Posted: Friday July 1, 2011 11:35AM ; Updated: Thursday July 7, 2011 5:30PM
Jon Heyman

The 70 first-half heroes in baseball

Story Highlights

Concentrating on speed has turned Jose Reyes into MLB's best player

Justin Verland has been virtually unhittable, with a 0.86 WHIP and 2.32 ERA

Kirk Gibson has the young Diamondbacks contending for NL West crown

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Jose Reyes has been a beast on the basepaths for the Mets, who are surprisingly over .500 midway through the season.
Jose Reyes has been a beast on the basepaths for the Mets, who are surprisingly over .500 midway through the season.
John Iacono/SI

The list of first-half heroes include the expected (Roy Halladay and Ryan Braun), the unexpected (Tony Sipp and Terry Collins), the young (Clayton Kershaw and Starlin Castro) the old (Lance Berkman and Mariano Rivera), the spectacular (Asdrubal Cabrera), the clutch (Johnny Damon), the resurrected (Matt Kemp) and the truly heroic (Darrel Akerfelds).

Here is the full list of 70 first-half heroes ...

1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF-INF. The versatile and intelligent player can no longer be stamped a one-year wonder now that he is blowing away baseball with his 1.129 OPS and .470 on-base percentage. A true role model, he didn't hesitate when asked to move from left field to third base, an area of greater need.

2. Jose Reyes, Mets SS. Someone told him to concentrate on his speed game and forget the homers, and the result is arguably baseball's best player. Leads the NL with 65 runs, 121 hits, 15 triples and a .352 batting average. Worth whatever Carl Crawford got, and more.

3. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox 1B. With all the pressure of moving from low-key San Diego to baseball's biggest cauldron in Boston, he's more than lived up to the press clippings. If there is pressure, he hasn't shown it. Leads the AL in both batting average at .352 and RBIs with 71. Arguably the best hitter in the game. For good measure, he volunteered to play the outfield to get David Ortiz in the lineup.

4. Justin Verlander, Tigers SP. He threw one no-hitter and nearly threw another. Has 11-3 record, 0.86 WHIP and 2.32 ERA.

5. Jered Weaver, Angels SP. The terrific righthander who's 9-4 with a 1.97 ERA doesn't let the fact he can't crack 93 mph deter him from being one of the game's most dominant starters.

6. Matt Kemp, Dodgers OF. Shedding his spacey label, he's now one of baseball's best all-around players. Kemp always wanted to play every day. Now, he's just playing better than just about everyone else. And by the way, hands off; the bankrupt Dodgers won't consider moving Kemp (who leads the NL with 22 home runs and a 1.043 OPS) to aid the owner's abject financial problem.

7. Darrel Akerfelds, Padres bullpen coach. An amazing man. While undergoing chemo treatments, he's helped the Padres pen to another fantastic season. Their 2.88 ERA is second best only to Atlanta's (2.71). In many respects, should be No. 1.

8. Paul Konerko, White Sox 1B. The ageless Konerko is one of baseball's most loyal players, as he never seriously considered leaving Chicago's South Side. Gives hope to everyone in the over-35 set as he gets better with age, too. Has 21 home runs, 61 RBIs and .321 batting average.

9. Brian McCann, Braves C. He might be a little higher than some would expect but there's a need to make up for the paucity of deserved publicity over the years. Despite making five All-Star teams in six years, he's gone almost under the radar. Getting more attention this year, thanks to 14 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .314 batting average.

10. Asdrubal Cabrera, Indians SS. His play has been both clutch and spectacular. Has 13 home runs, 47 RBIs and a .296 batting average. The leader in the Indians' stunning start.

11. Clint Hurdle, Pirates manager. Yes, the Pirates really are over .500 (41-39). That's no mirage.

12. Roy Halladay, Phillies SP. He has a 10-3 record, 1.03 WHIP and 123 strikeouts to go with 16 walks, numbers that are almost expected from him now.

13. Curtis Granderson, Yankees CF. He's showing huge power in the No. 2 spot in baseball's most prolific lineup. Awesome start, with 21 home runs.

