In what has become a kind of annual rite of passage around here -- two years in a row, in Internet time, makes this a practical inviolable law -- we're going to use the Power Rankings this week to identify each team's Most Valuable Player at the All-Star break. (I can see A-Rod, all excited and nervous, logging on right now to see if he made it.)
As you might suspect, it's easier to ID an MVP on some teams than it is on others. On a few rosters, it's hard to find anybody worth picking. And, honestly, when a team is looking up at the rest of the division, how valuable can one guy be? On others, usually the teams on the opposite end of the standings, three or four guys could make a bid for first-half Most Valuable Player. It makes selecting a team MVP a little tricky.
Undeterred, we're going forward with one, and only one, from each team. It's tradition. It's custom. It's something we've done for years now. Well, two of them anyway.
Here are this week's Power Rankings, with the first-half MVPs:
|MLB Power Rankings|
||A weekend sweep of the Red Sox gives us a new No. 1. The Tigers' first half included a no-hitter from Justin Verlander, a lot of bullpen injuries, five All-Stars (not including manager Jim Leyland) and a stud named Gary Sheffield (.349, 1.101 OPS since May 2). How good was this start? "For the most part, OK," Curtis Granderson told the Free Press.
First-half MVP: Right fielder Magglio Ordonez (.367, with 35 doubles) may be the AL MVP, too.
||The Sox stumble into the break, going 5-8 in their last 13 games, with just one series win (against the lowly Rays) in their last four tries. They have six All-Stars, but Daisuke Matsuzaka (mostly good, at 10-6, 3.84) wasn't one of them. Very good: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Hideki Okajima, Jonathan Papelbon. Not so good: Julio Lugo.
First-half MVP: The Sox are 13-3 in Josh Beckett's starts.
||Should we worry yet? The Halos have lost three of their last four series, going 4-8 in their last 12 games. "We're not going to go panic or jump off a bridge," Gary Matthews Jr. told the L.A. Times. They still have the pitching and a deep lineup (Casey Kotchman and Reggie Willits have helped). But that A.L. West lead has shrunk to 2 1/2 games.
First-half MVP: Pitching's great, but this is Vladimir Guerrero's team (.966 OPS).
||Another stumble into the break (1-4 in their last five), but the Indians may be playing possum. They already have 26 come-from-behind wins (they had 27 all last year), and Joe Borowski has 25 saves (the Tribe had just 24 total in '06). Only the Tigers and Yanks score more a game. Fausto Carmona and steady C.C. Sabathia lead a solid pitching staff.
First-half MVP: Switch-hitting catcher Victor Martinez (.935 OPS) is indispensable.
||All pitching and no hitting may make the Padres a dull team in some people's eyes, but it's also made them the best in the N.L. over the first half. Actually, the Pads can get entertainingly chippy (see Chris Young and David Wells). Thirty-three one-run games try a team's patience, but the pitching (3.09 ERA, best in baseball) usually pulls them through.
First-half MVP: Out-Peavying Jake Peavy isn't easy, but Young (74 hits in 103 2/3) did it in the first half.
||It's mostly good news in Milwaukee, but there's still room to fret. The Brewers started 24-10 and seemingly righted themselves after a 6-14 dive in May. But they've sputtered (3-7) in the last 10, and now the Cubs are on their tails. Rookie Ryan Braun (1.054 OPS) has been fantastic. J.J. Hardy has 18 homers. But Rickie Weeks has one hit in his last 27 at-bats.
First-half MVP: Without All-Star starter Prince Fielder (29 HRs), this team isn't in first.
||The M's started the season with the sword of Ichiro -- Win, or Else! -- hanging over their heads. Win they have, and surprisingly so, despite skipper Mike Hargrove's resignation and a rotation that now includes the wayward Jeff Weaver. The M's are sixth in the league in scoring and 10th in giving up runs. But -- most important -- they're just 2 ˝ games behind the Angels.
First-half MVP: Everything starts at the top with Ichiro (.329, .410 OBP).
||GM Ned Colletti is still talking trades -- a starter, maybe a reliever and always that ever-elusive power bat -- but the Dodgers, thanks to their pitching, are in the N.L. West race anyway. Catcher Russell Martin leads L.A. in the Triple Crown categories (.306, 11, 60), but the other youngsters (Matt Kemp, James Loney) will make or break this team.
First-half MVP: Closer Takashi Saito (1.47 ERA, 23 saves) has been money in the bank.
||In many ways, the Mets are like Jose Reyes on Friday: They're unable to make a move. When the team's young shortstop didn't step out of the box on a fair-ball grounder, manager Willie Randolph benched him. If only the skipper could do that to the whole team, which is just 14-21 since the start of June. And the Mets still lead the N.L. East (which tells you plenty about the East).
First-half MVP: Hitting just .239 on May 6, David Wright is hitting .321 since.
||This seems a little high, but you are what your record says you are. Even after a 23-30 stretch since mid-May, the Braves are still five over and just two back of the Mets in the East. The big worries: Chipper Jones' health, John Smoltz's shoulder -- without him, the Braves are sunk -- and Andruw Jones (though six hits in his last 11 at-bats have him up to .211).
First-half MVP: He's no All-Star, but Edgar Renteria (.319, .384 OBP) should be.