July 1, 2013
We've finally reached, give or take a few games, the midway point in the 2013 Major League Baseball season. We've seen the usual (Miguel Cabera bashing the ball day after day) and the unusual (the Pittsburgh Pirates have the best record in baseball). We've seen both dominant pitching (Max Scherzer, Clay Buchholz and Patrick Corbin have yet to lose a game) and spectacular hitting (Chris Davis is on pace for 60 homers and 160 RBIs). Everyone in the AL East and NL West still has a great chance to win the division. The Padres are nearly a .500 team and the Astros are a .500 team over the past five weeks.
In short, it's been a great season so far. Here are my first half awards.
Biggest Positive Surprise
American League: Cleveland Indians -- I chose the Tribe over the Red Sox because it's more surprising to see the Indians tied with the Tigers in the AL Central than it is to see the Red Sox ahead in the AL East. Though I picked the Rays to win the East, I figured the Sox and every other team in the division had a great chance at the top spot. The Tigers, on the other hand, looked like they were poised to run away with the Central. On paper, the Indians don't look very impressive. They rank 7th in batting average and 12th in ERA in the American League. Cabrera and Swisher have underachieved and they have had closer problems, yet they have a share of the division lead on July 1st. A lot of the credit for that goes to Justin Masterson (10-6, 3.48 ERA) and the surprising Jason Kipnis (.299, 12 HR, 51 RBI, 37 total extra base hits). Of course, Terry Francona has a lot to do with the Cleveland resurgence.
Runner-up: Boston Red Sox.
National League: Pittsburgh Pirates -- What an amazing story the Pirates are becoming. They were competitive last season for a while but wilted in the late summer. Currently, they have the best record in Major League Baseball. Last season, the Pirates had a medicore pitching staff and a below average offense being carried by one guy (Andrew McCutchen). The Pirates still have that below average lineup but this year it's coupled with baseball's best pitching staff (at least through June). The Bucs' top four starters each have ERAs lower than 3.60 and no one has had a better setup / closer combo (Melancon, 0.89 ERA; Grilli 1.72 ERA, 27/28 saves). After a slow start, McCutchen is back to his MVP-caliber self (.314 with 22 extra base hits and 10 steals since May 1st) and Pedro Alvarez is third in the NL with 20 homers. Pittsburgh will need to acquire another big bat or two to hold off the Reds and Cardinals but it's safe to say that the Pirates are truly competitive for the first time since a skinny Barry Bonds led them to three consecutive division titles in the early 1990s.
Runner-up: San Diego Padres.
AL: Los Angeles Angels -- Despite winning six games in a row to end the month of June, the Angels are by far the most disappointing team in the AL this season. There is no way that a team with a lineup that includes Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo should be four games under .500 at this point in the season. Clearly, the Angels caught a bad break losing Jared Weaver for a couple of months but that's no excuse for 39-43. It looks worse when you consider that the Angels have already played the Astros 13 times. The 2013 Angels are far from done, but they look a lot like the 2011-2012 Red Sox right now. Plenty of sizzle but not a lot of team chemistry.
Runner-up: Toronto Blue Jays.
NL: Los Angeles Dodgers -- Like their neighbors down the I-5, the Dodgers have had a miserable season but have played better of late. Cuban phenom Yasiel Puig (.436 with 7 homers in June) appears to have almost single-handedly rescued the Dodgers season. The Dodgers are now only four games out of first place but their 38-43 record is still highly disappointing given the team's payroll and star power. Adrian Gonzalez has played well as has Carl Crawford when he hasn't been hurt. Hanley Ramirez has had a hot bat since his return from injury and the top of the rotation has been very good (Kershaw, Greinke and Ryu). Unfortunately for LA, some players aren't carrying their weight. Kemp and Ethier are batting in the .250s with little production. Luis Cruz batted .127 before being sent down. Josh Beckett is out for the year after posting a 5.19 ERA and Brandon League blew four saves before losing the closer job. With three very good starters and a packed lineup, LA has no excuse for missing the playoffs in 2013.
Runner-up: Washington Nationals.
