the event, play, or player that makes you just shake your head. This year, faced with stiff competition from umpires and others, Cliff Lee wins the award. Lee, one of the best pitchers in baseball, might of had the most disappointing first half. He is 1-5, despite having started 14 games. His first win, as mentioned earlier, did not come until 9 days ago. Lee has had bad luck (bullpen has blown games where ‘s left with the lead) and bad pitching (his own ERA is 3.98) create his worst season of his career. I think that Lee still is great, but this is not his year. Dishonorable mentions to umpires, and the Boston Red Sox for blowing a 9-0 lead to the Yankees back on April 21st.

Check back in two weeks time for another edition of Turning Two, and be sure to follow me on Twitter @JustinCirillo.

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