MLB: Handing out the first-half awards
BY LARRY FLEISHER
Half of baseball is within five games of a postseason spot and injuries have dominated the landscape. Still even with a major injury becoming a seemingly daily event, there have been some very good performances by those who have remained healthy. So who exactly has been the best?
The envelope please:
National League half-year MVP: Andrew McCutchen.
Giancarlo Stanton and Troy Tulowitzki have excellent cases for the award since you'll find them in the top five of virtually every offensive category. Where you won't find them is at the top of the standings since the Marlins are 44-50 and the Rockies are 40-55. McCutchen is third with a .324 average, fifth with 17 home runs, second with 61 RBI, tied for first with 115 hits and second with a .995 OPS. Those kind of numbers have helped the Pirates reach the break at 49-46 and three and a half games out. Since June 1 McCutchen has led the NL in home runs, RBI, slugging, batting average and slugging. In that period, the Pirates have won 24 of 34 games while cutting four games off their deficit in the NL Central.
Others warranting consideration: Stanton, Tulowitzki, Paul Goldschmidt, Adam Wainwright,Clayton Kershaw, Freddie Freeman, Todd Frazier.
American League half-year MVP: Mike Trout
Trout has received a combined 11 first-place votes for a pair of second-place finishes to Miguel Cabrera but this could be the year for him. The last two years have sparked intense debate about Cabrera being a home run machine and Trout being a complete player that pleases the advanced statistics community. New or old stats, Trout is the American League's best player and that's hardly a slight to Cabrera, who is having a perfectly fine season of .306, 14 home runs and 75 RBI. It's just that Trout's .310 average, 22 home runs and 73 RBI are better, especially on a team that has the second-best record in the game. Not only that, but among the reasons for the Angels going a major league-best 26-9 since June 6,here's Trout's numbers since then: .333, 11 home runs and 34 RBI. If that's impressive enough, Trout also is the only player with 20 home runs, 20 doubles and five triples, something that only seven players have done before the break.
Others warranting consideration: Jose Bautista, Nelson Cruz, Josh Donaldson, Robinson Cano, Edwin Encarnacion, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Michael Brantley.
National League half-year CY Young: Adam Wainwright
Clayton Kershaw pitched the game of the year with his almost perfect no-hitter and has the 41 inning scoreless streak but he also missed the first month. In the meantime Adam Wainwright has done a bit more with the 24 2/3 extra innings. He has a 1.83 ERA, is tied for the league lead with 12 wins, and has nine starts of scoreless baseball with at least seven innings pitched. In those starts, Wainwright has allowed 36 hits, struck out 56 in 69 2/3 innings. That's something that according to the Elias Sports Bureau Bob Gibson didn't even achieve in 1968 and all he did that year was win 22 games with a 1.12 ERA while throwing 304 innings. His earned run average also is the lowest at this point in a season by a Cardinal since Steve Carlton since 1969 and heads into the break allowing four earned runs in his last 44 2/3 innings. Kershaw is certainly capable of doing those things but Wainwright has been doing it since April and that gives him the very slight edge.
Others warranting consideration: Kershaw, Cueto, Julio Teheran, Henderson Alvarez,Zack Greinke
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
For a while Masahiro Tanaka stood right there with "King Felix" but then he had sub-par outing last Tuesday in Cleveland and is now out for at least six weeks. The brilliance of Tanaka is no doubt among the things that kept the Yankees close but Hernandez has been putting together a fine season himself and the Mariners have also surged into contention. Hernandez is 11-2 and in the two losses he has allowed three earned runs and eight hits in 14 innings. In the seven games without a decision, Hernandez has a 2.33 ERA. And that's before you get to the fact that he has held opposing cleanup hitters to a .153 average, or that right-handed hitters are batting .189 and left-handed hitters are hitting .210. If you need to go further, on two strikes, hitters have a .149 average against Hernandez and an .060 mark on full counts. We could go on and on but you can read all the splits and see if you agree.
Others warranting consideration: Tanaka, Chris Sale, David Price, Scott Kazmir, Garrett Richards, Max Scherzer
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton
Everyone knew about Billy Hamilton's speed that produced 395 stolen bases in 502 minor league games but the big question was whether he'd get on base consistently to put those blazing wheels to good use. After going 13 for 14 in steals last year in a 13-game cameo, he is 38 of 53 in steals so far. His average, on-base percentage and slugging have spiked by at least 20 points in every month and he nearly became the fourth rookie to get at least 40 stolen bases by the All-Star break. Wouldn't you like to see a 100-meter dash between Vince Coleman (63), Tim Raines (50) and Juan Samuel (40)? If you need more evidence, the Reds are 22-8 when he steals a base, he has 26 multi-hit games and last month he led rookies with 14 steals, 18 runs, 36 hits while finishing second with a .327 average. Gregory Polanco may enter the conversation at the end of the year but for now it's Hamilton's in a runaway.
Others warranting consideration: Chris Owings, Tommy La Stella.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu
A popular belief is that internationally experienced rookies should not get this award but rules are rules and how do you not award this someone who hit 27 home runs in 75 games and there's nobody else that has achieved that. Think of what Abreu might have done if not for a DL stint. Abreu has 29 home runs and 73 RBI in 82 games but if he didn't miss 14 other games, it's certainly likely he'd have over 30 and over 80 RBI. He also has 50 extra-base hits in 82 games and according to Elias Sports Bureau, Ted Williams is the only rookie to do it faster (50 extra-base hits in 80 games in 1939). He also has a hit in 26 of his last 27 games and is batting .355 in that span. He also leads the majors with 10 games of at least three RBI. If this is the first 82 games of his career, can you imagine what the next few years might look like.
Others warranting consideration: Masahiro Tanaka, George Springer.
NL Manager of the Year: Ron Roenicke
In one preseason baseball publication the Brewers were picked for last in the NL Central even behind the Cubs and the outlook said they were no better than a fourth-place outfit. This has been a team that has held a share of first place for all but four days and this is a team that made the gutsy decision to replace closers right before the season when he replaced Jim Henderson with Francisco Rodriguez. It turned out to be the right move since Henderson is on the DL with a shoulder injury while Rodriguez has 27 saves. He also has used 67 different lineups with at least five players seeing time in spots one through eight.
Others warranting consideration: Clint Hurdle, Bruce Bochy
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin
The Athletics were projected to be good after winning 94 and 96 games the previous two years. That was with a projected rotation that included Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. They're still good and that's with Parker and Griffin out for the season. Instead they've used nine starters and that includes Jesse Chavez making 19 starts after being projected as the team's long man. This is a team with 13 different players getting at least 100 at-bats and without a regular hitting .300 on a team with a plus-145 run differential. The only other teams to do better before the break were the 1969 Orioles (+168), 1998 Yankees (+157) and 2001 Mariners (+149). Did we mention that at least six pitchers have a save and this is a team that quickly changed closers after Jim Johnson faltered early. Mixing and matching parts is an important component to managing and Melvin has done a masterful job for a team that has been the best in the majors for the last month.
Others warranting consideration: Lloyd McClendon, Buck Showalter
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