American League MVP
1. Chris Davis, Orioles -- The Oriole slugger is not only putting up monster numbers but he's repeatedly come through in clutch situations. When the Orioles win a close game (and they do that a lot), Davis always seems to be the guy getting the game winning RBI. His numbers are ridiculous (31 HR, 80 RBI, .322 avg, .406 OBP) as he has a chance to become only the third player to hit 60 home runs outside of the steroid era.
2. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers -- Last season, Mike Trout had one of the best non-MVP seasons in history as Miguel Cabrera grabbed the triple crown and the MVP. This season, it's Miggy who might have one of the best non-MVP seasons ever. The Tiger third baseman continues to destroy every pitcher in his path. He's batting .373 is on pace for a 50 HR/160 RBI season. Not just a slugger, his on base percentage sits at a Boggs-like .461. He has nearly as many walks this season as strikeouts.
The rest of the Top Five: (3) Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox; (4) Josh Donaldson, A's; (5) Evan Longoria, Rays.
National League MVP
1. Jadier Molina, Cardinals -- Yadier Molina catches just about every day, plays great defense, knows how to handle a pitching staff, hits for a high average (.345), drives in runs (44) and even steals a base now and then. Molina was fourth in the MVP ballot last season but he's clear-cut winner in the first half of 2013.
2. Buster Posey, Giants -- Nearly all those things I just said about Molina could be said of last year's MVP (though Posey rarely steals a base). In fact, Posey has more power than Molina (12 HR, 48 RBI). Given that this is a most valuable player award, it has to go to the guy whose team is 17 games over .500, not the guy whose team is 3 games under .500. The Giants futility is hardly Posey's fault but team success is a huge part of the MVP as it should be.
The rest of the Top Five: (3) Paul Goldschmidt, D-backs; (4) Joey Votto, Reds; (5) Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies.
American League Cy Young
1. Max Scherzer, Tigers -- Max Scherzer's ERA currently ranks 12th in the American League but his 12-0 record makes him the first half AL Cy Young award winner. Scherzer is 19-1 (including the playoffs) since the beginning of August 2012. He's second in strikeouts behind only Yu Darvish. He's also a pair of wins away from being the first pitcher in nearly 30 years to start the season 14-0.
2. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox -- Buchholz has been the best pitcher in the American League this season with a 9-0 record and a league leading 1.72 ERA. Unfortunately, he's missed five starts due to injury and there is still no set date for his return. His time on the DL is certainly diminishing his chances to win baseball's ultimate pitching prize.
The rest of the Top Five: (3) Bartolo Colon, A's; (4) Justin Masterson, Indians; (5) Yu Darvish, Rangers.
National League Cy Young
1. Patrick Corbin, Diamondbacks -- The 23-year-old southpaw is 9-0 and ranks fourth in the NL with a 2.22 ERA. He has no decisions in his last five starts but he surrendered just one or two runs in each of those outings so it's been lack of offensive support that has prevented Corbin from matching (or exceeding) Scherzer's 12-0 start.
2. Matt Harvey, Mets -- Speaking of no decisions, Matt Harvey already has nine in 17 starts. His seven wins are four shy of both Zimmerman and Wainright but I gave him the second slot because he leads the NL in ERA (2.00), WHIP (0.85) and strikeouts (132). He's given up more than three runs just once all season.
The rest of the Top Five: (3) Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals; (4) Adam Wainright, Cardinals; (5) Jason Grilli, Pirates.
American League Rookie of the Half
1. Jose Iglesias, Red Sox -- On Opening Day, it was Jackie Bradley who received all of the Red Sox Rookie of the Year buzz but in a bizarre twist, the presumably light-hitting shortstop has been the one tearing the cover off the ball this season. Iggy is batting .409 with 12 extra base hits in just 132 official at bats. What comes as no suprise is that Iglesias is playing gold glove caliber shortshop and has even played third base like he's it's his primary position.