14. Prince Fielder, Brewers 1B. Doesn't look like the pressure of the walk year is getting to the noted "vegetarian.'' Leads the NL in RBIs.

15. James Shields, Rays SP. He's put the "Big Game'' back in his repertoire with a league-high six complete games.

16. Mariano Rivera, Yankees RP. At 41, he was older than several players in the Yankees' Old-Timers Game last weekend. Has 21 saves and his 0.96 WHIP and 1.72 ERA are better than his career marks.

17. Jack McKeon, Marlins manager. He's a hero for anyone in the senior citizen set, taking the job as interim manager at age 80 (almost double Mariano), eight years after leading the team to a surprise World series championship in the same role.

18. Hunter Pence, Astros OF. He hasn't let Houston's typically putrid start deter him. As the designated "face of the franchise'' he's lived up to that billing, and excited the disappointed fan base with a 23-game hitting streak and .315 average overall.

19. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers SP. With 128 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings, the Koufax comparisons don't seem quite as silly.

20. Cliff Lee, Phillies SP. He has 32 straight scoreless innings. A hero in Philly for taking less to come back, he's worth every penny. The man who makes the Phillies the World Series favorite.

21. Jair Jurrjens, Braves SP. On a staff that's nearly keeping pace with Phillies, Jurrjens has been the best pitcher, with a 10-3 record and 2.07 ERA.

22. Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks manager. The young Diamondbacks team was waiting for someone to come in and kick some you know what. This is just the guy. A surprise contender in the NL West.

23. David Ortiz, Red Sox DH. At least twice before in recent years folks suspected the end might be near. But Ortiz is making himself indispensable again, with 17 home runs and a .305 batting average. Looks like he might become a rare DH to earn a two-year deal after the season.

24. Alex Anthopoulos, Jays GM. He's becoming a legend already in Toronto for two moves: 1) ridding the payroll of Vernon Wells' albatross of a deal, and 2) locking up Bautista to a $65-million, five-year deal. The Wells move has gotten by far the bulk of the press, but the Bautista contract, which actually was linked to the Wells deal, may wind up being an even bigger cost saver.

25. Cole Hamels, Phillies SP. The best No. 4 pitcher on the planet. Has 0.94 WHIP.

26. Lance Berkman, Cardinals RF. Defying his age with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, a .997 OPS (and upsetting Astros honk Milo Hamilton), though he's slowed bit since his blazing start.

27. Joel Hanrahan, Pirates RP. The Nationals castoff has been nearly perfect, with 23 saves in 23 tries and a 0.94 WHIP.

28. Michael Pineda, Mariners SP. Making a huge case for AL top rookie honors, with a 2.65 ERA and .198 batting average against.

29. Andrew Friedman, Rays GM. The Rays lost Crawford, Carlos Pena, Rafael Soriano, Joaquin Benoit and Randy Choate to free agency and traded Matt Garza, yet they remain a threat on a budget in arguably baseball's best division.

30. Mike Adams, Padres RP. He has a 0.66 WHIP and .150 batting average against in Padres' fantastic pen.

31. Starlin Castro and Darwin Barney, Cubs SS and 2B. Castro is a hitting prodigy. Barney might be even better than Castro at shortstop but he is proving to be adept at second too. Together they give the Cubs one of the most productive DPs combos going forward.

32. Ryan Braun, Brewers LF. Excellent all-around player showed his loyalty by committing basically forever to Milwaukee, with a five-year, $105 million extension through 2020. Having his usual superb season (he's a 30-30 threat with 16 home runs and 19 stolen bases) as the Brewers threaten in what could be Fielder's last year there.

33. Alex Avila, Tigers C. Nobody was expecting this from the son of the longtime Tigers executive Al Avila. Has a .914 OPS and 46 RBIs, which makes for pretty good production when combined with high-priced free agent Victor Martinez, who's second in the league in hitting at .329 after sparking Detroi's turnaround.

34. Andre Ethier, Dodgers RF. He's slowed a bit but the 30-game hitting streak was a nice highlight.

35. Terry Collins, Mets manager. It's been more than a decade since he'd managed in the big leagues but he's seemed to have re-acclimated himself nicely. Nobody else had the Mets over .500 at this point.
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