2. Oswaldo Arcia, Twins -- It's quite a battle for a distant second place in this category. Arcia (.284, 6 HR, 24 RBI) has just been a tad better than Mariners second baseman Nick Franklin and Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin. Rays phenom Wil Myers is probably still the favorite to win the AL Rookie of the Year in 2013 but he's only played a couple of weeks so I didn't consider him.
National League Rookie of the Half
1. Shelby Miller, Cardinals -- Miller is 8-6 with an outstanding 2.79 ERA (10th in the NL). He's also topped 100 strikeouts. He's one of the big reasons why the Cardinals have one of the top records in baseball. Miller, Jose Fernandez of the Marlins, Julio Teheran of the Braves and Hyun-Jin Ryu of the Dodgers have undoubtedly made 2013 one of the best seasons ever for rookie pitchers.
2. Yasiel Puig, Dodgers -- Puig is batting .436 and already has 7 homers and 16 RBIs despite getting only 101 official at bats. Puig has even chipped in with some great defensive plays. If Puig and Iglesias have anything close to the success in the second half that they are having now we could have Cuban Rookies of the Year in both leagues in 2013. Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko (.284, 8 HR, 25 RBIs) is having the kind of year that would normally make him the front-runner for Rookie of the Year. In this amazing year, he's probably running 6th.
Managers of the Half
AL: Terry Francona, Indians -- I named the Indians my surprise team of the first half so it only makes sense that Francona is the top manager. The Indians have some good young players but to be six games over .500 and tied with Detroit with the roster they have is quite impressive. Francona won the World Series in his first year in Boston. He wasted no time getting the Indians on the winning track.
NL: Clint Hurdle -- It's hard to give the first half manager award to a guy who has has only one winning season in his 10 previous ten seasons as a manager. Hurdle was a disaster in Colorado with the exception of 2007 when they reached the World Series. He seems to be doing the right things with the Pirates. He took over a team that lost 105 games in 2010. They won 72 in 2011, 79 last year and are now on pace to win over 100 games this year.
I must mention my runner-up, Astros Manager Bo Porter whose team is 16-16 over their last 32. This was a team that had 120 loss potential so Porter deserves tons of credit. If the Astros win 70 games, Porter deserves serious Manager of the Year consideration.
American League -- Division Winners: Boston, Detroit, Texas. Wild Card: Tampa Bay, Oakland.
The Tigers look like the team to beat if they can solve their closer issues. They have a great lineup (with the best 3-4 combo) and great pitching staff (maybe the best 1-2 combo). The Red sox have been the best team in the AL so far this season as their +80 run differential suggests. They also have closer issues but the health of Clay Buchholz might be a bigger impediment. Texas and Oakland have been solid all year and I don't see the Angels erasing the 8-9 game gap in that division. The Rays are yet another team with closer issues but I think their pitching will offset Baltimore's hitting (surely Davis will cool off, right?). I don't see the Indians, Twins or Royals having enough this year. The Yankees are fading under the weight of their injuries. The Jays are interesting. I'm not sure what to make of them at this point.
National League -- Division Winners: Washington, St. Louis, Los Angeles. Wild Card: Atlanta, Cincinnati.
I'm going out on a little bit of a limb with the Nats pick. To make a run and overtake the Braves they are going to need a healthy Harper and Strasburg. They will probably also need to add at least one power bat at the trading deadline. I'm not sold on the Braves who are relying on a lot of young players. Atlanta is only four games over .500 since a 15-5 start. It wouldn't shock me in the least to see the AL Central grab both Wild Card spots but the Cards, Reds and Pirates will probably beat each other up, leaving at least one on the outside looking in. I'd say that will be the Pirates who just aren't as deep as St. Louis and Cincinnati. From a talent perspective, nobody in the West can touch the Dodgers. They have no added Puig to a lineup that includes Gonzalez, Ramirez, Crawford, Ethier and Kemp. That simply isn't fair, especially when you have the 2011 Cy Young winner and a guy who is 36-13 in 2 1/2 seasons since leaving Kansas City. Of course they also have ... you guessed it ... closer problems. The Giants will undoubtedly make a run before the summer is over. Arizona, Colorado and San Diego have all played well but I can't see any of them in the playoffs.